When you’re just getting used to the sleepness nights and you feel as though life with your baby is falling into a nice routine … it is time to introduce solid food!
We have many articles on how, when and why to start solid food so we thought we’d combine them into this complete guide to starting solids. It has all the basic stuff you need to know and links to follow for more detailed information.
Our ultimate guide to starting your baby on solid food
When to start your baby on solid food
The current advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)* is that babies start solid food when they are around six months old.
In terms of allergy prevention, the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) agree that babies should be introduced to solid food around six months, but not before four months, when they’re developmentally ready and ideally while they continue to be breastfed**.
It is up to you to determine exactly when you will start your baby on solid food. You need to look for signs your baby is developmentally ready.
What are the signs your baby is ready for solid food?
There are a number of signs that your baby is ready to start eating solids.
- Your baby has good head and neck control and can sit up with support
- Your baby shows an interest in food, chewing when you eat in front of them or trying to grab your food.
- Your baby has lost the ‘extrusion reflex’. This reflex causes babies to put their tongue forward and upwards when feeding, as if sucking, and prevents baby from taking food from a spoon.
- Milk feeds are no longer satisfying
What is the best first food for baby?
The current recommendation* is that foods can be introduced in any order as long as iron-rich foods are included in baby’s first foods and they are a texture appropriate for the baby’s stage of development.
- cooked pureed meat, chicken, fish
- cooked pureed tofu
- cooked pureed beans, legumes, lentils
- iron-fortified infant cereal
Other good first foods to include in baby’s diet include pear, apple, avocado, banana, sweet potato, carrot, pumpkin, peas, potato and apricot.
How to prepare food for your baby
It is important that food is of a texture appropriate for your baby’s stage of development. If you’re spoon-feeding you should start with a runny puree and then work your way up to a thicker puree, a fine mash then course mash as your baby become used to eating solid food. Steam vegetables, stew hard fruits and poach meats before pureeing or mashing.
When offering finger food you should make sure that food is easy for baby to hold and soft enough so that you can squish it between your fingers. Offer soft fruits like avocado and banana – try squeezing the banana softly until you’re able to divide it into its three segments and offer one at a time – or steamed hard vegetables like carrot sticks.
Tips for baby’s very first meal of solid food
There are a number of steps to take to help make sure baby’s first meal is a stress-free enjoyable time for you both.
- Find a time when you and your baby are relaxed and happy. When baby isn’t tired and you’re not likely to be distracted
- Give your baby a milk feed first. They won’t be very happy to try something new on an empty stomach.
- Make sure bowls, utensils and highchair are clean but don’t worry about sterilising once baby is older than six months.
- Have a bib and a washer handy to wipe up messes. You don’t want to be running off and leaving baby unattended in the high chair.
- Start off with just a small amount. Your baby probably won’t eat more than a teaspoon or two of solid food the first time.
- Don’t stress if they’re not too interested and don’t keep any leftovers.
Allergies and feeding advice
The ASCIA updated its Infant Feeding Advice and Guidelines for Allergy Prevention in Infants** in 2016. Their recommendations include the following:
- Introduce solid food when baby is around 6 months old and preferably while continuing to be breastfed. Solid foods should not be introduced before 4 months of age.
- There’s evidence to say that the introduction of common allergenic foods (cooked eggs, peanut butter, wheat, fish etc) should NOT be delayed.
- There is good evidence that introducing peanut into the diet of babies with severe eczema and/or egg allergy before 12 months of age can reduce the risk of them developing a peanut allergy. But you should discuss how to introduce peanut with a doctor who has experience with food allergies.
- There’s moderate evidence to say that introducing cooked egg into an baby’s diet before 8 months of age (where there’s a family history of allergy) can reduce their risk of developing an egg allergy.
General tips for starting your baby on solid food
Starting solid food can be messy, stressful and frustrating – but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some general tips for starting your baby on solid food.
- Be prepared for the mess. Starting solid food is important for development and even though it just looks like your baby is making a mess, what they are really doing is getting better at eating solid food as well as practising the hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills they’ll need to play, draw and write later in life.
- Learn the difference between gagging and choking. Babies gag while eating solid food and if you’re not used to seeing it you could get quite distressed. Remember that gagging is the body’s way of preventing choking. It is best if you remain calm and watch (in disgust) at how the body works to bring that food back to the front of the mouth to avoid choking. If a baby is choking they’ll be distressed, silent and unable to breathe. This requires immediate attention, so it is important that you know the difference.
- Don’t assume your baby is ‘fussy’ or ‘doesn’t like’ a particular food if they don’t want it the first time. It is said that it takes at least 12 tastes before a baby will like a new food. Keep offering.
- Keep it simple. All food is new and exciting for a baby! Mash up a banana, put aside some steamed carrot when you’re cooking the family meal – no need to cook up a storm or make gourmet baby food if you have neither the time nor inclination.
- Don’t have unrealistic expectations. Don’t get your hopes up that your baby will suddenly sleep through the night once they start solid food. It’s possible, of course, but it is also possible that solids will cause more waking or things will stay exactly as they are.
*Infant Feeding Guidelines NHMRC 2012
** The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) Infant Feeding Advice and Guidelines for Allergy Prevention in Infants 2016