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Foods for babies (solids) 1 - how and when to start

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Starting babies on solid foods is an important milestone in their life.

Until around six months of age, breast milk or infant formula meets all of your baby's nutritional needs. Even after your baby has started on solid foods, breast milk or infant formula is still an important source of nutrition.

Contents

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).

When should I start solid foods?

At around six months of age solid foods are needed to meet your baby's increasing nutritional and developmental needs.

Signs that your baby is ready to start solid foods:
Your baby:

  • is able to hold his head up and sit with support
  • is able to control his tongue
  • is interested in what others eat (looking, reaching and grabbing for food)
  • seems hungry even after a full breastfeed or bottle.

Starting solid foods too early is not good for your baby as her swallowing skills may not be ready. Her digestive system may also not be ready to cope with foods. It is also important not to leave it too late to start solid foods as this can lead to nutrient deficiencies (such as iron deficiency) and feeding problems.

If you are unsure whether your baby is ready for solid foods talk to your Child and Family Health nurse, doctor or dietitian.

How do I feed my baby?

Find a quiet place where you and your baby can concentrate on what you are doing.

A mealtime routine can be started right from the very first solid meal.

  • Start with small tastes of food given after a breastfeed (or infant formula) once a day, and then two to three times a day as your baby gets used to solid foods.
  • Begin with a smooth consistency and progress to thicker and lumpier textures as soon as your baby is eating a range of smooth foods.

Most babies push the food out of their mouth for a little while when they start learning to take food from the spoon. This is normal and does not mean they don't like the food. It may take many tastes before a new food is accepted.

Feeding your baby can be divided into stages

  • first tastes (smooth foods), learning to chew (soft lumps),
  • self-feeding
  • family meals.

Use the tables in each section as a guide for what foods are suitable for your baby. Babies go through these stages at different rates – the ages given are a guide only.

First tastes

Smooth foods – from around 6 months to about 7 months

In the beginning offer a breastfeed (or infant formula) first then try a small amount of solid foods. You may like to wait an hour after a feed to give your baby solid foods. Begin with a smooth consistency and progress to thicker and lumpier textures as soon as your baby is eating a range of smooth foods.

Start by offering once a day, and then two to three times a day as your baby gets used to solid foods.

Babies need extra iron in their diet at around six months so it is important to include at least one iron-rich food regularly in your baby's first foods to prevent iron deficiency. Iron- rich foods include:

  • Iron fortified cereals (eg baby rice cereal)
  • Pureed meat and poultry dishes
  • Cooked pureed tofu
  • Cooked pureed legumes, lentils and beans

Other than recommending the use of iron-rich first foods in your baby's diet, there are no strict rules on the order in which foods should be introduced or the number of new foods that can be introduced at a time.

Food group

Examples of foods to introduce (iron rich foods are in bold and underlined)

Grains

Iron fortified baby cereal (eg rice cereal) mixed with full cream cow's milk, breast milk or formula

Meat, poultry, fish and eggs

Pureed meat, poultry and fish
Pureed tofu

Fruit

Pureed stewed fruits (eg apple, apricot, pear, berries)
Well-mashed banana

Vegetables and legumes

Cooked and pureed vegetables (eg pumpkin, potato, zucchini, sweet potato, peas, cauliflower, carrots)
Cooked and pureed lentils and legumes (eg baked beans)

Dairy

Baby yoghurt (these are often lower in added sugar)
Other regular full fat smooth yoghurts (eg Greek yoghurt)
Custards

Drinks

Breast milk (or infant formula) should still provide most of your baby's nutrition.
Your baby can also start trying to drink from a cup at around 6 months. Use tap water, expressed breast milk, infant formula or small amounts of cow's milk

Things to remember about this stage:

  • To prevent iron deficiency make sure iron-rich foods are included in your baby's first foods.
  • A good first food to start with is iron-fortified baby rice cereal (made up with cow's milk, breast milk or infant formula). You may like to add pureed fruit.
  • Babies often push food out of their mouth when starting solid foods. This is normal and does not mean they don't like the food.
  • It may take 8–10 times of tasting a food before it is happily accepted by your baby. Breast milk or infant formula is still important. Give solids after or between
    milk feeds.
  • Once your baby is eating a range of soft, smooth foods, it is very important to move onto the next stage... THICKER, LUMPIER TEXTURES.

Learning to chew

Soft lumps – from around 7 months to 8–9 months

Most babies can manage thicker textures and soft lumps soon after starting solid foods. Once your baby can sit alone and make chewing movements she can be encouraged to bite and chew, even if she doesn't have teeth.

When introducing lumpier textures, your baby may spit the food out or even gag the first few times.

  • Gagging is a normal part of learning to eat. This does not mean she is not ready for lumps; she just needs to keep practising!
  • Continue to offer lumpier textures and pieces of soft food. The chewing action helps to develop your baby's muscles for eating and talking.

Babies learn by watching what you do – show your baby how to eat lumpy foods by showing her the chewing motion yourself and saying 'chewing' or 'chew the food' as you do so.

After a few times doing this your baby will learn what to do.

Offer your child a variety of foods from all the food groups. This table will give you some ideas about the texture of foods that are good for your baby at this stage of eating.

Food group

Food ideas (iron rich foods are in bold and underlined)

Grains

Porridge, wholegrain breakfast biscuits (eg Weetbix), iron fortified baby cereals made to a thicker texture
Add pasta, rice and other grains such as cous cous and quinoa to meals to create a lumpy texture

Meat, poultry, fish and eggs

Minced or finely chopped meat and poultry
Flaked fish (eg salmon or tuna)
Mashed tofu
Well-cooked whole egg (eg scrambled or hard boiled and mashed)

Fruit

Soft chopped or mashed fruits (eg banana, avocado, peach)
Grated apple

Vegetables and legumes

Mashed or diced cooked vegetables
Mashed legumes (eg baked beans, chickpeas, kidney beans) and lentils

Dairy

Yoghurt with soft lumps
Grated cheese

Drinks

Breast milk (or infant formula) is still important in your baby's diet.
Allow your baby to practice drinking from a cup. Use tap water, expressed breast milk, infant formula or small amounts of cow's milk

Things to remember about this stage:

  • Gagging is a normal part of learning to eat and it usually frightens the parents more than the baby. Keep offering lumpy foods to your baby so they can learn how to eat them.
  • Make sure you include iron-rich foods regularly in your baby's diet to prevent iron deficiency.
  • Give solids 3 times each day. You can begin a meal pattern of breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Eat with your baby as much as you can – babies learn by watching what you do.
  • Breast milk or infant formula is still important. Once your baby is managing larger amounts of solids you can start to offer them before a breastfeed or infant formula feed.

Learning to self-feed

Finger foods and firmer lumps – around 8–9 to 12 months

At around 8–9 months of age many babies like to feed themselves. Encourage their efforts by offering 'finger foods' that they can hold, bite and chew.

Babies learn by watching what you do. Show your baby how to bite and chew by showing him the motion yourself and saying 'bite and chew' as you do so. After a few times doing this your baby will learn what to do.

Learning to self-feed is an important but messy step in your baby's development.

  • Be patient and allow your baby to get messy with the food served.
  • You can let your baby start practising using a spoon with easy foods like custard or yoghurt.
  • Playing with food is part of the way babies learn about different foods.
  • Manners can be taught when your baby is older.

Remember to always watch your child while she eats, and avoid foods that may cause choking - see Choking on food and other objects

Offer your child a variety of foods from all the food groups. This table will give you some ideas about the texture of foods that are good for your baby at this stage of eating.

Food group

Examples of finger foods (iron rich foods are in bold and underlined)

Grains

Strips of bread or toast Sandwiches (eg with avocado, hummus, commercial spread eg Vegemite, peanut butter or cream cheese)
Cooked pasta shapes (eg spirals)
Pikelets
Savoury biscuits (eg Cruskits, rice crackers, Ritz)

Meat, poultry, fish and eggs

Strips of well cooked, lean beef, lamb, chicken and fish
Pieces of well cooked meats from casseroles
Cubes of tofu
Meatballs and meat or fish patties (cooked meat or fish can be finely chopped and mixed with mashed potato then shaped into balls or patties)
Boiled egg

Fruit

Chopped banana and strawberries
Large sticks of rockmelon / watermelon with seeds removed
Orange or mandarin segments with peel removed
Canned fruit (eg diced mixed fruit or peach slices)
Grated or soft stewed apple or pear
Grapes cut into half
Stone fruit (eg plums and nectarines) with skin and stone removed

Vegetables and legumes

Soft cooked cubes or sticks of vegetables (eg pumpkin, potato, zucchini, broccoli)
Thick mashed potato (try rolling into balls)
Baked beans and other cooked beans (eg kidney beans, cannellini beans)

Dairy

Sticks, cubes or grated cheese

Things to remember about this stage:

  • Self-feeding is messy! It is important to allow your baby to explore food and practice self-feeding skills. A helpful tip is to put a plastic mat or old sheet down to catch
    the mess.
  • At around 9 months of age most babies are having 3 meals a day along with breastfeeds or infant formula feeds. You may like to start to offer 1–2 snacks each day.
  • Let your baby guide how much food she takes at each meal.
  • Always watch your baby eating and provide safe foods
  • Eat with your baby as much as you can – babies learn by watching what you do.
  • Breast milk or infant formula is still important for your baby.

12 months onwards

12 months onwards – family meals with some changes

By 12 months of age your toddler should have small amounts of nutritious foods at regular times throughout the day.

  • Toddlers have small tummies and appetites so need to be offered small regular meals and snacks.
  • Offer three meals and one or two snacks each day.
  • Your toddler can now be offered modified versions of family foods and meals.
  • Take care to continue to avoid foods that may cause choking and always supervise your child eating.

Breastfeeding can continue for as long as both you and your baby desire. A toddler should not need to be breastfed overnight.

After around 12 months of age your toddler can start to have cow's milk as his main drink. Choose 'full cream' milk (not reduced fat or low fat varieties) as fat is an important energy source for young children. (See Milk for toddlers)

Too much milk can fill toddlers up and make them less hungry for food. This can make mealtimes difficult and may cause them to miss out on other important foods. It is best to offer your toddler milk in a cup (not a bottle) and limit to 500mls each day.

The best drinks for toddlers are breast milk, cow's milk and plain water.

Fruit juice, cordial and sweetened drinks are not needed. It is best for your toddler to eat fruit rather than drink juice. If you offer juice, limit the amount to no more than half a cup of diluted juice (1 part juice to 3 parts water) a day and serve it in a cup (not a bottle). Large amounts of fruit juice should be avoided, as it can cause tooth decay and lead to diarrhoea.

Toddlers have big variations in the amount of food they need to eat from day to day. It is normal for toddler's appetite to vary from day to day and meal to meal as they have small tummies and appetites. Children are good at knowing when they are hungry and when they are full. They can easily lose this skill if they are forced to finish everything on their plate.

Never force feed or bribe your child to eat. Parents and carers need to decide what type of food is offered and when it is offered. It is up to the child to decide how much to eat.

There is more information in the topics

  • Feeding toddlers
  • Feeding toddlers - 10 tips for happy meal times
  • Feeding toddlers – what and how much?

Further information

If you are concerned about your child's eating it is a good idea to discuss the issues with your Child and Family Health nurse or call the parent helpline on 1300 364 100.

If you are still concerned you may like to see your General Practitioner (GP), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) or Paediatrician (child doctor).

The original nutritional and educational content of this booklet has been reviewed by specialist Dietitians at the Women's and Children's Health Network (WCHN), SA Health. Revised August 2013.

Food product information contained in this booklet was up to date at the time of revision. If you are not sure about a food, check with the manufacturer.

Information in this topic is from the booklet developed by the Nutrition Department of the Women's and Children's Health Network 'First foods' http://www.wch.sa.gov.au/services/az/other/nutrition/documents/First_Foods.pdf

Produced by
Women's and Children's Health Network Nutrition Department
72 King William Road
North Adelaide SA 5006

Phone (08) 8161 7233

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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.

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