Introducing solids can be confusing for new parents - babies give off signs and signals their milk feeds are no longer satisfying them, but then, they are giving off signals that all kinds of things are not satisfying them!
Then there are the questions about how much, what type of food and when to feed to contend with.
So in order to help ease your mind (and don’t forget there are always healthcare providers out there to help if you are still confused), here’s the basics to introducing solids.
How long should I breast or bottle feed?
The World Health Organization
recommends babies are exclusively breast, or formula, fed for the first six months of their life, as it provides all the nutrients they require.
For the first 4-6 months of life, your baby uses iron stored in their body from when they were in the womb, as well as from your breastmilk and/or infant formula.
Between four and six months, their iron stores start to go down and its time to introduce solid foods alongside breastmilk or infant formula.
LEARN MORE: When to wean
How will you know?
Most first time parents wonder whether their baby is ready for solid foods, and if you’re really confused, your GP or child health nurse will be able to help. However, your baby will show developmental signs they are ready, which will happen at different times for different babies, including:
- Good head and neck control and can sit upright when supported
- Showing an interest in food – for example, looking at what’s on your plate
- Reaching out for your food
- Opening their mouth when you offer them food on a spoon – this one can get tricky to decipher, especially as a new eater is not terribly coordinated and may appear to be spitting it out or grimacing when you try as it is a foreign taste and texture. If they are showing the above signs as well, it’s worth giving it another go until they work out how it’s done!
If it hasn’t happened by seven months of age, it’s best to speak to your health care provider for advice and support.
How to do it
Start slowly – babies are usually more willing to try solids after a breastfeed (it takes them a while to get the hang of it, so if you try and give them solids while they are ravenously hungry, you’ll be fighting a losing battle.) Also be aware they won’t eat a lot – a few teaspoons of iron fortified infant cereal is all they need in the beginning, which you can gradually increase to a few tablespoons.
There is no need to introduce one type of food first, and you can mix first foods together. If you have a family history of food allergies, it may help to introduce one new food at a time.
Offer a range of foods, including:
- Vegetables and fruit
- Wheat, oats, bread, rice and pasta
- Dairy foods like yoghurt and full-fat cheese
- Cooked egg, but not raw or runny egg
First foods can be mashed, smoothed, pureed or offered in soft pieces. Some parents swear by feeding solid pieces – cut to a size that prevents choking, as a way of preventing future fussy eating, while others struggle to get their baby to eat anything that is not pureed until they are used to the flavour. It really comes down to what works for you and your family, there is no right or wrong.
If you do start with smooth or pureed food, increase the texture to mashed and soft pieces over a couple of weeks, as changing the texture helps your baby chew, which helps develop the muscles they need later for talking. Also offer finger foods from around eight months – think pieces of cooked vegetables and soft bread crusts or toast to encourage chewing and self-feeding.
Introducing solids can be a bumpy, messy ride, so the best advice is to relax and let your baby have fun with it, and be part of your mealtimes. While solids turn a tidy bottle or breastfeed into a mess of spit up food and debris in their hair (and possibly all over the walls, floors and pets), just remember it is a phase, and a little early leeway means they’ll become confident with solids quicker.
Still got questions? Your GP or healthcare provider are a great wealth of information – particularly if you’re having issues that need personalised help.