Updated: Jun 1
As your baby grows, they require more than just boob or bottle. This guide answers all the when, why, how and what foods are reccomended for introducing solids.
Hi, Im Nikki Brown-Shepherd. I am an accreditated practising dietitian supporting mummas and their bubs to optimal nutitional health. This article was written for the parents stressing over introducing solids and is based of the best evidence so you know youre doing the best for your child.
For any personalised nutrition & dietetic advice, please don't hesitate to contact me.
When to introduce solids?
- It is safe and recommended to start introducing solids from 4 months old if your baby is developmentally ready.
- Usually, parents will start seeing signs of readiness between 4-6 months.
- Unless advised by your paediatrician or paediatric dietitian, later introduction of solids (after 6 months of age) is not recommended as breast milk won't provide your baby with enough energy, essential vitamins and minerals for a healthy growing bub.
If bub isn't showing signs developmentally readiness by 6 months, seek advice from your Pediatrician.
When bub is ready to try solids, they first need to show you they can:
Hold their head up himself, which shows good head and neck control, and
Sit up straight when supported from the hips.
Once bub can do the above, look out for these cues that confirm bub is ready:
Shows interest in family members eating,
Leans towards a spoon being offered and opens their mouth,
Puts toys and fingers in their mouth, and
Reaches out for your food.
What foods to introduce first?
Iron-rich foods are strongly recommended as infants' iron stores start to run low at 4-6 months, therefore they require iron-rich solids to meet their recommendations or it can lead to iron-deficient anaemia.
In no specific order, iron-rich foods should be coupled with:
Cereals & grains, and
Full fat dairy products (yoghurt, custard, cream, cheese)
Where is iron found?
The best source of iron is called ‘haem-iron’ and is found in animal flesh such as pureed meat, fish, and poultry. These sources are well absorbed by the body compared to ‘non-haem iron’ which is found in vegetarian sources such as legumes, cooked tofu, eggs and iron-fortified infant cereals.
By offering bub iron-rich foods at least twice per day, you will ensure they meet their daily requirements for healthy growth and development.
TIP: To increase the absorption of both types of iron, couple iron-rich foods with vitamin C rich foods such as paw-paw, sweet potato, capsicum, broccoli, and tomatoes.
What about pouches from the supermarket, are they healthy?
Homemade baby food is always the best option- its usually much healthier for bub and can save you pennies and time in the long run. Baby pouches have been shown to hinder some babies progressing through textures.
But of course, life can be busy and sometimes we need a convenient choice.
When faced with shelves full of pouches and jars, use these quick tips to ensure you pick the best product for bub:
TEXTURE. Ensure the texture is safe for bubs developmental stage. Puree or smooth is where babies usually start.
IRON. Choose a product with meat, fish, poultry, or lentils in the title of the product as it will provide your baby with the iron they require.
SUGAR. Read the ingredients list and ensure there is no added sugar (ingredient ending in 'ose' such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, or maltodextrin, fruit juice, syrups or nectars). If listed, place the product back and start again. Aim for <4g of sugar per 100g on the nutrition panel, but note that fruit flavours may be slightly higher.
SODIUM (or salt). There should be less than 28mg of sodium per 100g on the nutrition panel. If there is more- place the product back and start again.
PRESERVATIVES. They increase the shelf life of products, but also shown to be harmful. The only safe preservative for babies is vitamin C, which also has an added benefit of increased iron absorption. If there is an ingredient that you're unfamiliar with or has a number in brackets- please place the product back and start again.
In Australia, Brands such as Raffertys Garden, Bellany’s Organic, Farex Cereal, Heinz, Only Organic, and Macro are great, but always take a moment to double-check the ingredients and nutrition panel.
Key things to remember when introducing solids:
Continue breastfeeding or bottle-feeding while introducing solids.
Offer solids after a usual bottle or breastfed, choose a quiet environment where you and bub can relax.
Start by offering solids via a baby spoon.
If bub pushes their tongue forward against the spoon, or pushes food straight out of their mouth instead of swallowing, this tongue reflex is a cue bub isn't quite ready for solids.
Fingers are also great (and messy) spoons. Letting them touch and play with their food usually ends with some of it in their mouth. This is a great way to teach them about textures and get them used to baby food if they aren't taking to the spoon.
Separate each food offered, this will teach bub about different flavours.
Learning to eat takes time, they might not take to it to start, but continue to offer a small amount after each breast or bottle-feed.
Ensure bub is upright, supported and always supervised when eating or drinking.
Never add salt or sugar to baby food. Add flavour with aromatic spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, cumin, nutmeg, dill or ginger before blending or mashing.
It is important to introduce cow's milk, egg, fish, peanut, sesame, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat before bub's 1st birthday to decrease the risk of food allergies. See ‘introduction of allergenic foods’ below for further information.
Take note of bubs signs of fullness, they will continually turn their head away, lose interest in food, close their mouth, spit out food or fall asleep.
What not to give bub:
Cows milk or other milk alternatives should not be given as a drink before a child's first birthday but can be added into foods such as cereal.
Honey, including raw, baked, or heated.
Unpasteurised milk, cheeses and yoghurt.
Juice, cordial and soft drink.
Raw or lightly cooked eggs, including mayonnaise, mousse, and some sauces.
Raw sprouts, such as alfalfa and bean sprouts.
Cold smoked fish, and fish high in mercury (usually larger fish).
Deli meats and salads.
Foods that are choking hazards, such as nuts, raw vegetables, grapes, larger seeds, fish with bones, popcorn, marshmallows, and thick nut butter.
Experiencing tummy troubles when introducing solids?
It is common for babies to experience some tummy upset, as solids are very different from breast and formula feeds. This is usually short-lived until your baby's digestive system gets used to new foods.
You will find out soon enough that poos will change, usually becoming more solid, darker, and smelly. And dont freak out if you see some undigested fibrous foods sometimes.
Some bubs experience constipation. This is usually due to decreased fluid intake (from boob or bottle). Try adding a small amount of pureed pear to get the GI tract flowing.
If you have any concerns, or symptoms persist, always seek advice from your Pediatrician.
What is ‘baby-led weaning?’’
Baby-led weaning (BLW) means forgetting purees and weaning spoons and simply letting your baby feed himself. There isn't too much solid evidence with this method but mums practising BLW report perceived benefits of less expensive, enjoyed by infants, and this method encourages the development of bubs feeding skills, healthy eating habits, healthy attitudes towards food and prevents fussy or picky eaters. The most common downside reported by mums (and dads) was increased parental anxiety, due to feeling pressured by other mothers to follow this approach.
As a paediatric dietitian, I see benefits in the development of hand-eye coordination, and bub learning the feelings of fullness with BLW. But the risks include increased risk of choking, iron deficiency, and inadequate energy intake. Seek advice from a Paediatric Dietitian if you're concerned with bubs intake or is struggling to adopt of solids.
How much do I feed my baby?
The frequency of feeding should be based on cues of hunger and satiety and will gradually increased with age.
Start with half to two teaspoons of solids following breast or formula feeds once a day, aiming for around 2 tablespoons to half a cup before increasing the number of meals.
Between 6-8 months, two to three meals should be offered per day, increasing to three to four meals with one or two snacks by 12 months of age. This amount is depend on bub's breastmilk intake and infant growth.
Progressing through food textures:
Offer your baby foods that are the right texture for their developmental stage, all babies develop at different rates but this is the usual guide:
4-6 months: Smooth foods (pureed, ground or well mashed).
By 8 months, babies should be enjoying lumpy or finger foods.
By 12 months your child should be eating soft, cut up family foods.
Introduction of food allergies:
The 9 common food allergens are:
To decrease the risk of a food allergy, introduce the 9 food allergens before your child's first birthday. This includes babies who have severe eczema, another food allergy, or a family member with a food allergy, even though they may have a higher chance of developing a food allergy. Always introduce allergenic foods one at a time and during the day time so you can monitor any allergic reactions.
If you have any concerns, seek advice from your paediatrician and dietitian.
Introducing allergenic foods:
Start with ¼ of a teaspoon in their usual meal, gradually increasing to ½ a teaspoon. Once no reaction is seen, be sure to include these foods into your child's intake twice weekly. For assistance with introducing allergens, send me an email to discuss the easiest options.
Common food allergens should be introduced one per day with two days in between. In infants with a family history of food allergy, it is recommended that each case be addressed on an individual basis in consultation with a healthcare professional. (ASCIA)
What drinks can my baby have?
Breastmilk or formula is the best drink for your baby, it provides so many nutrients bub needs for healthy growth.
Cows milk or plant-based milk alternatives should not be offered as a drink or replace breast milk and formula before 1 year of age, as it can encourage iron deficiency. After 1 year of age, your child can have full-fat cows milk, calcium-fortified soy/rice or oat milk. Choose plant-products enriched with vitamin D, B12, riboflavin and calcium but ensure your child is getting adequate protein from food sources.
From 8 months, you can offer bub water, expressed breast milk, and formula from a cup.
You will notice your child demanding fewer milk feeds once solids are introduced, but take care not to replace milk feeds too quickly with solid foods.
At 1 year of age, infants water intake should be drinking around 800ml of water to keep them hydrated.
SEEKING SUPPORT FROM A DIETITIAN:
If you're finding it challenging to introduce solids, experiencing feeding difficulties, or concerned with your childs growth, reach out for support by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. As a Paediatric Dietitian, we take the stress out of feeding, we ensure your child has all the energy and essential nutrients for health, and to to grow, play and learn.
Rebates available! A referral from your GP or paediatrician will assist with offsetting the majority of the costs involved.
Accreditated Practising Dietitian (Adult & Paediatric)
References available on request.