Introducing your baby to their first mouthful of baby food is an exciting milestone, but it can also be a little daunting. Just when to start solids, which baby foods do you start with, how much, how often, and just plain HOW do you get it done? No doubt about it, starting solids is an adventure for both you and your baby!
The important thing to remember is not to rush the weaning process.
While you can start introducing solids from 4-6 months old, breast milk is still the most important source of nutrients for baby’s first 8 months. Until this time you should always offer baby the breast (or bottle) first, and then top them up with baby food if they’re still hungry.
Many organisations recommend delaying the introduction of solids to nearer 6 months, to reduce the likelihood of allergies, particularly if family members have allergic conditions, including asthma and eczema.
When to start solids?
Sometime between 4 and 6 months, your baby will start to give signs they’re ready for solids.
They may seem to still be hungry after a milk feed, and are likely to start waking more at night. They will be able to hold their head up, the extrusion reflex (when they keep poking their tongue out) will be gone, and they will start putting all sorts of things into their mouths.
Not all babies reach these milestones at the same time, so starting baby foods as soon as baby reaches 4 months may not be necessary, and in fact it can cause problems if you start too soon.
Trust what your baby is telling you and if you have any concerns talk to your Plunket nurse.
Getting started – Introducing solids
When starting your baby on solids, it’s important to always offer them the breast (or bottle) first as this is still their main source of nutrition.
Once their ‘milk feed’ is finished you can offer them a tiny amount of smooth pureed food on a teaspoon. They’re unlikely to be able to sit well in a highchair, so instead sit them in a bouncinette or beanbag.
To start with baby won’t eat much at all and a couple of teaspoons is all that’s required. Your initial attempts to feed baby solids is more about introducing something new, than actually giving any nutritional benefits, and most of it will probably end up all around their mouth.
Start by choosing one babyfood (see below) which you can offer to baby once a day for the first week.
After that you can introduce a second food and a third and so on, giving them a few days to get used to each new introduction.
Make sure the foods are pureed to a smooth, thin mixture.
Once baby has been having ‘one meal a day’ for about 3 weeks, you can start introducing a second meal time, and then a third meal time a week or so after that.
Always remember to feed baby their milk first and only then offer solids.
What baby food to start with?
There is no ‘perfect’ first food, although there are some common foods which babies respond to well.
A baby rice cereal made with breast milk (or formula) is a good first option, as are mashed fruit and vegetables such as apple, pear, pumpkin, kumara and carrot. Once baby has got used to a number of individual foods, you can try combining them together.
Important Tips When Introducing Solids
1. Prevent allergic reactions
Start with foods which are least likely to cause adverse reactions or allergies – some of the safest options are baby rice, apple, pear, kumara and carrot.
Avoid potentially high allergenic foods until after baby turns one – the main foods to be wary of are nuts (including peanut butter), eggs, fish and seafood and wheat.
2. Sugar (and salt) and spice are not that nice
Do not add sugar, salt, pepper or spices to baby’s food – neither their taste buds nor their delicate little bodies need these.
3. Safety first
Always stay close to baby when they are eating in case they choke.
Always have baby sitting whilst eating (preferably in a high chair) to minimise the risk of choking.
4. Watch the temperature
If you are using the microwave to heat the food, allow standing time as the food continues to cook for a minute or two, stir thoroughly and test the temperature yourself before feeding baby, in order to avoid scalding them.
Introducing solids schedule – Baby first foods
Baby first foods – 4 months – 6 months
The first couple of months of introducing solids is all about baby learning to chew (mash) food in their mouths, and learning to swallow.
It’s really an exploratory phase for you and your baby, and you’ll begin to slowly add in new flavours over time. To begin with just feed baby one cooked and/or mashed food at a time. And continue feeding this one food for a week, before adding another.
Once you’ve covered a number of single food types, then you can begin mixing them together, and adding in new foods.
All food at this age should be well cooked and mashed to a very fine texture. One way to achieve this is by pushing the mashed food through a sieve to really remove all the lumps. You can add a small amount of breast milk, or water, to thin out the food a little if need be.
You should also try and make one-use meals to begin with, discarding any uneaten portions.
Some great baby foods for 4 – 6 month olds are:
|Avocado, Banana, Pears
|Peas, Carrot, Pumpkin, Kumara
Baby first foods – 7 months – 9 months
Between 7 – 9 months you will notice that your baby is starting to eat more and drink less, but it’s important to continue with breast feeding (or formula) as this still plays an important role in your baby’s nutrition.
At about 8 months old, you can start offering solids first and then the breast, increasing by one meal at a time.
Once baby is settled well into the ‘solids’ routine, you can start introducing new tastes to baby’s diet and food can become thicker and lumpier.
Each time you introduce a new food you’ll be faced with the whole ‘first feed’ experience, so be prepared to let baby adjust to tastes and textures one at a time.
Some great baby foods for 7 – 9 month olds are:
|Avocado, Banana, Melon , Plums, Nectarines, Peaches
|Pureed Beef or Lamb, Gravy or liquid from meat casseroles
|Cauliflower, Potato, Parsnip, Yam, Rice or wheat based cereals
|Custard (made with expressed milk or formula), yoghurt
Baby first foods – 10 months – 12 months
Between 10 – 12 months, the food world really opens up for baby. You can continue with foods that you have already introduced, but also start expanding the menu.
At this age there are more foods they CAN eat, than there are that they can’t, so be adventurous because it is now that they develop their palette.
At 10 – 12 months and beyond, babies will also want to start feeding themselves, and most will be ready for finger foods (see below). Encourage their independence by giving them a teaspoon to feed themselves with, but you’ll still have to help them out.
Some great baby foods for 10 – 12 month olds are:
|Citrus, Kiwifruit , Feijoa , Grapes, Berries, Pineapple
|Silverbeet, Spinach, Peas, Cabbage, Tomatoes, Celery, Brussel Sprouts, Canned Corn, Mushrooms
Protein & Carbohydrate
|Tofu, Bread / Toast, Baked Beans, Pasta, Fish (canned or fresh)
When can my baby starting eating finger foods?
Your baby is ready for finger foods when they have good head control and can sit unsupported in a highchair.
They should be able to pick up and hold things in their hand without help, and will have started making chewing movements with their mashed food.
While every baby is different, these milestones are usually met somewhere between 8 – 9 months.
To avoid choking make sure baby always eats sitting down and that you stay with them while they’re eating. Avoid foods that are too small and hard, and remove any pips or skin from fruits that might make chewing difficult.
Finger foods may help with teething – frozen wedges of fruit wrapped in muslin are great for soothing gums, and many babies love chewing on a rusk.
What are safe finger foods?
When it comes to finger food, keep in mind the recommended foods for each age group as listed above. Make sure you cut the appropriate food into easy-to-manage pieces, and keep a close eye on baby while they are learning the ropes.
Here are some of the most common finger foods to try.
|Apple, pear, banana, nectarine, plum, peach, pineapple, kiwifruit, berries and melon.
|Apple, pear, and apricots soaked in boiled water to soften.
|Carrot, pumpkin, kumara, parsnip, and potato baked in wedges. Cherry tomatoes cut in half.
|Mini meatballs, ham, fish fingers or fish cakes, and cooked meat cut into pieces.
Breads or Cereals*
|Cooked pasta, toast cut into fingers with marmite, rusks, rice crackers, pieces of English muffin splits.
*If you have a family history of allergies, leave wheat based products until after 12 months.
Home Made Baby Food vs Store Bought Baby Food
I’d like to say the homemade vs. store bought debate has been going on for centuries, but the truth is it’s only in recent generations that pre-packaged baby food has been available in supermarkets.
While purists will argue that homemade food is better for baby, you have to weigh up all the pros and cons to find out what works for you and your family.
Many parents stick to homemade food for the most part, but keep a few jars of ‘store bought’ in the pantry for days when everything turns to custard (excuse the pun!).
Home Made Baby Food
Store Bought Baby Food
|Takes a little time to cook and puree, but once cooked you can freeze it small portionsIce cube trays make perfect portions for first solids.Take a portion out of the freezer each morning and heat up when baby is ready.
|Super convenient – heat and eat!
Baby food in jars or cans are excellent for travelling, or days when cooking vegetables is simply out of the question.
|Nutrients will be lost if foods have been in fridge for a few days.For nutritional value, use fresh fruit and vegetables.Even when frozen, the food holds as much nutritional value as its fresh counterpart.
|Pre-packaged food does have to abide by food standards.The jars of food have been processed and preserved, so will have somewhat less nutritional value than fresh food.Check out the ingredients and nutrients table on the back of each packet.
|Homemade baby food works out much cheaper than store bought.
|Store bought jars and packets range from $1-5.Once opened the food cannot be re-used, so in the early days there is a lot of wastage.
|Recommended if you have a family history of allergies, to keep control of what baby is eating.
|Store bought foods must list all their ingredients. However if baby does react to a product, you can’t always tell which ingredient they reacted to.If you are concerned about possible allergic reactions, stick to organic brands to help minimise the risk.
What equipment do I need to prepare baby food?
- If you are planning on making home made food for baby, you will need to have a small blender to puree everything up in the early months. A small hand held blender is fine, and these can be purchased from any appliance shop or department store for $25 – 50.
- Ice cube trays make perfect portion sizes for ‘first foods’, and once the cubes are frozen they can be popped out and left in the freezer in plastic bags. As baby’s appetite grows, you will need small plastic containers to freeze bigger portion sizes.
- A rubber tipped or plastic spoon is great for feeding baby, (especially when they want to feed themselves) as the soft edges are easy on their gums. These cost between $4 and $10 and are available from any nursery department or baby store.
- It’s important to have baby sitting in one place when they are eating, so a highchair is essential. There are lots of things to consider when buying highchairs, so make sure you check out our Highchair article before you buy.