Foods for babies (solids) 1 - how and when to start
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Starting new foods (solids) is a big step for a baby and it often takes babies a while to get used to this new way of eating. If you watch for your baby to be ready and take it at the baby's pace your baby will probably soon enjoy trying new foods and tastes.
Be ready for mess - learning to eat is always messy.
This topic tells you how and when to start your baby on solids. For further information have a look at 'Foods for babies (solids) 2 - questions and answers' which includes a section for parents who are vegetarian).
- Babies are ready to have solids (other foods) as well as continuing their milk from around 6 months of age. By this stage their digestive systems are able to cope with different foods and their sense of taste is becoming well developed.
- Breast milk or formula provides all a baby needs for healthy growth and development for about 6 months and continues to provide most food needs for 12 months or so.
- If you are breastfeeding, it is best for your baby to have only breastmilk for about the first six months, and then continue to have breastmilk as the main food with some solids (which are also called 'complementary foods').
- If your baby is having bottle feeds, continue to give infant formula until your baby is about 12 months old.
Look for these signs which can show you when to start:
- Your baby is interested in things around her; she tries to get hold of things and put them in her mouth. She watches you eat and tries to grab the food.
- She can hold her head steady and sit with some support.
- She is losing her 'tongue-thrust' reflex. This reflex makes young babies push anything solid out of their mouths. When babies lose this reflex they are able to learn how to take food from a spoon. Most babies push the food out for a little while when they start learning to take food from the spoon. This does not mean they don't like the food.
- She may seem less satisfied with just milk feeds - she may stop gaining weight or start wanting a lot more feeds. However, it is normal for breastfed babies to gain more slowly between 3 and 6 months.
Why wait until about 6 months?
- Solids are not needed for health and growth earlier, so they only make unnecessary work for parents.
- Starting solids does not usually help babies sleep at night.
- Young babies are more likely to get infections - such as "tummy bugs" (gastro) than older children, so you need to take great care with preparing and storing food for them. There is less risk after 6 months.
- A young baby may become constipated on solid foods.
- Young babies may not be able to digest some foods well.
- If the baby is eating other foods he may take less breast milk so your breasts will make less and he may not get as much milk as he needs for healthy growth.
- It can be hard to get solid foods into a young baby because of his "tongue thrust reflex" which makes him push them straight out again.
- Young babies are less able to tell you when they have had enough so they can be overfed.
Why start by about 6 months?
- Breast milk or infant formula are still the most important foods, but they do not always have enough iron or energy (kilojoules) for the second 6 months.
- Babies who are not given solids until much later may have health problems or not grow as well as they should.
- Some babies who are not given solids before 7 or 8 months (when they are reaching out and wanting to try things) may not be so willing to try these new tastes and foods later on.
about food allergies?
Food allergies have become more common in recent years. Symptoms of food allergy include:
- skin rashes on the body, hives, swellings, vomiting, wheezing or other breathing problems, or in rare cases, collapse. See Reactions to food for more information on food allergies.
It is important to introduce new foods into your child’s diet one at a time and waiting several days before introducing another food. This gives times to find out if your child has any sensitivities or allergies to particular foods. There is no need to delay the introduction of food such as peanuts and eggs unless you have been advised to do so by a health professional. These foods can be introduced into your child’s diet from six months onwards provided they are given in an appropriate texture such as peanut paste and well mashed, well cooked egg.
If you think your child has a food allergy stop giving your child the food causing the reaction. If your child has symptoms including breathing difficulties or collapse, seek emergency medical attention. If you think your child might have a food allergy, see your doctor to help identify the trigger for your child’s reaction. If the food is required to be avoided, your doctor and other health professionals are available to make sure you get the appropriate information and education. A referral to a specialist might be required.
The best way to work out how and what foods to give is to follow your baby's development. We can think of the process in four stages.
- Stage 1 First tastes - smooth foods,
around 6 months to about 7 months
- Stage 2 Learning to chew - soft lumps,
around 7 months to 8 months
- Stage 3 Self feeding - finger foods, firmer lumps,
9 months to 12 months
- Stage 4 Family diet with some changes,
from 12 months on
Babies go through these stages at different rates so the ages given are just a guide.
- first tastes
Smooth foods around 6 months to about 7 months.
What time to give them
- Start once a day, at a suitable time for you. When this is taken well, try twice or perhaps 3 times a day by the end of this stage.
- Even after your baby has started on solid food, breast milk or infant formula is still the most important source of nutrition for babies under 12 months.
- Always give solids after or between milk feeds, not before a feed as yet. Your baby still needs to take plenty of milk.
Foods to give
- Baby rice cereal (this will have extra iron).
Rice cereal is a good first food because:
- babies usually like it and can digest it easily
- it is quick and easy to prepare
- it can be made up thicker or thinner to suit your particular baby
- it provides extra iron at the time babies are likely to run low on iron stores
- it can be mixed with water, breast or formula milk, fruit or fruit juice or well mashed vegetables to give a variety of flavours.
- Fruits - cooked apple or pear, ripe banana, avocado etc. Start with these well mashed so there are no lumps.
- Vegetables, legumes - potato, sweet potato and pumpkin first, then carrot, peas, zucchini, broccoli, legumes (eg baked beans) or lentils etc, all well cooked and well mashed.
- Milk foods - custard, yoghurt. Use baby yoghurts or full fat, low sugar normal yoghurt.
- Meat, chicken, fish - well blended, well cooked lean meat, poultry and fish are good choices for your baby. Blend with a stick blender so they are easy to swallow. These are high in iron, so are important to include in your baby's diet.
Mashed until there are no lumps.
Start with 1 teaspoon, and build up to 2 tablespoons or more if your baby wants it.
6 - 7 months
mashed potato and
How to give
- To start, prepare 1 or 2 teaspoons of food (usually rice cereal). Use a clean bowl and spoon. Mix the cereal with the baby's usual milk (expressed breastmilk or formula) or with boiled water. Make it fairly runny for a couple of days, then thicker.
- Hold your baby comfortably on your lap or in a supporting chair. Have a bib (feeder) and cloth near by. It will be messy!
- Put a little food from a small spoon well into your baby's mouth.
- Often babies push the food back out again as they have not learned how to move their tongue in the way that is needed for solid food. This does not mean the baby doesn't like the food.
- Babies usually screw up their face when given a new food. Again this does not mean that she does not like the food, just that it tastes different to what has has had before.
- She may love it and take it well, or she may shout and spit it out.
- It takes time to learn this new skill so be prepared for plenty of mess. If your baby can't take, or doesn't want solids at first, leave it for a few days and try again.
- Once your baby has learned how to take and swallow rice cereal from a spoon, you can try other foods.
- Offer new foods one at a time, a few days apart so that he can learn how different foods feel and taste.
- This way, you can make sure each new food 'agrees' with him.
- If it is a problem he may have vomiting, diarrhoea, a rash around the mouth or on the body, or excessive crying. Reactions to the foods suggested here are rare.
- If your baby seems to have a definite reaction to a type of food, talk about it with your doctor or nurse. If you are unsure, try the food again in a week or two.
- Your baby's bowel actions may change colour and smell different, and some foods will come through unchanged at first. This is normal and nothing to worry about.
- Do not add salt or sugar. Let your baby learn the natural taste of foods. Do not add honey. It can cause a serious illness called botulism in young babies (though this is very rare).
- If your baby really does not like one type of food, leave it for a week or so, then try again. Meal times should be fun so do not force or even coax. Keep offering it though, as it can take several tries before babies accept new foods.
- Once new foods have been accepted you can mix them together sometimes. This is easier and gives even more new tastes. Keep offering food separately at other times.
- learning to chew
Soft lumps, 7 months to 8-9 months
Babies can manage thicker textures and soft lumps soon after starting solids. Once your baby can sit alone and make chewing movements he can be encouraged to bite and chew even if he does not have teeth.
What time to give them
- Build up to three times a day. Towards the end of this stage you may like to give solids before milk and get into a routine of breakfast, lunch and tea.
- Milk is still very important though, and you may prefer to breastfeed (or give a bottle) when the baby first wakes in the morning or after a nap, then give solids in later meals.
- Bottle-fed babies usually have about 4 milk feeds a day at this age. This routine also suits some breastfeeding babies as part of gradual weaning, but others will like to breastfeed more often than this. This is fine as long as the baby is taking some solids. You can do what suits you and your family.
Foods to give
- Baby cereals - rice cereal and other baby cereals. You can mix them with fruit or juice rather than milk to help iron absorption. Keep giving baby cereals most days in the first year to be sure your baby gets enough iron.
- Other cereal foods - rice, pasta, oatmeal, porridge, wheat flake biscuits (like Weetbix**), bread (eg rusks).
- Vegetables and legumes - all sorts, progress to a diced, minced or mashed texture.
- Fruits - choose ripe or lightly cooked fruit, mashed, diced or grated, eg ripe banana, avocado, mashed stewed fruit, grated apple.
- Fish (eg tuna), meat, chicken - well cooked, moist and finely minced (or frozen and grated).
- Milk foods - as in Stage 1. Also try grated cheese, cheese sauces, milk puddings (eg semolina), cottage and cream cheese.
- Egg - whole egg can be given. Egg is a good source of protein. Make sure that it is well cooked, such as scrambled or hard boiled and mashed..
Mashed (but moist) or soft lumps. Do not puree foods as your baby may find it hard to learn to chew later. Don't be too alarmed if she gags a little at first, that is how she clears her throat. Just give small amounts of soft lumps until she gets used to them.
fruit and rice custard
blended meat casserole
Two tablespoons to half a cup or more if your baby wants it. You can offer two courses - a savoury and a sweet, at some meals.
How to give
- By now your baby will enjoy sitting in a high chair at family meals, though you may find it easier to feed her first, then give her tastes of what the family is having during the meal.
- Your baby is the only one who knows when she has had enough. It is important that she learns to control her own eating if she is to avoid problems with weight now or later - so do not push her to take more than she wants.
This stage and the next are likely to be quite messy.
- Babies learn about food the same way they learn about other things, by touching, squashing, spreading or even throwing it, as well as eating.
- Try to accept this exploring as normal, or take the plate away if it gets too much. Don't pay a lot of attention or it might be repeated to get your reaction.
- You could use a big feeder on the baby (plastic ones are good) and put newspaper or plastic on the floor under the chair.
Storing baby food
- Once food has been warmed and offered to the baby, throw out any food left in the bowl.
- Freshly cooked food should be kept in the fridge and used within 48 hours.
- Food can be frozen to keep it longer. You may like to prepare a quantity of vegetables or fruit then freeze it in ice-cube trays. Store the cubes in a plastic bag in the freezer, then just thaw one or two when you want them.
Prepared baby foods (in cans or jars)
- These are quite alright for your baby if you want to use them.
- They provide good nutrition and are safe (free from germs).
- They are easy to use and convenient.
However, there are some good reasons for not using them all the time.
- They are more expensive than home-cooked foods.
- They don't help the baby get to know about normal foods. They look, taste and smell different.
- They have foods mixed together so the baby can't learn about each one.
- Some babies get so used to them that it is hard to change to normal foods later.
Stage 3 -
8-9 months to 12 months - progress from lumpy, to chopped and finger foods
- Offer three meals a day with some snacks.
- Solids are now a bigger part of your baby's diet but he still needs milk.
- If breastfeeding, breastfeed as often as you (and your baby) want.
- If bottle fed, 600-800 mls a day is plenty. Any more than this may mean your baby has no appetite for solids.
- Self feeding is messy, but you need to allow your baby to make a mess as he is learning important new skills.
Foods to give
- Cereals - keep giving baby cereals for their iron, as well as the other cereal foods in Stage 2 (at different meals). You will need to feed these to your baby as he will not yet be able to use a spoon (although he might like playing with a spoon).
- Bread and toast by themselves, or with spreads.
- Vegetables, legumes - pieces of well cooked vegetables make good finger foods (eg carrot, potato, broccoli). Baked beans, any dried peas or beans (well cooked), tofu
- Fruit - hard fruits still need to be cooked or grated. Soft ones can be given in pieces.
- Fish, meat, chicken - cooked soft and moist, finely chopped or minced.
- Eggs - scrambled eggs, omelette, boiled eggs.
- Milk foods as before.
Foods should now be left in pieces or chopped rather than mashed, though they still should be soft, or able to soften quickly in the mouth (eg rusks).
9 months on
finger food -
10 months on
finger food -
bread fingers, banana
No hard lumps, raw vegetable, hard raw fruit or nuts. These can cause choking in the first 5 years, as can snack foods, like popcorn and corn chips, whole or even halved grapes, raisins or sultanas, seeds and hard lollies. Have a look at the topics 'Choking' or 'Choking on food - easy read'.
Appetites vary. Two courses can be given for main meals, about 1 cup for the first course and half a cup for the second but some children will want more or less than this.
How to give
- Finger foods are popular at this stage and many babies insist on feeding themselves in this way. Let your baby do this and try not to mind the mess. It is all part of learning.
- He is likely to object to being spoon fed, unless he can hold another spoon to practice with.
- Wash his hands before a meal (as well as after). This is a good habit for your baby to learn.
- Stay with your baby whenever he is eating, in case of choking.
- family meals with some changes, 12 months on
When to give
- Offer three meals a day and snacks.
- Keep giving milk - breastmilk is still very good for your toddler if you want to continue.
- If using formula, you can either continue this or change to full cream cow's milk - not reduced fat milk as fat is an important energy source for babies and young toddlers. For most toddlers a maximum or 500ml of milk each day is recommended.
Foods to give
Anything your family eats, but select a variety of healthy foods. Gradually introduce spices and strong flavours if your family uses them. Avoid very salty or sugary foods, processed or fatty foods.
Some foods will still need to be cut up (eg meats) but most children can chew well by now. It is still important to avoid hard food that can cause choking, eg raw vegetables like carrot, fruit like apples, or whole nuts. It is fine to give these foods grated or ground to a paste.
This varies with appetite but some babies at 15 months will eat less than they did at 10 months! Toddlers actually grow much more slowly than babies.
How to give
Children can soon become good at feeding themselves. For more on this age group see the topic 'Feeding toddlers'.
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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.