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Mother feeding baby

Here you’ll find lots of helpful information on when to introduce your baby to solid foods and tips to make it easier, and what baby-led weaning is.

Introducing your baby to their first foods is an important time in your baby’s life and can be lots of fun. Experts agree you should start giving your baby their first solids when they are around six months old (NHS, 2019a). A baby’s digestive system needs time to develop so that it can cope with solid foods (UNICEF, no date).

While not all babies instantly enjoy solids, you may see some happy and funny faces as your baby tries their first foods. Family life is about to get messier as your baby explores new tastes and textures. 

When should my baby try their first foods?

Your baby should only need breastmilk or formula milk for the first six months of their life. Experts say that introducing solid food earlier than this has no advantages. It may even increase the risk of your baby getting an infection or illness (UNICEF, no date; First Steps Nutrition Trust, 2020).

If you are breastfeeding, continuing past six months old means your baby will receive more antibodies and other health benefits (Munblit et al, 2017). Such benefits include having a lower risk of being obese or developing diabetes as a child.

Waiting until your baby is six months old before you introduce solids also means they'll be more likely to be able to feed themselves (Rapley and Murkett, 2010; Brown, 2017). At this age, your baby will also be able to manage foods in their mouth and swallow properly, which reduces the risk of choking (Rapley and Murkett, 2010). Babies don’t produce all the enzymes needed to digest food thoroughly until they are about one year old (Naylor and Morrow, 2001; Brown and Lee, 2013).

How do I know if my baby is ready for solids?

Your baby will give you various signs that they might be ready for their first foods:

  • Your baby can sit up with support and hold their head steady.
  • They can swallow their food – babies who aren’t ready automatically push food out of their mouth with their tongue.
  • They can pick up food and put it in their mouth. (NHS, 2019a)

Sometimes, your baby might seem hungrier but this on its own does not mean your baby needs to start solids. Babies sometimes have growth and accompanying appetite spurts. Although some people believe that solids will help babies to sleep through the night, research doesn’t support this (Brown and Harries, 2015; Murcia et al, 2019)

In the first six months of their life, you can respond to your baby’s increased need for milk by feeding them more frequently if breastfeeding. You can also give them more milk feeds up to the maximum daily recommended amount if formula feeding (Marasco and Barger, 1999).

Most babies start to cut teeth when they're around six months old, and this helps them to bite and chew their food. Some babies get their first teeth earlier than this. Whenever they get their first teeth, babies don’t need teeth to chew and will manage pieces of food quite well without (Brown, 2017)

A baby who is unsettled and putting their fists in their mouth a lot may be teething rather than hungry (NHS, 2019b).

What if my baby was premature?

If your baby was born prematurely, there is no definitive age when introducing solids is recommended. Some healthcare practitioners say a baby's four months corrected age is the youngest age to introduce solids. Looking out for the signs of readiness listed above is even more important with a premature baby (Bliss, no date).

You might want to speak to your GP or health visitor for further advice (NHS, 2019a).

Getting started: Introducing solid foods

From six months old, babies can eat a wide variety of foods and there’s no need to begin with bland flavours. Babies will only need small quantities at first, because their tummies are still small (NHS, 2019b).

Some parents opt for baby-led weaning. Others choose to make homemade dishes and then purée or mash foods.

You might opt for pre-packaged baby purees and baby foods, or a combination – it’s up to you. It’s important to check the sugar content of commercially produced infant food, as it can be very high. Purees in pouches are not recommended for this reason (First Steps Nutrition Trust, 2018). Read our tips on how to get started with introducing your baby to their first foods.

Baby-led weaning

Baby-led weaning is when parents offer pieces of food for their baby to grasp in their hands and feed themselves. Rather than feeding your baby, baby-led weaning gives your baby the chance to be in charge and pick up and eat what they choose. Read more in our baby-led weaning for beginners and baby-led weaning tips articles.

It can be slow and messy to begin with. Your baby joining in at family meals can help them as they’ll watch and copy other family members.

Your baby's first solid foods

You can offer your baby their first solid foods at a time that suits both of you, although it might be easier if your baby is not tired or too hungry (NHS, 2019a).

There is little evidence to tell us which foods are best for your baby to start with. But vegetables and fruit can make good first foods. You could try starting with:

  • Soft fruit or cooked vegetables chopped into sticks or pieces large enough for your baby to pick up with their whole fist.
  • Mashed or pureed fruit or vegetables.
  • Baby rice or cereal – mix the rice with a bit of your baby's usual milk.
  • For a younger baby who is being spoon-fed starting on solid foods, you can add expressed breastmilk or formula.
  • You might be surprised that your baby can cope with pieces of lean, well-cooked meat or fish, pasta, pulses, beans or bread that they can hold and suck. (NHS, 2019a; First Steps Nutrition Trust, 2020)

Food for babies should not have salt added at either the cooking stage or afterwards (NHS, 2018). Babies also don’t need sweet foods, such as biscuits or cakes, or foods high in saturated fats (NHS, 2018).

Iron-rich foods for babies

Anaemia (low iron levels) is one of the most common problems among young children (Daniels et al, 2018). So iron-rich foods are important in your baby’s diet.

Iron-rich foods include red meat, pulses (peas and beans) and iron-fortified cereals. Vitamin C, which is in fresh fruit and fresh or frozen vegetables, can help your baby absorb iron. Breast milk and formula milk also contain iron.

Which foods should be avoided?

After six months of age, babies can eat most foods except:

  • whole nuts and similar foods that could cause them to choke
  • foods that might cause food poisoning under the age of one year, such as raw egg (if no Lion mark is present), unpasteurised cheeses and raw shellfish
  • honey because of the risk of botulism
  • rice drinks because of the levels of arsenic
  • shark, swordfish or marlin due to high mercury levels (NHS, 2018).

What about food allergies?

If your baby already has an allergy or there is a family history of allergies, you might want to be particularly careful when introducing foods and perhaps speak to your GP or health visitor first (NHS, 2021). There is no evidence that introducing egg or peanut products before six months old rather than at six months prevents allergies (SACN-COT, 2016; NHS, 2021).

Some studies have suggested that babies at increased risk of peanut allergy might benefit from early introduction to peanut-containing foods (Du Toit et al, 2015). But it's too soon to say whether guidance to families will change.

Keeping your baby safe

Some parents worry that starting to eat solids puts their baby at risk of choking. Here are some precautions you can take to keep them safe when you’re feeding your baby solid food:

  • Make sure your baby is sitting upright and steady.
  • Always stay with your baby while they are eating.
  • Don’t rush your baby – let them take their time.
  • Cut food items like grapes and baby tomatoes lengthways.
  • Avoid foods like whole nuts, which children under five years should not have, because they are a choking hazard. 

(Rapley and Murkett, 2010; NHS, 2021)

As well as being extra careful, you could learn what to do if your baby is choking. If they are choking, they won’t make any noise at all (NCT, 2016). You might find it helpful to attend an NCT baby first aid course at this stage to help build your confidence.

This page was last reviewed in December 2021.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

You might find attending one of NCT's Introducing Solids Foods workshops helpful as they cover topics like when to start your baby on their first foods. They also cover topics like purees,  baby-led weaning and what foods to avoid. These courses are run by NCT qualified practitioners and you will also get to meet other local parents with babies of a similar age to yours.

Some parents find attending a Baby First aid course helpful.

Bliss. (no date) How do I know if my baby is ready to wean? Available at: https://www.bliss.org.uk/parents/about-your-baby/feeding/weaning-your-p… [Accessed 17th December 2021].

Brown A. (2017) Why Starting Solids Matters. London, Pinter & Martin Ltd.

Brown A, Harries V. (2015) Infant sleep and night feeding patterns during later infancy: association with breastfeeding frequency, daytime complementary food intake, and infant weight breastfeeding medicine. 10(5):246-252. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25973527 [Accessed 17th December 2021].

Brown A, Lee M. (2013) An exploration of experiences of mothers following a baby-led weaning style: developmental readiness for complementary foods.  Matern Child Nutr. 9(2):233-243. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22118242 [Accessed 17th December 2021].

Daniels L, Taylor  RW, Williams SM, Gibson RS, Fleming EA, Wheeler BJ, et al. (2018) Impact of a modified version of baby-led weaning on iron intake and status: a randomised controlled trial. BMJ Open. 8(6):e019036. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6020950/ [Accessed 17th December 2021].

Du Toit G, Roberts G, Sayre PH, Bahnson HT, Radulovic S, Santos AF, et al. (2015) Randomized trial of peanut consumption in infants at risk for peanut allergy. N Engl J Med. 372(9):803-813. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4416404/ [Accessed 17th December 2021].

First Steps Nutrition Trust. (2018) Fruit and vegetable based purees in pouches for infants and young children.  Available at: https://www.firststepsnutrition.org/babyfood-composition [Accessed 13th January 2022].

First Steps Nutrition Trust. (2020) Eating well: the first year. Available at:  https://www.firststepsnutrition.org/eating-well-infants-new-mums [Accessed 17th December 2021].

Murcia L, Reynaud E, Messayke S, Davisse-Paturet  C, Forhan A, Heude B, et al. (2019) Infant feeding practices and sleep development in pre-schoolers from the EDEN mother-child cohort. J Sleep Res. 28(6):e1259. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsr.12859 [Accessed 17th December 2021].

Naylor A, Morrow A. (2001) Developmental readiness of normal full term infants to progress from exclusive breastfeeding to the introduction of complementary foods: reviews of the relevant literature concerning infant immunologic, gastrointestinal, oral motor and maternal reproductive and lactational development. Available at: https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/Pnacs461.pdf [Accessed 17th December 2021].

NCT. (2016) First aid: What to do if a baby (birth to 12 months) is choking. Available at: https://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/first-aid-what-do-if-your-baby-1-year-starts-choking [Accessed 17th December 2021].

NHS. (2018) Foods to avoid giving your baby.  Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/foods-to-avoid-baby.aspx [Accessed 17th December 2021].

NHS. (2019a) Your baby’s first solid foods. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/solid-foods-weaning.aspx [Accessed 17th December 2021].

NHS. (2019b) Baby teething symptoms. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/teething-and-toot… [Accessed 20th December 2021].

NHS. (2021) Food allergies in babies and children. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/weaning-and-feeding/food-allergies-i… [Accessed 20th December 2021].

Rapley G, Murkett T. (2010) Baby-led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater.  Experiment LLC, London.

SACN-COT. (2016) Assessing the health benefits and risks of the introduction of peanut and hen’s egg into the infant diet before six months of age in the UK. A joint statement from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment. Available at: https://cot.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/jointsacncotallergystatementfinal2.pdf [Accessed 20th December 2021].

UNICEF. (no date) Feeding your baby: When to start with solid foods. Available at: https://www.unicef.org/parenting/food-nutrition/feeding-your-baby-when-… [Accessed 17th December 2021].

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