Introducing Solid Foods to your Baby
Written by our specialist nutritionist, Claire Glazzard
Enjoy watching your baby try their first foods and share in the experiences of new textures, flavours and smells…embrace the mess!
When is the right time?
The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding until your baby is six months (26 weeks). Introduction of solid foods should start around this time. Some parents may wish to introduce solid foods earlier, and four months (17 weeks) is the earliest age that you should start this. Leaving the introduction of solid foods too late (longer than 6 months) may mean your baby doesn’t get enough of all the nutrients they need. This is because stores of essential nutrients, such as iron, decline from birth and by 6 months need to be replenished with food. Pre-term babies need to be introduced to solid food according to their individual needs, and the dietitian and medical team looking after your child can help you with this.
Signs your baby is ready for solid foods
Babies develop at different paces and some may show signs of being ready for solid foods before others.
There are 3 clear signs, which, when they appear together from around 6 months of age, show that your baby is ready for their first solid foods, alongside breast milk or first infant formula. They will be able to:
- stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady
- coordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at their food, pick it up and put it in their mouth by themselves
- swallow food (rather than spit it back out)
- Pureed or mashed vegetables and fruit are great first foods; you might also want to offer these as finger foods (make sure to cook them if they are hard).
- Offer a wide variety of vegetables and fruit, and try offering those with a savoury flavour first, such as courgette, green beans and broccoli. This can help your baby learn to accept vegetables and fruit and can increase the likelihood that they will eat these foods during later years.
- You can also offer small amounts of protein foods (such as meat, fish, lentils and eggs), starchy foods (such as porridge and rice) and dairy products (such as unsweetened yogurt).
- It is easiest to introduce foods that the family eat. Commercial baby foods, such as those bought in jar, packet or pouch are extremely convenient although avoid regular reliance on these products as they tend to be high in sugar and salt and may result in babies not becoming familiar with family foods and refusing them later in the weaning journey.
Top Tips for First Month of Food
- To start with, your baby only needs a small amount of solid food, once a day, at a time that suits you both.
- 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 are 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 are 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 are 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.
- Make sure baby isn’t too full and hasn’t just had a large milk feed.
- At the same time, ensure baby isn’t too hungry and isn’t desperate for a milk feed (roughly an hour after a milk feed can be a good time).
Gradually, you should increase the amount your baby eats so that solid foods start to replace some of their milk. Aim to have your baby eating three healthy meals a day and some healthy snacks by 9-12 months. When you begin introducing solid foods your baby will still be getting most of their nutrients and energy from milk, so at this stage you only need to offer small amounts of food and your baby does not need three meals a day. It is normal for your baby to be less interested in food on some days than others, so try not to worry about how much they are eating at the start of weaning.
Smooth or lumpy?
Smooth purees and mashed foods are good to start with, but you should soon move to lumpier foods to help your baby get used to different textures. To help your baby get used to different textures and tastes quickly, try moving on to mashed and finger foods (from purées or blended) as soon as they are ready. This helps them learn how to chew, move solid food around their mouth and swallow solid foods. Give your baby a spoon and let them try feeding themselves – you might need to stick a mat under the highchair though!
Babies take different amounts of time to get used to lumps, but it’s an important skill they need to learn. Just keep offering them lumpy textures from around 6 to 7 months, and stay with them so you can be sure they are swallowing it safely.
Finger foods help get them used to different textures, they love picking bits of food up and feeding themselves – this is also good for developing their hand-eye co-ordination. These can be offered from the start of introducing solid foods. Finger foods should be big enough so that when it is grasped by your baby some of it remains sticking out from their fist and soft enough for them to easily chew. Pieces about the size of an adult’s finger are ideal.
- 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.
Should I give my baby…
Salt? Salt should not be added to foods, and salty foods, such as bacon, cheese and some processed foods, should be limited.
Sugar? Avoid adding any sugar to foods and drinks for babies.
Honey? Babies under one year should not be given honey. It can contain bacteria which could hurt them.
Nuts? Babies can have finely ground nuts from around six months olds. Children under five years old should not have whole nuts because of the risk of choking and inhalation.
Gluten? There is no need to avoid gluten, it can be introduced from around six months.
Eggs? Eggs can be introduced from around 6 months. Look for eggs with a red lion stamped on them or the words ‘British Lion Quality’ on the box.
Cheese? Due to high risk of listeria avoid all cheeses made from unpasteurised milk and mould ripened soft cheeses (brie, soft blue veined cheese) should be avoided, unless thoroughly cooked.
Should I be concerned about food allergies?
A food allergy results from the immune system overreacting to a food. The reaction can be immediate (within 30 minutes of eating) or delayed (hours to days after eating), and be mild-to-moderate (e.g. digestive issues such as loose stools and vomiting) or severe (i.e. anaphylaxis, which includes breathing difficulties and can be life threatening).
There are some foods that may trigger food allergies and it is important not to introduce these before 6 months, these include:
- milk (other than breastmilk and infant formula)
- wheat [and other cereals containing gluten (e.g. rye, barley and oats)]
- fish and shellfish
From 6 months, these foods can be introduced gradually. Start with very small amounts and introduce one at a time, so that any reactions that may develop can be spotted.
Babies at higher risk of food allergy
An allergy to a specific food is more likely to develop if your baby has other allergies, such as asthma, eczema, hayfever or other food allergies, or if a close family member (parent or sibling) has any of these conditions. Speak to your GP or health visitor before introducing your baby to allergenic foods.
What drinks can I give my baby?
- Breastmilk (or formula) should be your baby’s main drink up to 12 months of age.
- First formula is suitable up to 12 months and although follow-on formula can be introduced after 6 months of age, this is not necessary as research shows that it offers no additional health benefits over first formula.
- Whole cows’, goats’ or sheep’s milks are not suitable as a drink until after 12 months of age, but can be used in cooking from 6 months.
- Semi-skimmed milk is not suitable for babies and infants under 2 years of age and skimmed and 1% fat milks are not suitable as a main drink until your child is 5 years of age. This is because they do not contain enough calories and vitamin A to support a child’s needs.
- Babies under 12 months of age should not be given other types of milk, such as condensed or evaporated milks, nor should they be given rice, oat or almond dairy-free alternatives as drinks because they are not energy or nutrient rich enough for babies.
- Soya-based formula should be used only under the instruction of a GP. Soya-based drinks can be introduced after 12 months of age.
- Water is the best alternative to milk as a drink. From 6 months you can give your baby fresh tap water, but avoid bottled water as the mineral content can be too high.
- Unsweetened fruit juice contains natural sugars and is acidic; it can cause tooth decay if given too frequently. You can give your baby unsweetened fruit juice after 6 months of age, but always dilute it well, serve in an open cup and restrict to mealtimes to reduce impact on teeth.
Bottles and cups
- From 6 months of age, babies should be encouraged to drink from a free-flow cup. For bottle-fed babies, aim to have stopped using bottles by the time they are 12 months old. This is to help protect your baby’s teeth.
Safety and hygiene
When introducing your baby to solid foods, it is 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 are eating in case they start to choke.
Do I still need to give my baby vitamin supplements?
Growing babies and children, especially those who do not eat a varied diet, sometimes don’t get enough vitamins A and C. It is also difficult to get enough vitamin D through food alone. That is why the Department of Health recommends that all children aged 6 months to 5 years are given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day.
Vitamin D is only found in a few foods, such as oily fish and eggs. It is lso added to some foods, such as fat spreads and breakfast cereals.The best source of vitamin D is summer sunlight on our skin. But it’s important to keep your child’s skin safe in the sun. It is recommended that from birth, your baby should be given a daily supplement containing 8.5-10 µg of vitamin D.
Vitamin A is important for babies and young children, and some may not be getting enough. It strengthens their immune system, can help their vision in dim light, and keeps skin healthy.
Good sources of vitamin A include:
- dairy products
- fortified fat spreads
- carrots, sweet potatoes, swede and mangoes
- dark green vegetables, such as spinach, cabbage and broccoli
It is recommended that you give your child a daily supplement containing vitamin A (233 µg) from the age of 6 months to 5 years.
Vitamin C is important for your child’s general health and immune system. It can also help their body absorb iron.
Good sources of vitamin C include:
- kiwi fruit
It is recommended that you give your child a daily supplement containing vitamin C (20 mg) from the age of 6 months to 5 years.
If you are giving your baby at least 500 ml of infant formula per day, you do not need a vitamin supplement as vitamins A, C and D are already added to the formula. However, if your baby is having formula milk in smaller amounts, it is advisable to give them a supplement of vitamins A, C and D.
Vitamin drops including vitamins A, C and D are available through the Healthy Start scheme for some families. See www.healthystart.nhs.uk/ for further details or speak to your health visitor.
Babies being weaned onto a vegan diet may need additional supplements, including vitamin B12. Consult your health professional for more information.
- British Dietetic Association. (2019). Complementary Feeding (Weaning) Factsheet. Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/complementary-feeding-weaning.html
- British Nutrition Foundation (BNF). (2018). Introducing solid foods to your baby. Available at:https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/nutrition4baby/complementaryfeeding.html
- National Health Service (NHS). (2020a) Start4Life: Weaning. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/weaning/
- National Health Service (NHS). (2020b). Healthy Start. Available at: https://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/
- National Health Service (NHS). (2020c). Your baby’s first solid foods. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/solid-foods-weaning/
· National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) (2015) Quality Standard (QS98) Maternal and Child Nutrition. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs98/chapter/Quality-statement-5-Advice-on-introducing-solid-food
- Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) (2018) Feeding in the First Year of Life. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/725530/SACN_report_on_Feeding_in_the_First_Year_of_Life.pdf