Knowing when to introduce solids into your baby’s diet and what particular foods to start with can be confusing. If you’re looking for reliable, science-based advice, we have compiled the latest guidelines around introducing solids right here for you.
What’s the go with Breastfeeding?
It is recommended to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of a baby’s life (this means no other foods or drinks). This is because breast milk provides all the essential nutrients and energy needed for the first months of life. Breastfeeding also helps to protect babies against infection, obesity and chronic diseases later on in life and can help mum return to pre-pregnancy weight.
Of course, some mothers may not be able to breastfeed, or may chose not to in which case, infant formula should be the only other food given to babies until six months of age.
When to Start Introducing Solids
When your bub will be ready to start on solids varies from child to child, which is why the World Health Organisation and NHMRC recommend to start at “around 6 months”. Although there is some variability here, the introduction of solids is NOT recommended before 4 months. This is because babies are not developmentally ready i.e. their digestive systems, kidneys and immune systems are not mature enough to take on solids.
Babies are usually born with enough iron stores to last around six months. Because breast milk is not a rich source of iron, it is essential that at around six months’ time (when these iron stores become depleted), parents start introducing iron rich foods. At six months, babies also need solid foods to meet their increased energy and nutrition needs for growth and development.
Introducing solids to your baby’s diet is also important to help them experience new flavours, textures and smells.
Try not to compare your bub to other bubs and consider these signs that might indicate your bub is ready:
- You are finding they are still hungry after their usual amount of milk
- They are interested in your food e.g. they are reaching out for it
- Have good neck and head control
- Are able to sit upright when supported
The first foods to introduce to your child’s diet should be rich sources of iron, such as pureed red meat, chicken, fish, legumes and iron-fortified rice cereals. Following this, there isn’t a specific order that foods need to be introduced and you can look to introduce a range of vegetables, fruits and foods from the other five food groups.
It is important to only introduce one food at a time over the space of a couple of days to allow your baby to become accustom to the new food. This can also help you to identify any potential allergies to certain foods.
Introduce food with a wide variety of colours and flavours before the age of 12 months. This will help the child accept a wider range of foods when they are older.
Cow’s milk products can be introduced, including full-fat yoghurt and cheese, but cow’s milk shouldn’t be given as the main drink until after 12 months. From 12 to 24 months, babies should enjoy full cream cow’s milk. After 24 months old you can choose to switch to low-fat cow’s milk if preferred.
Don’t worry if your baby refuses new foods, that’s normal. Babies need to be offered new foods several before they learn to like them.
If your family is following a vegetarian diet, the quality of your diet is all the more important. Iron is not the only nutrient at risk in a vegetarian diet. A well planned menu will ensure your child receives all the nutrients they need to grow, develop and stay healthy. Include a wide variety of foods such as legumes (e.g. baked beans, lentils), fruit, vegetables, ground nuts and seeds, soy products, wholegrain breads and cereals. An iron supplement may be necessary. Iron supplements should only be given as advised by your doctor or dietitian.
Foods to avoid
There are certain foods that shouldn’t be introduced to children from an early age due to choking hazards or disease risk.
- Honey: introduce after 12 months due to risk of infant botulism
- Cow’s, goat’s and soy milk: Introduce after 12 months as these are low in iron, have high concentrations of protein, sodium and calcium, which may stress a baby’s kidneys as they are not fully developed.
- Offer full fat dairy until 2 years of age in order to meet your baby’s higher energy requirements.
- Whole nuts and seeds: Wait until your child is around 3 years of age due to high risk of choking with these foods. You can offer nut pastes or nut butters from an earlier age.
- Unpasteurised milk, fruit juice, tea, coffee, sugar-sweetened drinks are not appropriate drinks for children at any age.
- Processed foods with added salt and/or sugar should not be offered to young children.
Progression of Textures
When starting out, offer your baby pureed food without lumps. Once they reach the age of 7-8 months you can start to progress to lumpier textures. This might include well cooked rice or iron enriched baby cereals, cooked and pureed red meat, chicken, pork, tofu and legumes. Progressing with the lumpiness of foods is important to help your baby practice the chewing motion using their gums.
From around the age of 12 months, babies can be offered similar foods and textures enjoyed by the rest of the family (except for foods that may a choking hazard).
How Much To Feed Your Child
Every baby is going to be different so try to be guided by your bub as much as possible. Always allow infants to eat to satisfy their appetites. Do not push them to take more mouthfuls if they have indicated they have had enough. It is important not to push a child to overeat or make them finish what is in the bowl.
Use these quantities as a general guide:
|6 months||Start with ½ teaspoon and build up to 2-4 tablespoons|
|8 months||2 tablespoons to ½ cup (build up to 3 times per day)|
|9 months||3 meals a day with some snacks (about 1 1/2 cups at each meal)|
|12 months||3 meals a day and snacks (this is dependant on age, growth and activity levels).|
What About Allergies
Australian children have the highest rate of food allergy in the world. Up to 1 in 10 babies and 2 in 10 school-aged children have a proven food allergy. The most common food allergies are to nine main food proteins: cow’s milk, soy, egg, wheat, peanut, tree nuts, sesame, fish and seafood. Egg and peanut allergies are the most common in infants and toddlers.
New research shows the early introduction of egg (from four to six months) and peanuts (from four to 11 months) is linked to lower rates of egg and peanut allergy. They also found that early introduction of gluten (wheat) was not associated with an increased risk of coeliac disease.
The bottom line is that experts now agree that it is better to introduce a range of foods (including allergenic foods) from around 6 months of life and that this may actually decrease the risk of the child developing an allergy to these foods.
If you have any questions about introducing solids, please comment below. Our team of dietitians would be happy to help.