Introducing solid foods

When to start introducing solid foods

Introducing solid foods – sometimes called weaning or complementary feeding – should start when your baby is around six months old.

It’s a really important step in their development, and it can be great fun to explore new flavors and textures together.

To begin with, how much your baby takes is less important than getting them used to the idea of eating. They will still be getting most of their nutrition from breast milk or infant formula.

Babies don’t need three meals a day to start with, so you can begin by offering foods at a time that suits you both.

Gradually, you’ll be able to increase the amount and variety of food your baby eats, until they can eventually eat the same as the rest of the family, in smaller portions.

Why it pays to wait until they’re ready

Research shows babies can get all the nutrients they need from breast milk or infant formula until they are around six months old. Waiting till then gives their digestive system time to develop fully so it can cope with solid foods. This includes solid foods made into purees and cereals added to milk.

If you are breastfeeding, having breast milk alone up to the age of six months will protect your baby against infections. Breast milk will carry on protecting them from infections for as long as you carry on feeding.

Whether your baby has breast milk or infant formula, waiting until they are ready for food will save a lot of time, too. They’ll quickly be able to feed themselves and with less mess, as they will be able to swallow properly.

Three signs your baby is ready for their first food

Every baby is an individual, but there are three clear signs that, together, show your baby is ready for solid foods alongside breast milk or formula. It’s very rare for these signs to appear together before your baby is six months old.

1. They can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady.

2. They can co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth, all by themselves.

3. They can swallow food. Babies who are not ready will push their food back out with their tongue, so they get more round their face than they do in their mouths.

Some signs that can be mistaken for a baby being ready for solid foods:

  • chewing fists
  • waking in the night when they have previously slept through
  • wanting extra milk feeds

These are normal behaviors and not necessarily a sign of hunger or being ready to start solid food. Starting solid foods won’t make them any more likely to sleep through the night. Extra feeds are usually enough until they’re ready for other food.

Introducing solid foods

  • Always stay with your baby when they are eating in case they start to choke. Find out how to help a choking child.
  • Let your baby enjoy touching and holding the food.
  • Allow your baby to feed themselves, using their fingers, as soon as they show an interest.
  • Don’t force your baby to eat – wait until the next time if they’re not interested this time.
  • If you’re using a spoon, wait for your baby to open their mouth before you offer the food. Your baby may like to hold a spoon, too.
  • Start by offering just a few pieces or teaspoons of food, once a day.
  • Cool hot food and test it before giving it to your baby.
  • Don’t add salt, sugar or stock cubes to your baby’s food or cooking water. See what other foods to avoid giving your baby.

Babies and food allergies

While introducing solid foods, a variety in your baby’s diet is really important and there is a chance they may be allergic to certain foods. That’s why it’s important to introduce cows’ milk, eggs, wheat, gluten, nuts, peanuts, peanut products, seeds, fish and shellfish one at a time and not before six months.

There is no evidence that waiting until your child is older will prevent them developing a food allergy. Once your baby is ready for solids, give them these foods in very small amounts and watch carefully for any symptoms of an allergic reaction.

If your baby already has a known allergy, such as a diagnosed food allergy or eczema, or you have a family history of food allergies, eczema, asthma or hay fever, you may need to be particularly careful when introducing peanuts and peanut products. Talk to your GP or health visitor first. Remember, peanuts, like all nuts, should be crushed or ground.

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