Getting ready but not quite there?
Have baby at the table when you eat so they can start to watch and experience family mealtimes. It’s no fun sitting in your bouncy chair on the floor. Paying attention to what you are eating is a stage nearer to starting, although they may not be quite ready yet.
What are the true signs of being ready to start solids?
The World Health Organisation says that babies are often ready from about 6 months when they can….
- Sit up
- Are able to let food move backwards into their mouth not pushing it out again
- Can pick up food and put it in their mouth
Signs your baby is NOT ready for foods are;
- Waking in the night when they have previously been sleeping. This is another developmental stage, they may need additional calories and these need to come from MILK.
- Putting their fists in their mouths – this is a developmental stage. All babies do this moving their gag reflex back in order to accept foods.
Looking for the latest information on starting solids?
Check out the Department of Health Start 4 Life leaflet by following this link
LINK: Introducing Solid Foods
What foods can I give my baby when I first start introducing solids? Here is some information and guidance.
Cups and beakers
Whether your baby takes their milk from the breast or from a bottle it is recommended that babies are introduced to a cup or a beaker for their midday drink. This can be anytime from six months onwards, more usually seven to nine months. You may have heard of a DOIDY cup and this is a great starter cup for all babies.
Food is for fun until baby is one!
Take it slow and let your baby experiment. If at first they don’t seem interested, wait a few days or a week and try again, letting your little one set the pace. Allow your baby to feed themselves, using their fingers, as soon as they show an interest. Bon appétit!
Why do we say ‘starting solids’ and not ‘weaning’?
It’s important that your baby takes their calorie intake from milk feeds until they are one
Introducing small amounts of food helps your baby become accustomed to new tastes and textures. Babies still need milk as their main source of calories and nourishment. Giving too much solid food too quickly will mean babies take less milk. Ounce for ounce, gram for gram, milk contains far more calories than vegetables or fruit. If we rush and give too much solid food early on we may be putting our baby on a diet.
It might help to think of ‘feeding and the introduction to solids as two separate activities’ (Gill Rapley). Babies love to explore using their fingers, their eyes and sense of smell. Think about it – we adults are no different!
LINK: Baby Led Weaning
Most babies are able to start feeding themselves at about six months or when they can sit up. A big chunk of food that they can easily hold, like a quarter of an apple or a third of a banana is a good experiment in the art of food mess! Bon appétit!
The current guidance says that your baby should be eating three meals a day by approximately 10 months. Go slow. Introducing solids too quickly and your baby may reduce their milk intake too rapidly. Take yourself back to the early days of feeding your baby and how it took a while to understand their changing needs. When introducing solids your baby’s milk intake may also change. Don’t fret it’s not a race! Enjoy.
Gradually, you’ll be able to increase the amount and variety of food your baby eats until they can eventually eat the same as the rest of the family, in smaller portions. Remember to avoid adding additional salt, sugar or honey.
Start with simple and easy-to-digest foods such as vegetables, fruit or rice. Remember to try it yourself. If you don’t like it, the chances are they won’t either!
When is the best time of day to start?
Remembering that milk is baby’s main source of nutrition and calorie intake, it may be best to offer solids midway between milk feeds when they are not too hungry or too full.
Your baby’s first solid foods should be simple and easy to digest
You could try:
- Mashed or puréed cooked parsnip, potato, yam, sweet potato or carrot
- Mashed or puréed banana, avocado, cooked apple or pear
- Mashed or puréed rice or baby rice
- Pieces of soft fruit or vegetables
LINK: First Solids
Once your baby has got used to eating vegetables and fruit, you can start adding other foods. Home prepared and cooked foods are best as you know exactly what you are giving your baby. This is also much cheaper and there is little waste. Some foods to try:
- Chip size or mashed meat, fish and chicken
- Lentils (dhal), split pulses or hummus
- Full-fat dairy products, such as yoghurt, fromage frais or custard (watch out for hidden sugars in commercially prepared foods)
- Small pieces of toast
Most babies can chew soft lumps, such as mashed banana, mashed vegetables or cottage cheese, even if they have no teeth. Varying the texture of your baby’s food will help get them used to chewing and help to develop the muscles used for speaking.
Worried about choking?
Always stay with your baby when they’re eating in case they start to choke.
The gag reflex is nature’s safety measure to prevent choking. Developmentally this reflex gradually moves backwards from the tip of baby’s tongue to the back of their mouth to enable the baby to accept lumpier foods at around six months.
Adapt your family meal as you progress. Save a little before you add your salt or gravy and so on. Remember you can add flavours with herbs such as parsley, chives or oregano. These all contain essential trace elements and minerals. It’s a great time to review the whole family’s salt and sugar intake and replace with herbs and spices.
It’s no fun being the only diner in the restaurant. Babies love to copy what you do. It’s good to remember that eating is a social event as much as a nutritional one! Think of big Italian meal times, relaxed, social and chatty. Relax and enjoy this exciting next stage by eating together. Buon Appetito!
If you are thinking your baby is ready to start solids earlier than six months and you choose to offer purees, you may want to use a soft spoon, but a clean finger with a little food will also do. Wait for your baby to open their mouth before you offer the food, if you’re using a spoon. Your baby may like to hold a spoon too.
Start by offering just a few pieces or a teaspoon of food, once a day.
If you give your baby banana, beware – it is a pain to wash off. Rinse items straight away in cold water, before you machine wash. Remember to save your favourite outfit for another meal time!
LINK: Stain removal tips
One step at a time!
Introduce new foods one at a time before doing combinations. This way you will find it easier to find the culprit if your baby has an allergic reaction. This is particularly important in families where there is a history of allergies.
We all like different foods and your baby will be just the same. Some babies develop a wider range of tastes earlier than others. If your baby has been breastfed they will have already been exposed to lots of different tastes and smells through their mum’s milk. Enjoy this second half of your baby’s year, exploring wonderful foods and family meals together.
What is baby-led weaning all about?
Letting your baby feed themselves and make their own choices. This is the way babies have started eating solids since the beginning of time.
All feeding needs to be led by the baby. Never force a baby to take food, they will all go at their own pace.
Babies don’t need teeth in order for them to chew. If you have ever been bitten by a toothless baby you will know they are perfectly able to chew without teeth. You can encourage them to chew by giving them finger foods that they can pick up and hold in their hands. Babies are programmed to want to learn new skills and feeding themselves is part of this exciting exploratory phase.
Food ideas, some Ideal finger foods from six months
- Cooked and cooled broccoli or cauliflower florets, green beans, carrot, (great as they have built in handles to hold!)
- Courgette sticks
- Cubes of cheese
- Fingers of toast, bread crusts, pitta bread or chapatti from
- Rice cakes
- Cooked pasta shapes
- Pieces of peeled raw apple (large enough for your baby to gnaw on), peach,
- Pear, melon or banana
From six months on most babies can enjoy a wide range of foods. There are some golden rules of foodstuffs to avoid.
Some no nos in the first year:
- Salt and sugar should be avoided. Check food labels as manufacturers often refer to sugar as: Fructose, maltose, sucrose, glucose (basically anything with -ose at the end may be a sugar).
- Babies should not have any honey before they are one year old.
- No whole nuts to be given to any child under five.
This is a good time to review the whole family’s meals, maybe consider cutting down on additional salt and sugar for parents too?
LINK: Foods to avoid
Things to watch out for
Be cautious with raw shellfish as it might cause food poisoning. Shark, swordfish and marlin have shown levels of mercury that may affect baby’s nervous system. Nuts may cause choking or can be equally dangerous if there is a family history of nut allergy.
LINK: Food information
Babies should not have too much salt as their tiny kidneys cannot cope with it. Salt can be referred to as sodium chloride or sodium, which can be confusing. To convert salt to sodium, divide by 2.5.
To convert sodium to salt, multiply by 2.5.
Many natural foodstuffs, such as cheese, contain salt. Processed foods will have additional salt added, so always check the labels
LINK: Salt sums
Returning to work? Aarghh!
There is no need to rush into introducing solids if you are intending to return to work or are under pressure to return. Babies can pick up on our anxiety and mealtimes can become a battleground. Go slow and enjoy sharing mealtimes.
Mess and Stress?
It’s natural for babies to want to touch or play with their food when they’re beginning to feed themselves. They are exploring and learning new tastes, textures, smells and so on. A sheet of plastic, an old shower curtain,plastic tablecloth, or newspapers on the floor will make it easier to clean up.
Frozen and tinned foods – are these OK?
Frozen vegetables and tinned salmon are all nutritionally suitable. Check the labelling and ‘use by’ date before use. Choose fruit in natural juice instead of syrup.
Frozen fish is a good source of protein if you cannot get fresh fish. Never re-freeze foods that have previously been frozen.
Avoid re-heating foods as this may lead to gastroenteritis and a very sick baby. Food and baby’s milk should not be heated in a microwave as this may create ‘hot spots’ in the food which can burn your baby’s mouth and throat.
These are recommended for all young children from the age of six months, and should be given until they are five years old. These can be bought from your local health centre or pharmacy. Chat to your health visitor if you want to know more.
Vegetarian or vegan baby?
The guidelines for introducing solids are the same for vegetarian babies as for non- vegetarian babies. However, as your child gets older, there’s a risk that a vegetarian or vegan diet may be low in iron and energy and too high in fibre.
You can make sure your child gets enough iron by giving them:
- Fortified breakfast cereal
- Dark green veg
- Beans and lentils
- Dried fruit, such as apricots, figs and prunes
Your baby will be more likely to get all the nutrients they need if you give them a good variety and smaller, more frequent main meals, with one or two snacks in between. You’ll also need to make sure they get enough calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
If your baby is breastfed you may find your feeding pattern changes. Let your baby experiment with water whilst they have their meal even though they will take their main hydration from breast milk. If you are formula feeding you may need to offer water at more regular intervals to keep your baby hydrated.
Think about using jars or packet food for babies as a back up on a busy day or when you are out and about. Don’t forget to keep an eye on ‘use by’ dates and check the seals on cans and jars haven’t been broken. It’s worthwhile checking that the ingredients haven’t changed since you last bought the same product, particularly if your little one has a food intolerance or allergy.
Babies can choke on hard foods such as raw carrot sticks or large pieces of apple. They can also choke on small round foods, such as grapes and cherry tomatoes, and foods with skin (such as sausages) or bones (such as fish).
LINK: First aid courses
You might want to peel the skin off fruit and vegetables and remember to remove all bones from fish and meat. To make things easier for your little one think bigger than your baby’s fist when cutting chunks for them to eat.
Beware older siblings and children who may be keen to share their food with your baby. Especially small jelly sweets!
Emerging baby teeth. Once your baby starts to teethe and their new teeth appear they need to be cleaned. Babies’ new teeth can also become damaged and decayed if they are not cared for. Use the corner of a clean flannel or small baby toothbrush and a tiny amount of baby toothpaste. A finger toothbrush can also be useful and can help massage their gums when they are teething.
LINK: Finger toothbrush