We discuss how and when to introduce solid foods to your baby’s diet. Here you’ll find lots of helpful information on baby-led weaning and tips to help make introducing solids easier.
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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 Choices, 2018). A baby’s digestive system needs time to develop so that it can cope with solid foods (Hamosh and Hamosh, 1999).
Get ready to 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 food too early has no advantages. It may even increase the risk of your baby getting an infection or illness (Grummer-Strawn et al, 2008; First steps nutrition, 2017).
If you are breastfeeding, continuing past six months 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 before you introduce solids also means they will be more likely to be able to feed themselves (Rapley and Murkett, 2010). 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 Choices, 2018)
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).
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 if formula feeding (Marasco and Barger, 1999).
Most babies start to cut teeth around six months, and this helps them to bite and chew their food. Some babies get their first teeth earlier than this. So a baby who is unsettled and putting their fists in their mouth a lot may be teething rather than hungry (NHS Choices, 2016).
Getting started: Introducing solid foods
It’s important to keep first foods simple and quantities small (Brown and Harries, 2015). 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. Read our tips on how to get started with introducing your baby to their first foods.
Baby-led weaning is when parents offer pieces of food for their baby to grasp in their hand 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.
There’s no right or wrong time of day to offer your baby food. Ideally, it should be when your baby isn’t too tired or hungry and you have lots of time. It can be slow and messy. 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
There is little evidence to tell us which foods are best for your baby to start with. But vegetables, fruit and rice can make good first foods. You could try starting with:
- Pieces of soft fruit or vegetables chopped into sticks or pieces small enough for your baby to pick up.
- Mashed or softly cooked pieces of parsnip, potato, yam, sweet potato, apple or pear.
- 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 cooked meat, pasta, fruit or bread that they can hold and suck. (First steps nutrition, 2017; NHS Choices, 2018)
Food for babies should not have salt added at either the cooking stage or afterwards (NHS Choices, 2015). Babies also don’t need sweet foods, such as biscuits or cakes.
Anaemia (low iron levels) is one of the most common problems among young children (Daniels et al, 2015). 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?
Wheat-based foods contain gluten, which is not recommended for babies under six months (NHS Choices, 2015). After six months, babies can eat most foods except whole nuts and similar foods that could cause them to choke (NHS Choices, 2015).
The NHS also recommends avoiding foods that might cause food poisoning under the age of one year, such as raw egg and raw shellfish. You should avoid giving your baby honey because of the risk of botulism (NHS Choices, 2015).
What about food allergies?
If your baby has a high risk of an allergy, you should consult a healthcare professional before offering them any peanut products (NHS Choices, 2018). A high risk of allergy can include a family history of peanut allergy or your baby having a known allergy or something like eczema. There is no evidence that introducing egg or peanut products before 6 months rather than at six months prevents allergies (SACN-COT, 2016).
Some research tells us 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
You won’t be alone in worrying that your baby starting to eat solids puts them at risk of choking. Here are some precautions you can take to keep them safe when you’re feeding your baby 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. (Carruth et al, 2004; Rapley and Murkett, 2010)
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, 2018). 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 October 2017
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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.
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Carruth BR, Ziegler PJ, Gordon A, Barr SI. (2004) Prevalence of picky eaters among infants and toddlers and their caregivers' decisions about offering a new food. J Am Diet Assoc. 104:57-64. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14702019 [Accessed 1st October 2017].
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Grummer-Strawn LM, Scanlon KS, Fein SB. (2008) Infant feeding and feeding transitions during the first year of life. Pediatrics. 122 Suppl 2:S36-42 Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18829829 [Accessed 1st October 2017].
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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 from: https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/Pnacs461.pdf [Accessed 1st October 2017].
NCT. (2018) First aid: What to do if a baby (birth to 12 months) is choking. https://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/first-aid-what-do-if-your-baby-1-year-starts-choking [Accessed 1st October 2017].
NHS Choices. (2018) Your baby’s first solid foods. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/solid-foods-weaning.aspx [Accessed 1st October 2017].
NHS Choices. (2016) Baby teething symptoms. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/teething-and-tooth-care.aspx [Accessed 1st October 2017].
NHS Choices. (2015) Foods to avoid giving your baby. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/foods-to-avoid-baby.aspx [Accessed 1st October 2017].
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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 from: https://cot.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/jointsacncotallergystatementfinal2.pdf [Accessed 1st October 2017].