A Guide To Introducing Solids
Starting your baby on solids is an exciting (albeit messy!) experience for both of you. Watching your baby experience new flavours and textures and discovering what they like and don't like, is great fun. When your baby first starts on solids, they probably won't eat much. Much of the food will end up on the floor, but don't worry if not much food actually reaches your baby's mouth. The aim of first foods is to get your baby used to the idea of eating, rather than it being a source of nutrition. Your baby will still be getting all the nutrients he needs from breast or formula milk until he is a year old, when you may decide to switch to cow's milk. If you are breastfeeding, when your baby reaches 6 months old he may need vitamin drops.
What You'll Need
You don't need to go out and buy a whole load of cooking equipment to make homemade purees. All you really need is a potato masher, to mash food to a pulp, or a sieve to push cooked fruit and vegetables through. Food processors, blenders and hand held whisks are very useful when making purees, and definitely get the job done quicker, and with less physical exertion (mashing carrots and potatoes to a pulp can be surprisingly tiring on your wrist!) but they aren't essential. An ice cube tray is useful for storing and freezing batches of puree in small quantities, for when your baby is starting out on his journey of culinary exploration. For when your baby's portions get larger, it's a good idea to buy some airtight plastic containers for storing purees in the fridge or freezer. Making purees in big batches and then freezing them cuts down preparation time for meals.
To feed your baby, you'll need a highchair and some plastic feeding spoons (metal spoons can irritate babies' gums). A plentiful supply of bibs is useful to avoid having a mountain of food-stained clothes to be washed!
How to Feed Your Baby
Start off by giving your baby one meal a day. Don't expect your baby to eat it all, he probably won't eat a full meal for quite a while. Offer a few teaspoons, or pieces of soft finger food a day. Gradually increase this to 4/5 teaspoons twice a day, and then by the time your baby is 7-8 months old, he will be starting to eat 3 meals a day.
You can give your baby his first solids before or after his usual milk feed. See what works best for your baby. Some babies like to have a few sips of milk first, and are then happy to try solids, before finishing off their meal with milk. After your baby starts to eat more at each feeding time, they will probably naturally drink less milk. Some babies don't take to solids very well as they are too full up on milk. The aim of solids for the first couple of months is just getting your baby used to food, but if after this time your baby doesn't seem interested in solids, try reducing his milk intake. If babies have just had a bottle full of milk, they are unlikely to eat a full meal afterwards.
Be patient with your baby. Feeding your baby can take a very long time! Go at your baby's pace and don't rush him. Give yourself plenty of time to feed your baby if you have to go out (and be prepared for the possibility of always being late for appointments!).
Give your baby some solids to try when he is happy and contented, not when he is tired or irritable. Don't force your baby to eat. If he isn't interested, put the food away and try again later. If your baby stops eating, closes his mouth or pushes the food or spoon away, he is telling you he has had enough. Don't push your baby to eat more than he wants to: babies' stomachs are only the size of their clenched fist. Wait until your baby's mouth opens to put the spoon in his mouth.
It can take a while for your baby to get used to a certain food. Sometimes a baby needs to taste a food 10-15 times before they decide they like it. Don't force your baby to eat if he doesn't want to, but offer the same food several times and after a while he might surprise you by wolfing it down!
Let your baby explore the food with his fingers. He will be more likely to want to eat it if he has the chance to 'discover' it himself first. Let him smell and touch the food to get familiar with it. If your baby tries to grab the spoon, give him a spoon to hold too.
Make mealtimes a family affair. Babies love copying their parents and siblings so give your baby their meal the same time as the rest of the family.
If you are giving your baby hot food, always test the temperature on the inside of your wrist before you give it to your baby.
Once your baby is eating some solid food, offer him extra water throughout the day. Now is a great time to introduce your baby to a sippy cup (avoid non-spill ones, as they don't teach your baby to sip and are harder to get the water from).
Making Homemade Purees
You can make homemade purees by mashing soft fruit and vegetables, or cooking fruit and vegetables and then mashing it up. Soft vegetables such as ripe avocado, ripe pears and bananas don't need to be cooked, but hard fruit and vegetables such as carrots and apples need to be cooked until soft. When they are cooked, you can use either a potato masher or a fork to mash it up (potato masher is quicker for large batches), or push it through a sieve. You can also put food in a blender, or use handheld mini food processors, which many parents find helpful. For your baby's first few taste of 'solids', mix some of his usual milk into it to make it taste more familiar to him and to get it the right consistency. First foods should be fairly runny.
Some parents decide to bypass the puree stage and let their baby feed themselves with small piece of age appropriate food. This is called baby-led weaning. If you're interested in this, read our article on how to get Baby-led weaning started.
What Foods Should I Give my Baby?
Don't add any salt, sugar or stock cubes to your baby's meals. Babies should not have more than 1g of salt a day, as salt can damage their kidneys. Don't feed your baby food that isn't designed for babies, such as adult porridge or ready meals, as many adult foods contain far too much salt for babies.
Some great first foods to give your baby are mashed sweet potato, carrots, bananas, stewed apples, mashed pear, papaya, parsnip, yam, peaches, mango, and butternut squash.
Other good first foods are baby rice and baby porridge. Baby rice can be served on its own, or mixed into purees. Baby porridge can be mixed with mashed up fruit for a sweeter flavour. Gradually start to thicken up your purees as your baby gets used to eating, by adding less milk.
Many nutritionists recommend using the 4-day rule method to starting your baby on solids. This is where you introduce new foods one by one, 4 days apart. Once you know your baby has no allergies to a certain foods, you can mix food together to make more interesting purees. This method means you can see how your baby's body reacts to the new food, and detect any food allergies.
Once your baby has got used to the idea of eating, you can gradually introduce other flavours and types of food into your baby's diet. Most babies, by the time they are 7-8 months old are ready for tiny pieces of pasta and rice, bread, soft pieces of meat (you can also try shredding meat), beans, lentils, cheese, full fat yoghurts, well cooked eggs, and fish. You can also start to introduce finger foods at this age.
Jarred Baby Food
It's ok to give your baby jarred baby food occasionally. Busy mums don't always have the time to knock up meals from scratch, and there's no need to feel guilty about the occasional jar or pouch of baby food. But it's best to make your own food as much as possible. This is because you can make sure there is no added salt or sugar in your baby's food, and can use fresh ingredients. Jarred food also tends to have the same texture as other flavours, which doesn't help your baby get used to different textures. Different flavours of jarred baby food often taste very similar too!
Foods to Avoid
The Department of Health advises waiting until your baby is 6 months old before giving them solids. If you decide to start your baby on solids before this, don't give your baby any foods that contain wheat, gluten, nuts, seeds, liver, eggs, fish, dairy products or unpasteurised cheese. Be extra diligent about any salt in your baby's diet if you wean before 6 months.
There are certain foods you can't give your baby until they are a year old. Here's a list of what to avoid:
- Cow's milk or soy milk as a drink (these can be used in cooking and mixed into purees from 6 months old)
- Unpasteurised or mould ripened cheese such as brie, stilton and camembert
- Hard food such as sweets, nuts and seeds.
- Sticky sweets aren't suitable for babies as they can get stuck in their throat
- Large chunks of any food. Cook hard vegetables such as parsnips, and then chop them up into very small pieces to minimise choking. You can also shred food, which makes eating foods such as meat and cheese safer for your baby.