Starting solids: Your guide
Starting your baby on solid foods is a messy yet special milestone both for babies and parents. Here’s when and how to get started with solids, and what foods your baby should try first.
Your baby will show signs they’re ready for food at around six months old. This is an exciting new stage for you and your baby. You get to prepare meals for your little one, and they’ll have the fun of exploring new tastes and textures. You’ll also discover your baby’s food preferences, which may be different to others.
If your baby easily opens his or her mouth when you touch their lip with a spoon, they may be ready to start eating solid foods.
WHY YOU SHOULDN’T START SOLIDS TOO EARLY
- Your baby’s body won’t be ready for it.
- They can’t swallow well enough until four to six months old.
- Their kidneys and digestion are not developed enough to cope with solid foods.
- They may not get all the milk (and the iron in it) they need to grow well.
- They may also be more likely to get eczema, asthma, food allergies or respiratory infections.
- Starting your baby on solid food will not necessarily help them to sleep better at night.
WHY YOU SHOULDN’T LEAVE STARTING SOLIDS TOO LATE
From around six months of age, your baby needs the vitamins and minerals (especially iron) in solid foods to grow and learn. The nutrients in solid food help to build your baby’s developing brain and body.
YOUR BABY’S FOOD PREFERENCES
Every baby is different, and it’s fun getting to know what sort of food your baby likes. Some babies will devour solid foods as soon as they’re given them, while others prefer to have just breast milk or formula for longer. Some babies eat everything offered, and others have clear likes and dislikes.
Don’t worry too much about your baby’s food preferences. Keep offering a range of nutritious foods so they can learn to enjoy a variety of food tastes and textures.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Feeding your baby solids for the first time can be challenging, but there are several simple steps you can follow to help with the feeding process.
- SET THE SCENE: Choose a time when you and your baby are relaxed and happy. Around lunchtime or early afternoon are good times.
- START WITH MILK: Give them a breast or formula feed before solids, until your baby is eight to nine months old. This milk is still the most important part of their diet, so you want to make sure they get plenty. After eight or nine months, you can give them solids before milk.
- KEEP YOUR BABY SAFE: Sit your baby in a highchair or on your lap. Stay with your baby while they’re eating, so you can help them if they choke. Avoid small, hard foods because your baby could choke on them.
- OFFER FIRST TASTES: At first, offer one to two teaspoons of smooth, runny, slightly warm solids, once a day. Let your baby taste the food and suck it off the spoon. Your baby will get better at taking food off the spoon during the first week of feeding.
- GIVE YOUR BABY TIME: Eating solids is complicated, and baby may spit out their first solid foods as they learn to get the food to the back of their mouth to swallow it. If your baby continues to spit out a food, wait for a few days and offer the food again, or try another food.
- GRADUALLY OFFER NEW FOODS: To help your baby get used to a variety of tastes, gradually offer different foods. Even if a food tastes bland to you, it won’t taste bland to your baby.
- LET YOUR BABY DEVELOP THEIR OWN TASTES: Babies like some tastes more than others. If your baby refuses a food, mix a little of the refused food with a food they like. Gradually increase the amount of the refused food until your baby gets used to the taste. If your baby continues refusing, take a break and try it again in a week or two. It may take up to 10 times before they develop a taste for it.
- LET YOUR BABY MAKE A MESS: Your baby will have a great time handling their own food as they get bigger, and will learn how things work. Mealtimes can get messy. Babies often enjoy dropping food over the side of the highchair and watching it fall. Put some newspaper or plastic under their highchair to contain the mess.
HOW MUCH AND HOW OFTEN
Your baby will let you know how much food they need. Start with one food at a time, and add a new food every two to four days.
- Start with 1–2 teaspoons once a day, and slowly build up to ¼ of a cup.
- Slowly increase the amount of solid food, following your baby’s appetite.
- Once your baby is taking 2 tablespoons to ½ a cup per feed, increase the number of meals a day.
- Some babies are ready for two meals a day the second week after starting solid foods, and then three meals by the third week.
- Each baby is different, and some eat more than others.
HOW TO TELL WHEN YOUR BABY HAS HAD ENOUGH
When your baby wants to stop eating, they’ll turn their head away, push the food or your hand away, close their mouth or start crying. Let your baby’s appetite guide how much they eat. Don’t force them to eat all the food on their plate.
HOW TO MAKE BABY’S FOOD
- To make your baby’s food smooth, use a blender, mouli, or push the food through a fine sieve with a wooden spoon.
- To thin the food down, add cooled water, breast milk, or if you are formula-feeding, add formula.
- A great way to stock up on baby food is to cook a large amount, freeze portions in small containers or ice-cube trays, and use it over the next three to four weeks.
- Food can be kept in the fridge for two days.
Making baby’s food
WHEN YOUR BABY STARTS ON SOLIDS, THEY’LL NEED SMOOTH, RUNNY FOOD. YOU’LL ALSO NEED TO THINK ABOUT HEALTH AND SAFETY WHILE YOU’RE MAKING IT TOO.
SIGNS THAT YOUR BABY IS READY FOR SOLID FOOD IF THEY:
- Seem hungry after breast or formula feeds.
- Can hold their head up well.
- Are interested in watching you eat – they reach out, open their mouth when you’re eating, and put their hands and toys in their mouth.
- Make chewing movements.
- Easily open their mouth when you touch their lip with a spoon or bring food to their mouth, and their tongue doesn’t protrude and push the food out.
- Move food to the back of their mouth and swallow.
If your baby was born prematurely, they may not be ready for solid food at around six months. Your Plunket nurse can help you work out when to start offering your baby solid food, and will give you the information you need.
BABY’S FIRST FOODS
From six months old, your baby can try a range of foods. Your baby will cope best with one new food at a time and small amounts to start with. If you buy baby food, check the labels for the ages and stages they suit. As your baby gets older, you can start introducing more variety into their diet. Eventually, your baby will be able to eat the same foods as you.
CEREALS & RICE: Iron-fortified baby rice or infant cereal, plain rice, congee
Prep Check labels for the age and stage they suit. Purée.
FRUITS: Apple, apricot, mango, pear, plum, ripe banana, avocado, pawpaw, peach.
Prep Remove skins, pips, stones, and seeds. Cook fruit to soften, if necessary. Purée.
BEANS AND PULSES: Dahl, baked beans, chickpeas, dried beans, peas, and lentils.
Prep Cook and purée.
MEAT: Beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and fish. Lamb’s liver is a good source of iron, but it is best to offer liver only once a week. Do not give salty meat such as corned beef, povi/pulu masima (salted brisket), and tinned fish as first foods.
Prep Cook and purée.
VEGETABLES: Kumara, potato, carrot, pumpkin, parsnip, kamokamo or marrow, taro, cassava, manioke(a), yam.
Prep Remove skins, pips, and seeds. Cook vegetables to soften them. Purée.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Hot food can burn your baby’s mouth. When heating frozen food, make sure it’s piping hot, then let it cool down before giving it to your baby.
Test the temperature of the food by stirring the food with a spoon and then putting the back of the spoon on the inside of your wrist. It shouldn’t feel hot.
Food cooked in a microwave oven keeps cooking after the microwave has stopped. If you use a microwave to heat your baby’s food, mix it well after heating, leave it for a few minutes, then mix it again before testing the temperature.
If you taste food from the spoon your baby will use, you can pass on viruses and bacteria to your baby. It’s best to use a clean spoon to feed your baby.
Viruses and bacteria can also be passed from your baby’s mouth into their food, so throw uneaten food away.
Once your baby starts eating solids, it’s important they get enough iron as it will help your baby’s brain develop, and boost their learning and energy. It’s also important to see how your baby reacts to certain foods, so you know if they have a food allergy.
The thought of food allergies can be scary, but there is little proof that you can protect your baby by holding off on giving your baby the foods that most often cause allergies, such as eggs, cows’ milk, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat, peanuts or other nuts. A good approach is to introduce one food at a time to your baby, and to add a new food every two to four days. That way, if your baby does react to a food, you’ll be able to work out which food caused the reaction. If your baby reacts to a food, see your doctor. If they have a serious reaction (swelling lips, mouth, tongue, face and/ or throat, dizziness, difficultybreathing and collapsing) call 111 for an ambulance. You should read more about food allergies before you start feeding your baby solids.
DAIRY, SALT, AND SUGAR Wait until your baby is seven to eight months to give them dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt, and custard in home-cooked foods. However, some cans and jars of bought baby food have these foods in them. This is okay, because the food has been cooked at very high temperatures, making it easier for your baby to digest. Babies should not have salt, sugar, artificial sweeteners or butter added to their food. Hold off on feeding honey to your baby until they turn one. Honey sometimes contains a bacterium that causes serious illness (infant botulism) in babies under one.
GOOD IRON SOURCES FOR BABY
By six months, your baby will be starting to run low on the stores of iron they were born with. Some iron-rich foods suitable for this age are lamb, beef, chicken, and iron-fortified infant cereal. Foods high in vitamin C, such as fruit and vegetables, help your baby use iron from iron-rich food.
Meat is a good source of protein and iron. While all meats contain iron that your baby can absorb easily, red meat contains more iron than white meat. To prepare meats, cook and purée them.
Add vegetable water, meat juices or water to make them easy to eat. Another way of preparing meat is to freeze uncooked meat and grate the frozen meat into your baby’s raw vegetables before cooking.
Offer your baby meat at least 3–5 times a week, or see below for vegetarian options.
Legumes, cereals, and green leafy vegetables also contain iron. However, the iron in plants (non-haem) is in a different form to the iron in meat (haem). The body cannot use non-haem iron as easily.
Eating foods that are high in vitamin C helps the body to absorb more non-haem iron. If your baby is having a vegetarian diet, you might like to talk about their diet with your Well Child nurse.
INTRODUCING SOLIDS WHILE BREASTFEEDING
Once your baby reaches six months they may show signs they’re ready for solid food.
- As your baby starts eating other foods, they may need fewer breast feeds but it is still an important part of their diet.
- Until your baby is eight or nine months old, it’s best to give them breast milk before solid food. That way they’ll get all the milk they need to grow well.
CONTINUING TO BREASTFEED
Breast milk is the only food babies need in the first six months. Plunket recommends that you continue to breastfeed baby until they are at least one year or older, and that you start introducing solid food around six months.
Reprinted with permission of Plunket New Zealand (www.plunket.org.nz).