Introducing your baby to solid foods, sometimes called complementary feeding or weaning, should start when your baby is around 6 months old.
At the beginning, how much your baby eats is less important than getting them used to the idea of eating.
They'll still be getting most of their energy and nutrients from breast milk or first infant formula.
Giving your baby a variety of foods, alongside breast or formula milk, from around 6 months of age will help set your child up for a lifetime of healthier eating.
Gradually, you'll be able to increase the amount and variety of food your baby eats until they can eat the same foods as the rest of the family, in smaller portions.
Why wait until around 6 months?
- Breast milk or first infant formula provide the energy and nutrients your baby needs until they're around 6 months old (with the exception of vitamin D in some cases).
- If you're breastfeeding, feeding only breast milk up to around 6 months of age will help protect your baby against illness and infections.
- Waiting until around 6 months gives your baby time to develop so they can cope fully with solid foods. This includes solid foods made into purées, cereals and baby rice added to milk.
- Your baby will be more able to feed themselves.
- Your baby will be better at moving food around their mouth, chewing and swallowing it. This may mean they'll be able to progress to a range of tastes and textures (such as mashed, lumpy and finger foods) more quickly, and may not need smooth, blended foods at all.
If your baby was born prematurely, ask your health visitor or GP for advice on when to start introducing solid foods.
Signs your baby is ready for solid foods
There are 3 clear signs, which, when they appear together from around 6 months of age, show your baby is ready for their first solid foods alongside breast milk or first infant formula.
They'll be able to:
- stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady
- co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth by themselves
- swallow food (rather than spit it back out)
The following behaviours can be mistaken by parents as signs that their baby's ready for solid foods:
- chewing their fists
- waking up in the night (more than usual)
- wanting extra milk feeds
These are all normal behaviours for babies and not necessarily a sign that they're hungry or ready to start solid food.
Starting solid foods will not make your baby any more likely to sleep through the night.
Sometimes a little extra milk will help until they're ready for solid foods.
How to start solid foods
In the beginning your baby will only need a small amount of food before their usual milk feed.
Do not worry about how much they eat. The most important thing is getting them used to new tastes and textures, and learning how to move solid foods around their mouths and how to swallow them.
They'll still be getting most of their energy and nutrients from breast milk or infant formula.
Do not add sugar or salt (including stock cubes and gravy) to your baby's food or cooking water.
Babies should not eat salty foods as it's not good for their kidneys, and sugar can cause tooth decay.
Tips to get your baby off to a good start with solid foods:
- Eating is a whole new skill. Some babies learn to accept new foods and textures more quickly than others. Keep trying, and give your baby lots of encouragement and praise.
- Allow plenty of time, especially at first.
- Go at your baby's pace and let them show you when they're hungry or full. Stop when your baby shows signs that they have had enough. This could be firmly closing their mouth or turning their head away. If you're using a spoon, wait for your baby to open their mouth before you offer the food. Do not force your baby to eat. Wait until the next time if they're not interested this time.
- Be patient and keep offering a variety of foods, even the ones they do not seem to like. It may take 10 tries or more for your baby to get used to new foods, flavours and textures. There will be days when they eat more, some when they eat less, and then days when they reject everything. Do not worry, this is perfectly normal.
- 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. If you're using a spoon, your baby may like to hold it or another spoon to try feeding themselves.
- Keep distractions to a minimum during mealtimes and avoid sitting your baby in front of the television, phone or tablet.
- Show them how you eat. Babies copy their parents and other children. Sit down together for family mealtimes as much as possible.
Once you have started introducing solid foods from around 6 months of age, try to move your baby on from puréed or blended foods to mashed, lumpy or finger foods as soon as they can manage them.
This helps them learn how to chew, move solid food around their mouth and swallow.
Some babies like to start with mashed, lumpy or finger foods.
Other babies need a little longer to get used to new textures, so may prefer smooth or blended foods on a spoon at first.
Just keep offering them lumpy textures and they'll eventually get used to it.
Safety and hygiene
When introducing your baby to solid foods, it's important to take extra care to not put your baby at risk.
Key food safety and hygiene advice:
- Always wash your hands before preparing food and keep surfaces clean.
- Cool hot food and test it before giving it to your baby.
- Wash and peel fruit and raw vegetables.
- Avoid hard foods like whole nuts, or raw carrot or apple.
- Remove hard pips and stones from fruits, and bones from meat or fish.
- Cut small, round foods, like grapes and cherry tomatoes, into small pieces.
- Eggs produced under the British Lion Code of Practice (stamped with the red lion) are considered very low risk for salmonella and safe for babies to eat partially cooked.
Always stay with your baby when they're eating in case they start to choke.
Choking is different from gagging. Your baby may gag when you introduce solid foods.
This is because they're learning how to deal with solid foods and regulate the amount of food they can manage to chew and swallow at one time.
If your baby is gagging:
- their eyes may water
- they might push their tongue forward (or out of their mouth)
- they might retch to bring the food forward in their mouth or vomit
- High chair. Your baby needs to be sitting safely in an upright position (so they can swallow properly). Always use a securely fitted safety harness in a high chair. Never leave babies unattended on raised surfaces.
- Plastic or pelican bibs. It's going to be messy at first!
- Soft weaning spoons are gentler on your baby's gums.
- Small plastic bowl. You may find it useful to get a special weaning bowl with a suction base to keep the bowl in place.
- First cup. Introduce a cup from around 6 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.
- A messy mat or newspaper sheets under the high chair to catch most of the mess.
- Plastic containers and ice cube trays can be helpful for batch cooking and freezing small portions.
Feeding your baby: from 0 to 6 months
Breast milk is the best food your baby can have during their first 6 months of life.
It's free, always available and at the perfect temperature, and is tailor-made for your baby!
First infant formula is the only suitable alternative when mothers do not breastfeed or choose to supplement breast milk.
Other milks or milk substitutes, including cows' milk, should not be introduced as a main drink until 12 months of age.
"Follow-on" formula is not suitable for babies under 6 months, and you do not need to introduce it after 6 months.
Babies do not need baby rice to help them move to solid foods or sleep better.
When using a bottle, do not put anything (such as sugar or cereals) in it other than breast milk or infant formula.
Vitamins for babies
It's recommended that breastfed babies are given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 micrograms (µg) of vitamin D from birth, whether or not you're taking a supplement containing vitamin D yourself.
Babies having 500mls (about a pint) or more of formula a day should not be given vitamin supplements.
This is because formula is fortified with vitamin D and other nutrients.
All children aged 6 months to 5 years should be given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day.
Feeding your baby: from around 6 months
At first, babies do not need 3 meals a day. Babies have tiny tummies, so start by offering them small amounts of food (just a few pieces, or teaspoons of food).
Pick a time that suits you both, when you do not feel rushed and your baby's not too tired.
Start offering them food before their usual milk feed as they might not be interested if they're full, but do not wait until your baby's too hungry.
Allow plenty of time and let your baby go at their own pace.
Keep offering different foods, even foods your baby has already rejected.
It can take 10 tries or more before your baby will accept a new food or texture, particularly as they get older.
Your baby will still be getting most of their energy and nutrients from breast milk or first infant formula.
Breast milk or infant formula should be their main drink during the first year.
Do not give them whole cows' (or goats' or sheep's) milk as a drink until they're 1 year old.
You can continue breastfeeding for as long as you both want.
Introduce a cup from around 6 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.
You might want to start with single vegetables and fruits.
Try mashed or soft cooked sticks of parsnip, broccoli, potato, yam, sweet potato, carrot, apple or pear.
Include vegetables that are not sweet, such as broccoli, cauliflower and spinach.
This will help your baby get used to a range of flavours (rather than just the sweeter ones, like carrots and sweet potato) and might help prevent them being fussy eaters as they grow up.
Make sure any cooked food has cooled right down before offering it to your baby.
Foods containing allergens (such as peanuts, hens' eggs, gluten and fish) can be introduced from around 6 months of age, 1 at a time and in small amounts so you can spot any reaction.
Cows' milk can be used in cooking or mixed with food from around 6 months of age, but should not be given as a drink until your baby is 1 year old.
Full-fat dairy products, such as pasteurised cheese and plain yoghurt or fromage frais, can be given from around 6 months of age. Choose products with no added sugar.
Remember, babies do not need salt or sugar added to their food (or cooking water).
As soon as your baby starts solid foods, encourage them to be involved in mealtimes and have fun touching, holding and exploring food.
Let them feed themselves with their fingers when they want to. This helps develop fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination.
Your baby can show you how much they want to eat, and it gets them familiar with different types and textures of food.
Offering your baby finger foods at each meal is a good way to help them learn to self-feed.
Finger food is food that's 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.
Start off with finger foods that break up easily in their mouth and are long enough for them to grip.
Avoid hard food, such as whole nuts or raw carrots and apples, to reduce the risk of choking.
Examples of finger foods:
- soft cooked vegetables, such as carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, parsnip, butternut squash
- fruit (soft, or cooked without adding sugar), such as apple, pear, peach, melon, banana
- grabbable bits of avocado
- cooked starchy foods, such as potato, sweet potato, cassava, pasta, noodles, chapatti, rice
- pulses, such as beans and lentils
- fish without bones
- hardboiled eggs
- meat without bones, such as chicken and lamb
- sticks of pasteurised full-fat hard cheese (choose lower salt options)
Baby-led weaning means giving your baby only finger foods and letting them feed themselves from the start instead of feeding them puréed or mashed food on a spoon.
Some parents prefer baby-led weaning to spoon feeding, while others do a combination of both.
There's no right or wrong way. The most important thing is that your baby eats a wide variety of food and gets all the nutrients they need.
There's no more risk of choking when a baby feeds themselves than when they're fed with a spoon.
Feeding your baby: from 7 to 9 months
Your baby will gradually move towards eating 3 meals a day (breakfast, lunch and tea), in addition to their usual milk feeds, which may be around 4 a day (for example, on waking, after lunch, after tea and before bed).
As your baby eats more solid foods, they may want less milk at each feed or even drop a milk feed altogether.
If you're breastfeeding, your baby will adapt their feeds according to how much food they're having.
As a guide, formula-fed babies may need around 600ml of milk a day.
Gradually increase the amount and variety of food your baby's offered to ensure they get the energy and nutrients they need.
Try to include food that contains iron, such as meat, fish, fortified breakfast cereals, dark green vegetables, beans and lentils, at each meal.
Your baby's diet should consist of a variety of the following:
- fruit and vegetables, including ones with bitter flavours, such as broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and cabbage
- potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy foods
- beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other non-dairy sources of protein
- pasteurised full-fat dairy products, such as plain yoghurt and cheese (choose lower salt options)
As infants become more confident eaters, remember to offer your baby more mashed, lumpy and finger foods.
Providing finger foods as part of each meal helps encourage infants to feed themselves, develop hand and eye co-ordination, and learn to bite off, chew and swallow pieces of soft food.
Remember, babies do not need salt or sugar added to their food (or cooking water).
Feeding your baby: from 10 to 12 months
Your baby should now be having 3 meals a day (breakfast, lunch and tea), in addition to their usual milk feeds.
Around this age, your baby may have about 3 milk feeds a day (for instance, after breakfast, after lunch and before bed).
Breastfed babies will adapt their milk consumption as their food intake change.
As a guide, babies fed infant formula will drink about 400ml daily.
Remember that formula-fed babies should take a vitamin D supplement if they're having less than 500ml of formula a day.
All breastfed babies should take a vitamin D supplement.
By now, your baby should be enjoying a wide range of tastes and textures.
They should be able to manage a wider range of finger foods, and will be increasingly able to pick up small pieces of food and move them to their mouth.
They'll use a cup with more confidence.
Lunches and teas can include a main course, and a fruit or unsweetened dairy-based dessert, to move eating patterns closer to those of children over 1 year.
As your baby grows, eating together as a family encourages them to develop good eating habits.
Remember, babies do not need salt or sugar added to their food (or cooking water).
Feeding your baby: from 12 months
Your child will now be eating 3 meals a day containing a variety of different foods, including:
- a minimum of 4 servings a day of starchy food, such as potatoes, bread and rice
- a minimum of 4 servings a day of fruit and vegetables
- a minimum of 350ml milk or 2 servings of dairy products (or alternatives)
- a minimum of 1 serving a day of protein from animal sources (meat, fish and eggs) or 2 from vegetable sources (dhal, beans, chickpeas and lentils)
Your child may also need 2 healthy snacks in between meals.
Go for things like:
- fresh fruits, such as apple, banana or small pieces of soft, ripe, peeled pear or peach
- cooked or raw vegetable, such as broccoli florets, carrot sticks or cucumber sticks
- pasteurised plain full-fat yoghurt
- sticks of cheese (choose a lower salt option)
- toast, pitta or chapatti fingers
- unsalted and unsweetened rice or corn cakes
The World Health Organization recommends that all babies are breastfed for up to 2 years or longer.
You can keep breastfeeding for as long as suits you both, but your child will need less breast milk to make room for more foods.
Once your child is 12 months old, infant formula is not needed and toddler milks, growing-up milks and goodnight milks are also unnecessary.
Your baby can now drink whole cows' milk. Choose full-fat dairy products, as children under 2 years old need the vitamins and extra energy found in them.
From 2 years old, if they're a good eater and growing well, they can have semi-skimmed milk.
From 5 years old, 1% fat and skimmed milk is OK.
You can give your child unsweetened calcium-fortified milk alternatives, such as soya, oat or almond drinks, from the age of 1 as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Children under 5 years old should not be given rice drinks because of the levels of arsenic in these products.
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