It is always exciting when your baby reaches another milestone. The first smile, the first giggle and the first time they roll over – there’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your small child grow and learn.
The first time they start eating solid food is also an exciting time but it can also be confusing. There’s a lot of information on how and when babies should begin on solid food. The most important thing is to be aware of current recommendations, watch your baby for the signs they are ready and trust your instincts.
Here are the key elements in deciding when your baby is ready for the introduction of solid food.
When should you start your baby on solid food?
When they are around six months of age
The current advice* is that babies start solid food when they are around six months old. Foods can be introduced in any order as long as baby’s first foods include those that are iron-rich. Food should be nutritious and of a texture appropriate to your baby’s stage of development.
When they are physically ready
When your baby is approaching six months of age you will be able to watch for the signs they are ready for solid food. All babies are different and will show signs at different ages – but most babies will be ready around the six-month mark. Signs your baby is physically ready for solid food include: they have good head and neck control, they’re able to sit upright with support and they no longer have the ‘extrusion reflex’’, which is the reflex that makes them put their tongue forward and upwards when feeding, as if sucking, and it stops them from being able to take food from a spoon.
Not too early and not too late
There is evidence to suggest that starting solids too early or too late can affect a child’s risk of developing allergies. The current advice on allergy prevention and starting solid food** is that babies start solid food from around 6 months of age (and not before four months) when they’re developmentally ready and preferably while still being breastfed. The advice also recommends that the introduction of common allergenic foods (peanut butter, eggs, wheat etc) should not be delayed.
When you think it is right
As well as watching your baby for the signs they are physically ready for solid food you will also notice them take an interest in what you are eating – they might even try to grab it out of your hand (or mouth!) while you eat. Take advantage of their curiosity – if they’re also physically and developmentally ready – and start them while they are keen! It will make starting solids less stressful for you! You’ll also notice around the six-month mark that milk feeds may not be as satisfying as they once were for your baby. Trust your instincts and the current recommendations and you’ll know when your baby is ready. Try not to compare your baby with others or listen to unsolicited and conflicting advice from other parents, grandparents (or random busy bodies in shopping centres).
When they are not hungry or tired
This tip is more about picking the perfect time to have that first meal of solid food. When offering first tastes of solid food it is important to pick a time when your baby is happy – that means finding a moment when they aren’t tired or hungry (not always easy, I know!). Don’t feel like you have to feed your baby at traditional ‘mealtime’ hours. In fact, you’ll be too busy with your own food at a normal meal time (or if you’ve got other children, too preoccupied). Find a space in the day when your baby is at their most happy and when you won’t be stressed out because of other demands on your time. Also, when they are first starting solid food you should offer it after their usual milk feed.
*Infant Feeding Guidelines NHMRC 2012
** Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)