Introducing solid foods

Breast milk and formula have fuelled your little one for the past few months. But now they are starting to grow, you may start thinking about introducing solid foods. Wondering which food to introduce first? When’s the best time to start? How to start your baby on solids? How much food to give your baby? Read this article to learn everything you need to know about introducing solids and navigating this new and exciting period in your baby’s development.

Is Your Baby Ready for Solid Foods?

Breast milk or formula is the key element of your little one’s diet in their first year of life. However, once they’re around 6 months old, they may be ready to venture into solid foods alongside breast milk and formula. By this point, their digestive system should be developed enough to process solid foods.

It’s important that the foods you introduce give your baby a varied diet, alongside their standard breast milk or formula. Start slowly – with simple flavours and small quantities. Purees and mashed foods can be a great way to get your baby to discover new flavours. Due to their similarity to breast milk or formula, they can help teach your little one that solid foods can be just as yummy as their exclusively liquid diet.

Once your baby has got the hang of soft, pureed foods, it’s time to start introducing foods with a chunkier texture. Soon enough, you’ll be able to move on to table foods or finger foods cut up into small, bitesize pieces.

There are three main signs your baby is ready to explore solid foods:

  • They are able to stay in a sitting position holding their head steady.

  • They can coordinate their eyes, hands and mouth, which allows them to look at their food, pick it up and put it in their mouth.

  • They swallow food instead of spitting it out.

If you’re not entirely sure, the 3-4 month check is a great time to speak to your GP and find out whether your baby is ready for solid foods.

What Foods Should You Introduce To Your Baby First?

There is little evidence to support which food is best when you baby is transitioning to solids. However, vegetables, fruits and rice are a good place to start. The following solid foods are great options for starting this next exciting phase in your baby’s development:

  • Baby rice or cereal. You can always mix it with some of your breast milk or formula for some extra nutrition.

  • Pieces of soft fruit and vegetables. Chop them into sticks or small pieces your little one is able to pick up.

  • Mashed or softly cooked fruit and vegetables. Mashed fruit and veg provide your baby with beneficial nutrients and contribute to a varied diet.

  • Finger foods. Once your baby is able to sit upright independently, which usually occurs at around 8 months, they may be ready for finger foods. Finger foods are soft and easy to swallow. At this age, it’s important to avoid foods that require chewing.

Introducing Solids – Tips

Check out the following tips for the best way to introduce solid foods to your baby:

  • Start with cereal. Fortified hot cereal is a good source of iron and B vitamins, as well as of the calories your baby needs. Eating small amounts of simple cereals (rice or barley mixed with breast milk or formula) from a spoon twice a day helps your baby learn how to eat solid food.

  • Move on to vegetables, then fruits. Babies are more inclined to acquire a taste for vegetables if you hold off on sweet foods. Begin by offering puréed vegetables such as green beans or peas at mid-day; eventually, add strained or mashed fruit (bananas, plain unsweetened apple sauce) in the morning.

  • Check for allergies. Wait five to seven days before introducing new menu items so that you can be sure that your baby doesn’t have an allergy to the previous food.

  • At mealtimes, hold your baby upright in your lap or in an infant seat. Use a small spoon. If she sticks her tongue out, give her a few more tries and then back off for a week or two. As she matures, the tongue thrusting will stop.

  • Avoid feeding cereal in a bottle. Your baby needs to learn how to use her mouth with solids. Instead start with small spoon to avoid hurting your baby’s lips or mouth. You can also try giving your little one a utensil to hold while you feed her. Over time, this will start to encourage her to start self-feeding at around 8 or 9 months old.

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Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Baby

There are a number of foods that aren’t suitable for your little one at this point. Your baby’s digestive system is still developing and is simply unable to process certain foods until your little one is much older. Other foods may become a choking hazard.

Here are some of the foods and drinks you should avoid giving your baby:

  • Salt. Your little one’s kidneys can’t handle much salt at this age. Make sure you don’t add any salt to your baby’s food or use stock cubes and gravy. Salty foods to avoid include bacon, sausages, chips with added salt, crackers, crisps, ready meals and takeaways.

  • Sugar. There is no need to add any sugar to your baby’s diet. In fact, by avoiding sugar you can help prevent tooth decay and other dental issues.

  • Honey. Occasionally, honey may contain spores that cause infant botulism. For this reason, it’s best to wait until your little one is at least one year old before trying honey.

  • Whole nuts and peanuts. Children under the age of 5 should not be fed whole nuts and peanuts as they may choke on them. However, crushed, ground or butter forms of nuts are fine as of 6 months.

  • Raw and lightly cooked eggs. Your baby’s stomach is delicate at this age, so it’s best to avoid anything that could upset it. The only exception are hen’s eggs with a red lion stamp or the words ‘British Lion Quality’ on the box – these are fine for your baby when raw and lightly cooked.

  • Rice drinks. You may be surprised to hear that rice drinks contain arsenic. In high concentrations, this can be dangerous to your baby. That’s why rice drinks shouldn’t be given to any child under the age of 5.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

There are no set rules for which order to introduce solid foods. You may opt to start with baby rice or cereal, or try mushed fruit and veg. If you decide to go down the rice or cereal route, you can also add breast milk or formula for added nutrition.

Babies are typically ready to explore solid foods after 6 months of age. This is when most of them lose their tongue thrust reflex and start exhibiting signs that they are ready to try solids. Before 6 months, your little one’s digestive system may not be developed enough to handle certain solids. If you aren’t sure whether your baby is ready to try solids at 6 months, speak to your GP.

It’s usually best to use a small spoon to avoid hurting your baby’s mouth and lips. Giving them a utensil to hold while you feed them can also encourage them to self-feed further on down the line. By the time your baby is around 8 months old, they may also be ready to try finger foods. This gives the opportunity for them to touch and feel their food to widen their horizons.

The Bottom Line

Transitioning to solid foods is a major milestone in your little one’s development. Now, they are ready to start exploring new flavours, textures and smells. Before you know it, your baby will be able to take small bites, chew, rest between bites and even self-feed using a spoon. Take the opportunity to eat together as a family where possible to help your baby develop and enjoy special bonding with the whole family.

Although breast milk or formula will continue to be the most important part of your baby's diet for at least the next few months, now's the time to start introducing solids. Start off slowly. Adults appreciate variety at meals, but a baby needs to ease into eating. Have patience when feeding and rest assured that your baby will eventually learn to eat. Don't we all!

How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.