There still seems to be confusion about when is the right time to introduce our babies to solid foods. Parents are being given different advice from different sources, so this blog post is to help clarify what the research and evidence says, so you can make the best decisions for you and your baby.*
When Should You Give Your Baby Solids?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia both recommend exclusive breastfeeding (i.e. only breast milk) for 6 months, and then introducing solids while continuing breastfeeding. The current Australian guidelines are the Infant Feeding Guidelines from 2012, which recommend introducing solids at AROUND 6 MONTHS OF AGE.
NOTE: These Guidelines were issued after a thorough review of all of the evidence, from multiple sources, and related to timing of solids, including nutritional requirements of babies, developmental readiness (including development of their digestion, immune system and kidney function), risk of allergy, risk of illness (from unsafe or unclean solids, which occurs in developing and developed countries) and risk of receiving too little breast milk (giving too much solid food too soon).
What About Babies With Allergies?
Recent research has shown that delaying solids does NOT reduce the risk of allergy. (The number of children with food allergies in Western countries has risen sharply in recent years and worldwide research is still ongoing to figure out why.)
After the 2012 Guidelines were issued, the messaging was still inconsistent, so in 2016 the Centre for Food and Allergy Research held an Infant Feeding Summit, reviewed the published evidence and issued a consensus statement with the following recommendations:
When your infant is developmentally ready, at around 6 months, but not before 4 months, start to introduce a variety of solid foods, starting with iron-rich foods, while continuing breastfeeding.
All infants should be given allergenic solid foods including peanut butter, cooked egg, dairy and wheat products in the first year of life. This includes infants at high risk of allergy.
What Are The Signs Of Your Baby Being Ready For Solids?
Can sit with support and has good head control.
Has lost their tongue thrust reflex (extrusion reflex).
Has sufficient muscle control and swallowing ability to handle solid food.
Explores hands and objects/toys with their mouth (starts from around 3-4 months old with hand sucking).
Watches others eating and may reach for food. (Though, of course, reaching for things is something many babies do from around 4-5months old, so this is not a sign in itself.)
Seems hungry between milk feeds or is feeding more often.
What Foods Should You Give?
A wide variety of foods should be given, with a focus on foods containing iron and zinc** - the type and order of foods is not that important as long as you're covering the major food groups.
**Why The Focus on iron and zinc-rich foods? - Babies have enough iron and zinc stores to last them to somewhere between 6 and 12 months old, with the timing being different for each baby. We don’t know which babies are the earliest to start to deplete these stores, so we should aim to give all babies solids with iron and zinc from around 6 months. The best sources of iron and zinc are meats and their vegetarian alternatives. (NOTE: iron-fortified cereals do not usually contain zinc.)
Avoid foods that are a choking hazard – no whole nuts, or small hard fruits (e.g. whole grapes or blueberries – always cut them in half or squash them with your fingers before serving to baby), or other hard foods where baby could break off a chunk. Also check meat pieces for small bones before giving to your baby.
No Honey until after 12 months of age – this is to reduce the risk of botulism (caused by a bacterium found in soil and which can be in honey).
No raw eggs (beware of home-made mayonnaise and under-cooked eggs) – can contain bacteria.
Start with small amounts of food, one food at a time to build up variety, and also slowly increase the volume – serving sizes can be found on page 44 of this document. (Some sources recommend a gap of 2 days between each new food, in case of a reaction.)
Texture progression – first tastes are usually soft/pureed/mashed foods, but babies can quickly progress onto foods with more texture. Different textures of foods encourage self-feeding and are important to help baby learn to chew (which also helps with speech) – see Baby-led Weaning below.
Keep breastfeeding – breast milk still forms a main part of a baby’s diet until they start being able to eat bigger volumes of solids.
Baby-led Weaning information:
This article from the Tasmanian Government is a good summary.
Gill Rapley was one of the first to write about this topic.
One-handed Cooks has easy recipes for the whole family.
@blwmealsapp – check out their free resources on Instagram - the app itself is also good value for money.
If you're looking for more information or support as you navigate this next stage of your baby's feeding, please get in touch to book an appointment with me. Shona x
*The information on this website is for information and educational purposes only and is not intended as professional medical advice, or as a substitute for the advice of a doctor or other qualified health care professional. Please consult your own doctor or qualified health care professional for medical advice or information that is specific to your situation. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.