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When to start introducing solid foods
Introducing your baby to solid foods1 – sometimes called weaning or complementary feeding – should start when your baby is around six months old.
It's a really important step in their development, and it can be great fun to explore new flavours and textures together.
To begin with, how much your baby takes is less important than getting them used to the idea of eating. They will still be getting most of their nutrition from breast milk or infant formula.
Babies don't need three meals a day to start with, so you can begin by offering foods at a time that suits you both.
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.
Why it pays to wait until they're ready
Research shows babies can get all the nutrients they need from breast milk or infant formula until they are around six months old. Waiting till then gives their digestive system time to develop fully so it can cope with solid foods. This includes solid foods made into purées and cereals added to milk.
If you are breastfeeding, having breast milk alone up to the age of six months will protect your baby against infections. Breast milk will carry on protecting them from infections for as long as you carry on feeding.
Whether your baby has breast milk or infant formula, waiting until they are ready for food will save a lot of time, too. They'll quickly be able to feed themselves and with less mess, as they will be able to swallow properly.
Three signs your baby is ready for their first food
Every baby is an individual, but there are three clear signs that, together, show your baby is ready for solid foods alongside breast milk or formula. It's very rare for these signs to appear together before your baby is six months old.
- They can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady.
- They can co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth, all by themselves.
- They can swallow food. Babies who are not ready will push their food back out with their tongue, so they get more round their face than they do in their mouths.
Some signs that can be mistaken for a baby being ready for solid foods:
- chewing fists
- waking in the night when they have previously slept through
- wanting extra milk feeds
These are normal behaviours and not necessarily a sign of hunger or being ready to start solid food. Starting solid foods won't make them any more likely to sleep through the night. Extra feeds are usually enough until they're ready for other food.
Getting started with solid foods
Always stay with your baby when they are eating in case they start to choke.
- Let your baby enjoy touching and holding the food.
- Allow your baby to feed themselves, using their fingers, as soon as they show an interest.
- Don't force your baby to eat – wait until the next time if they're not interested this time.
- If you're using a spoon, wait for your baby to open their mouth before you offer the food. Your baby may like to hold a spoon, too.
- Start by offering just a few pieces or teaspoons of food, once a day.
- Cool hot food and test it before giving it to your baby.
- Don't add salt, sugar or stock cubes to your baby's food or cooking water.
What foods to give your baby as they grow
Feeding your baby from 0-6 months
Your baby only needs breast milk or first infant formula. "Follow-on" formula isn't suitable for babies under six months, and you don't need to introduce it after six months either.
Check with your maternal and child health nurse or GP first if you want to introduce solid foods before six months.
Babies and food allergies
While variety in your baby's diet is really important, there is a chance they may be allergic to certain foods. That's why it's important to introduce cows' milk, eggs, wheat, gluten, nuts, peanuts, peanut products, seeds, fish and shellfish one at a time and not before six months.
There is no evidence that waiting until your child is older will prevent them developing a food allergy. Once your baby is ready for solids, give them these foods in very small amounts and watch carefully for any symptoms of an allergic reaction.
If your baby already has a known allergy, such as a diagnosed food allergy or eczema, or you have a family history of food allergies, eczema, asthma or hay fever, you may need to be particularly careful when introducing peanuts and peanut products. Talk to your GP or health visitor first. Remember, peanuts, like all nuts, should be crushed or ground.
Baby food from 6 months
Your baby's first foods can include mashed or soft cooked fruit and vegetables like parsnip, potato, yam, sweet potato, carrot, apple or pear, all cooled before eating. Soft fruits like peach or melon, or baby rice or baby cereal mixed with your baby's usual milk, are good as well.
Keep feeding your baby breast milk or infant formula, too, but don't give them whole cows' milk as a drink until they are one year old.
Finger food is food that is cut up into pieces big enough for your baby to hold in their fist with a bit sticking out. Pieces about the size of your own finger work well. Your baby learns to chew this way. Try grabbable bits of soft, ripe banana or avocado.
Once your baby is used to the foods above, they can have soft cooked meat such as chicken, mashed fish (check very carefully for any bones), pasta, noodles, toast, pieces of chapatti, lentils, rice and mashed hard-boiled eggs.
They can also have full-fat dairy products such as yoghurt, fromage frais or custard. Choose products with no added sugar or less sugar. Whole cows' milk can be used in cooking or mixed with food from six months.
Introduce a cup from around six months and offer sips of water with meals. Using an open cup or a free-flow cup without a valve will help your baby learn to sip and is better for their teeth.
Feeding your baby from 8-9 months
Your baby will gradually move towards eating three meals a day. It will be a mixture of soft finger foods, and mashed or chopped foods.
Your baby's diet should consist of a variety of the following: fruit and vegetables; bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and other starchy foods; meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein; and milk and dairy products.
Your baby's food from 12 months
Your baby will now be eating three meals a day, chopped if necessary, plus breast milk or whole cows' milk and healthier snacks like fruit, vegetable sticks, toast and rice cakes.
They can now drink whole cows' milk. Choose full-fat dairy products as children under two need the extra fat and vitamins found in them. From two years old, if they are a good eater and growing well, they can have semi-skimmed milk. From five years old, 1% fat and skimmed milk is okay.
You can give your baby:
- three to four servings a day of starchy food such as potatoes, bread and rice
- three to four servings a day of fruit and vegetables
- two servings a day of meat, fish, eggs, dhal or other pulses (beans and lentils)
What milk, when?
For around the first six months you should feed your baby only breast milk or infant formula. Infant formula made from cows' or goats' milk is the only suitable alternative to breast milk in the first 12 months of your baby's life. Only use soya-based infant formula if your GP has advised you to. Follow-on milks are available for babies over six months, but there is no need to change over to these.
Cows' milk can be mixed with food from six months and whole cows' milk can be given as a drink from one year. Semi-skimmed milk can be introduced once your child is two years old, as long as they're a good eater and they have a varied diet. Skimmed and 1% milk aren't suitable for children under five, as they don't contain enough calories.
Infant formula, follow-on formula or growing-up milks are not needed once your baby is 12 months old. Goats' and sheep's milk are not suitable as a drink for babies under one year.
You can give your child unsweetened calcium-fortified milk alternatives, such as soya, almond and oat drinks, as part of a healthy, balanced diet from the age of one. Due to the level of arsenic in rice milk you may want to carefully consider rice drinks for toddlers and young children under the age of five.
If your child has an allergy or intolerance to milk, talk to your health visitor or GP. They can advise you on suitable milk alternatives.
1 Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.