Feeding is a developmental skill. So, if you’re asking the question, “when should I start my baby on solids?”, the current guidelines are around 6 months of age and not before 4 months of age. However, starting your baby on solids is a little more complex than just giving an age. It’s actually more important to look for signs of readiness for solids rather than a specific age.
Starting solids before a baby is developmentally ready can cause longer-term feeding issues such as oral aversions or refusing to feed. If this happens, it can be very difficult to overcome. If your baby is a bit delayed in some of their other developmental skills, they are likely to also be a bit delayed in their readiness to start solids. If a baby was born prematurely, they will most likely be ready for solids closer to their corrected age rather than their actual age.
Sometimes health professionals or doctors may recommend starting solids earlier in babies with poor growth to help them grow better. But when you think about the types of foods you start with and the amount a baby eats, starting solids is not going to improve growth quickly. If you create an oral aversion, their growth is going to be impacted longer term. Bottom line: you need to make sure they’re ready.
How Do I Know If My Baby Is Ready To Start Solids?
Signs of readiness for solids include good head control and putting hands and toys in their mouth. Other signs include showing interest in the foods other people are eating, watching them eat, reaching for their food and making munching movements with their mouth; copying chewing.
Where Should I Feed My Baby?
Ideally, a high chair is the best choice for feeding your baby but it depends on how well they can sit. Your baby needs to be well supported during feeding. They’re learning to feed and they need to be able to concentrate on what’s happening in their mouth. They can’t do this if they’re needing to concentrate on sitting upright.
You may need to use rolled-up towels or small blankets, placed around them in the chair, to make sure they’re well supported. It’s also good if their feet are resting on a footrest. So, when choosing a highchair, choose one with a footrest if you can.
If your baby is not ready to sit in a highchair, you can feed them on your lap, where you can support them. Feeding in a rocker or bouncer is not ideal as they are too flat. It’s much safer to feed your baby in an upright position.
What Foods Should I Start With When Starting Solids?
There is no longer a recommended order when commencing solids. Some good foods to start with include infant rice cereal (fortified with iron), fruits, and vegetables. The only foods you should avoid are strawberries and honey due to the risk of bacteria which can make your child unwell. These can be introduced from one year of age.
It’s important to introduce foods rich in iron from around six months of age, as this is when a baby’s iron store starts to deplete. Iron-rich foods include iron-fortified infant rice cereal, meat, chicken, fish and eggs.
Do not add any salt or sugar to your baby’s food. Their tastebuds are not used to extra salt or sugar so there’s no need to add them. Foods will not taste bland to your baby. In fact, adding salt is bad for your baby’s kidneys and adding sugar is likely to make your baby develop a preference for sweet foods which is also bad for tooth development, even if they don’t yet have visible teeth.
When Should I Start High Allergen Foods?
The latest evidence for starting high allergen foods is to start them as early as possible, preferably before one year of age. High allergen foods include:
- cow’s milk,
- tree nuts,
Cow’s milk can be introduced by adding small amounts to cereals, trialling yoghurts, custard and cheese. Whilst your baby will not be able to eat peanuts and tree nuts, you can use nut pastes or ground nuts added to foods. Many types of bread and crackers contain soy. You can offer soy milk or tofu as well. Sesame can also be found in certain bread and crackers as well as hummus or using sesame oil. Wheat can be included by using foods such as Weetbix, over-cooked pasta or couscous.
If you have a strong family history of food allergies, it’s best to consult your Dietitian, Allergist/Immunologist, Paediatrician or GP before introducing high allergen foods.
How Should I Start Solids And How Much Should I Expect My Baby To Eat When Starting Out?
There’s no correct answer as to how much your baby should eat when they’re starting out. Every baby is different. Some babies will only take one or two tastes, others may take half a cup. This is all normal. The most important thing is to follow your baby’s lead.
If they’re showing they don’t want any more food, you should stop. Signs of refusal include refusing to open their mouth, turning their head or pushing the spoon away.
If they become upset or aren’t enjoying their solids, you should stop. Never force a spoon or food into your baby’s mouth as this may lead to food refusal behaviours and can be unsafe.
Touch the spoon to their lips and allow them to open their mouth. If they don’t like taking food from a spoon you can try offering tastes from a clean finger or a hard rusk dipped in purees. You can even try putting a bit on their hand and seeing if they bring it to their own mouth.
When And How Often?
Start with offering solids just once a day. Once your baby is tolerating and enjoying this you can introduce a second and then a third meal. When starting solids, offer them after a milk feed. At around nine or ten months you can switch this to offer the solids first.
Often when starting out with solids, purees are offered initially, with the textures increased as tolerated. Some babies progress quickly to lumpy textures and more solid foods, other babies require pureed textures for longer. It’s important to give your baby opportunities to practice with some harder foods to help them develop their skills (as long as they’re able to tolerate them). Some families use “Baby-led Weaning” where they go straight to solid family foods for their baby and skip the pureed and mashed textures. You need to do what works best for you and your baby.
It’s ok if your baby only accepts a few tastes to start with – milk is their main source of nutrition. When starting solids, it’s about skill development and learning about flavours. The best thing is to offer a wide range of flavours so that your baby becomes familiar with them. They may look like they don’t like a new food by pulling funny faces but it’s more likely that it’s just different to what they’re used to; it might taste different or feel different in their mouth. It’s important that you re-offer these foods many times so they become familiar with them. Don’t give up. It can take 20 or 30 presentations of a new food before some babies accept them.
Remember, each baby is different and it’s important to be guided by them and move at their pace. Try not to compare to other babies.
How Do I Stop My Baby From Making a Mess During Feeding?
Allowing your baby to get messy when eating is frustrating for most parents but very important for learning to eat. A baby can learn what food will feel like in their mouth by touching it with their hands. They also learn about the smells. Some babies like to be independent with their feeding, even from an early age, so allowing them to be messy and in control of their own feeding is important. Offering a baby their own spoon during meals, or using hard finger foods such as a teething rusk can be a good way for them to explore their mouth and enjoy feeding. Sitting in a high chair is best for messy food play and developing self-feeding skills.
What Should I Do If My Baby Gags When Feeding?
Gagging is normal when starting solids. It’s a protective mechanism. It also helps your baby learn. Try to stay calm if your baby gags so that they don’t become fearful. Talk to them and encourage them to spit out pieces that are too large or chew foods more. This will help them learn.
How Can I Give My Child Solids, They Don’t Have Any Teeth?
Babies don’t need teeth to eat. Their gum surfaces are quite hard and they can manage to break down many harder foods with these. When a baby does get teeth, they usually only get them at the front, to start with. These teeth are used for biting but not chewing, their gums are still used for chewing. Babies generally don’t get back teeth until at least 2 years of age. We need to offer harder textures before then.
When Should I Give My Baby Water?
Boiled water that’s been cooled can be offered in a cup from around 6 months of age. You can use an open cup, pop-top or spout cup. Your baby won’t be able to drink without your help at this age and will be messy. They’ll also not take very much, which is fine as they’re getting their fluid from their milk. Introducing water now will help them learn to drink from a cup. We aim to transition toddlers from a teat bottle to a cup by 12 months of age but they won’t be ready to do this if they haven’t been practising. So, don’t offer water in a bottle with a teat.
Remember that all babies are different, as is their journey to starting solids. The key is to make sure it’s an enjoyable experience for your baby and your family. Your child needs to feel safe and in control when starting solids. Make sure you follow their cues and progress at their pace.
Here’s a list of other resources that you might find helpful…
The Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital: Guide to foods – baby’s first year
The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network: Baby’s first foods
NSW Health: Starting Family Foods
Better Health (VIC): Introducing solid foods
Dept. Of Health (WA): Baby’s first foods – Healthy eating from 6 months
QLD Health: Starting baby on solid foods
Raising Children: Introducing solids
Allergy.org: How to introduce solid foods to babies