For the first 4 - 6 months of your baby’s life breast milk or formula has all the nutrition your baby needs. Babies are born with enough iron stored in their little bodies, plus this store gets topped up with iron from their mother’s milk or formula. However, after 4 - 6 months this stored iron gets depleted, and your baby will need extra nutrition for normal development. This is when it is time to start introducing solids, in addition to developmental signs that your baby is ready. These signs include the following:
- Your baby has good independent head and neck control;
- They can sit upright when supported (either by you or in a highchair);
- Baby is showing an interest in your food (like watching what is on your plate);
- Your baby is reaching out for your food;
- They open their mouth voluntarily when you offer them food on a spoon;
- Your baby is happily grabbing soft food and putting it to their mouth.
All babies develop at different rates, so don’t worry too much if your baby doesn’t fit all the ‘criteria’ listed above. Your baby should be showing some, if not most of these signs by the time they are 4 - 6 months old. However, if your baby is still not accepting solid foods by 7 months it’s time to consult your family practitioner.
In addition, all experts agree (including the Australian Government) that introducing solids should be done at around 6 months of age, and not before 4 months. Introducing solids too early can increase their risks of choking, can cause them to take in too little or too many calories, which in turn may risk an increase in obesity later in life.
How to introduce solids?
At first, you should introduce solids to your baby one food at a time. This is to make sure your baby has no problems with that food (such as a food allergy). Then wait for 3 - 5 days between each new food to check for any adverse reaction. After this, you can start combining different, healthy ingredients.
Start with foods that are easy to mash, puree, or are soft or very smooth in texture. It can take a bit of time for your baby to get used to all these new textures. In the beginning, your baby may cough, gag, or spit-up, but this is normal. As your baby’s eating skills develop, you can introduce thicker and lumpier foods with different combinations.
But what baby feeding equipment or method should you use? While there is no right or wrong way to start your baby on solids we recommend the following:
Baby food feeders
Baby food feeders are a great way to easily and safely introduce solids to your bub. Simply fill the mesh basket with any soft fruit or cooked veggies and let them happily chew away without the risk of choking. No need to chop finely or even puree! You can even pop in a flavoured ice cube to help soothe sore gums when they are teething.
Purees (via a bowl or pouch and spoon)
Baby purees are the more traditional method of starting solids. Previously, the purees were served with a bowl and a teaspoon, which meant a balancing act between you, the bowl, the spoon and your baby. Nowadays, reusable food pouches with attachable spoons or spouts are available. These food pouches free up a spare hand during feeding times, plus they encourage self-feeding.
Baby led weaning
Baby led weaning is a relatively new approach which means skipping the puree and spoon approach. Instead babies self-feed soft finger foods or purees. While it can be messy the benefits include increasing hand-eye coordination, chewing skills, and healthy eating. Plus babies who self-feed are more likely to discover self-regulation and stop feeding when they are full.
Whichever method you start to use, your baby will be on their way to eating and enjoying lots of new foods and textures - they just grow up too fast!
Which foods to introduce and when
The following is a handy guide to what you can feed your baby and when:
4 - 6 months:
- Fruits that include apples, avocado, bananas, pears are perfect starter foods;
- Vegetables can include butternut squash, green beans and sweet potato;
- Barley, oatmeal, rice and any iron fortified cereals.
6 - 8 months:
- Fruits can now include apricot, mango, nectarine, peach, plums, prunes;
- Vegetables - carrots, parsnip, peas, pumpkin, zucchini;
- You can start introducing meats like well-cooked chicken, tofu and turkey.
8 - 10 months:
- Fruits: blueberry, cherries, citrus, coconut, cranberries, figs, grapes, kiwi, melon, papaya, persimmons;
- Vegetables: asparagus, broccoli, beets, cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, leeks, onions, peppers, potatoes, turnip;
- Meat: well cooked beef or pork;
- Grains: buckwheat, flax, kamut, millet, pasta, quiona;
- Dairy: eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese, yogurt.
10 - 12 months
- Fruits: citrus and strawberries;
- Vegetables: beans, corn, lentils, spinach, tomatoes;
- Meat: fish, wild game (first consult your doctor);
- Dairy: at 12 months you can now add cow’s milk.
How much food should you serve?
Many babies will only eat a tiny amount to start with (less than ½ teaspoon) while other babies may want more. Let your baby tell you when they are hungry or full. Signs to look out for include that as they get full they won’t show as much interest and may look away more. Remember not to force anything.
If you are wondering how much a 4 or 5 month old baby should eat, they should still be getting the bulk of their nutrition from breast milk or formula. However, if your little one is showing signs they are ready to start solids, start by offering very tiny amounts to get them used to different tastes and textures. It may help prevent dealing with a fussy eater later on.
Find out more about solid feeding from Cherub Baby