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Introducing solids: why, when, what and how

Introducing solids: why, when, what and how

Introducing solids: why your baby needs them

As your baby gets older, she starts to need solid food so she can get enough iron and other essential nutrients for growth and development.

For about the first six months of life, your baby uses iron stored in his body from when he was in the womb. He also gets some iron from breastmilk and/or infant formula. But your baby's iron stores go down as he grows. And by around six months, he can't get the iron he needs from breastmilk or infant formula alone.

Introducing solids is also important for helping your baby learn to eat, giving her experience of new tastes and textures from a range of foods, developing her teeth and jaws, and building other skills that she'll need later for language development.

Signs that it's time for introducing solids

Your baby's individual development and behaviour will guide you when you're trying to work out when to start introducing solids.

Signs your baby is ready for solids include when your baby:

  • has good head and neck control and can sit upright when supported
  • shows an interest in food - for example, by looking at what's on your plate
  • reaches out for your food
  • opens his mouth when you offer him food on a spoon.

Most babies start to show these signs by around six months, but the signs happen at different times for different babies.

It's not recommended to introduce solids before four months.

If your baby is nearing seven months of age and hasn't started solids, you might like to get some advice from your child and family health nurse or GP.

Getting the timing right when introducing solids

When you're first introducing solids, it's a good idea to offer solids when you and your baby are both happy and relaxed.

Your baby is also more likely to try solids after a feed of breastmilk or formula. This is because when babies are really hungry, they just want the breastmilk or formula that they know satisfies their hunger. They'll still have space in their tummies for new foods after they've had a feed of breastmilk or formula.

As time passes, you'll learn when your baby is hungry or full, not interested or tired.

Signs of hunger include your baby:

  • getting excited when she sees you getting her food ready
  • leaning towards you while she's sitting in the highchair
  • opening her mouth as you're about to feed her.

Signs your baby is no longer interested include:

  • turning his head away
  • losing interest or getting distracted
  • pushing the spoon away
  • clamping his mouth shut.

When you're introducing solids, how much food should you give your baby? Try 1-2 teaspoons of food to start with, and increase according to your baby's appetite. By 12 months, your baby should be eating around three small meals a day plus breastmilk or infant formula.

Food texture when introducing solids

When your baby is ready for solids, her first foods might be smooth, mashed or in soft pieces, depending on what she likes. She can quickly go on to minced foods and then chopped foods.

Your baby needs a variety of food textures. This helps him learn how to chew, and chewing helps with your baby's speech development. It also helps to encourage self-feeding and prevent feeding difficulties as your baby develops.

By the time your baby is 12 months old, she should be eating the same foods that the rest of the family is eating. But you might still need to chop some foods into smaller pieces and cook vegetables until they're soft.

To prevent choking, always supervise babies and young children while they're eating solid food. Take special care with hard foods like nuts and meat with small bones, because these are choking hazards. And if your baby can move around, make sure he's sitting down while he's eating. If you sit with your baby while he's eating, he's less likely to move around.

Food types when introducing solids

All new foods are exciting for your baby - there's no need to cook 'special' foods.

You can also introduce solids in any order, as long as you include iron-rich foods and the food is the right texture.

Iron-rich foods include:

  • iron-fortified infant cereal
  • minced meat, poultry and fish
  • cooked tofu and legumes
  • mashed, cooked egg (don't give raw or runny egg).

To these iron-rich foods, you can add other healthy foods like:

  • vegetables - for example, cooked potato, carrot or green vegetables like broccoli
  • fruit - for example, banana, apple, melon or avocado
  • grains - for example, oats, bread, rice and pasta
  • dairy foods - for example, yoghurt and full-fat cheese.

You can mix first foods together - there's no need to introduce just one food at a time. And if you offer your baby a variety of foods, she can try lots of new tastes and also get a range of nutrients.

Our tips for introducing solid foods explain how to get your baby interested in new foods and manage mealtime mess and play.

Breastmilk and infant formula while introducing solids

Keep breastfeeding or using infant formula until at least 12 months, as well as introducing solids.

If you're not sure whether your baby is getting the right amount of milk once he starts solids, his behaviour will tell you.

For example, if your baby has been eating plenty of solids and isn't finishing or is refusing her milk, she might be ready for less frequent but larger milk feeds each day. If your baby isn't interested in solids, she might be too full from milk feeds. This means it might be time to reduce milk feeds.

By around nine months, babies have generally developed enough chewing and swallowing skills to move from having milk before solids to having milk after solids.

Solids don't replace breastfeeding or infant formula. If solid food replaces breastmilk and/or infant formula too quickly, babies can miss out on important nutrition.

Introducing water

Once your baby has reached six months, you can start to offer him cooled, boiled water in a cup at mealtimes or at other times during the day. This is so he can practise drinking from a cup, but he still doesn't really need fluids other than breastmilk or formula at this age. Once your baby has reached 12 months, you can offer fresh tap water without boiling it.

Foods and drinks to avoid while introducing solids

There are some foods to avoid until your baby is a certain age:

  • honey until she's 12 months old - this is to avoid the risk of infant botulism
  • raw or runny eggs and foods containing raw eggs like home-made mayonnaise until she's 12 months - bacteria in raw eggs can be harmful to babies
  • reduced-fat dairy until she's two years old
  • whole nuts and similar hard foods until she's three years old - these are choking hazards.

There are some drinks to avoid until your baby is a certain age:

  • pasteurised full-fat cow's milk as baby's main drink until he's 12 months old
  • soy milk, goat's milk and sheep's milk until he's two years old (you can give fortified soy products before two years old)
  • rice, oat, almond or coconut milk until he's two years old unless you've consulted with your GP or child and family health nurse
  • unpasteurised milk of all types, tea, coffee or sugar-sweetened drinks at all ages
  • fruit juice - this should be limited at all ages (fruit has the nutrients your baby needs).

Your baby doesn't need added salt or sugar. Processed or packaged foods with high levels of fat, sugar and/or salt aren't good for babies and children. These foods include cakes, biscuits, chips and fried foods.

Food allergy and introducing solids

Babies with severe eczema or who have parents with food allergies are more likely to develop a food allergy. But most children with food allergy don't have parents with food allergy.

Introducing solids before four months or after about six months increases your baby's risk of developing food allergy.

It's a good idea to get advice from your GP, child and family health nurse, dietitian, paediatrician or allergy and immunology specialist if:

  • your baby already has a food allergy
  • your family has a history of food allergy and you're concerned about starting solids
  • you're worried about reactions to foods.

All babies, including babies with a high allergy risk, should try solid foods that cause allergies from around six months of age. These foods include well-cooked egg, peanut butter, wheat (from wheat-based breads, cereals and pasta) and cow's milk (but not as a main drink). Introducing allergenic foods early can actually reduce the risk of your child developing food allergy.