What you need to know when introducing solids
When is the right age to start solids?
Over the decades, the ‘right’ age to start solids has varied from anything from three to six months. The guideline in New Zealand is that babies should be exclusively breast fed till the introduction of solids at six months of age. It is believed that introducing solids prior to six months can mean an increase in the development of food allergies. Once your baby is 8-9 months old and eating solids well, you can start to breast (or bottle) feed your baby after their solid meal.
Once solid foods are introduced, supplementary breastfeeding is still recommended up till the age of two years. Breastfeeds or formula feeds should still accompany solid foods as the main liquid source until at least one year of age. You can also introduce water in a sippy cup at six months – but save juice until your baby’s older, and dilute juice 50/50 with water.
Signs that your baby is ready to start solids
Your baby might be ready for solid food if they are showing the following signs:
- Your baby starts wanting to put things in his mouth (eg hands, toys)
- He shows an interest when others are eating food.
- He wants to feed more frequently or seems hungry after a milk feed
- He’s able to sit upright when supported and has good head and neck control.
- He reaches out to grab at food or spoons.
- Opens his mouth when food is offered.
- Stops pushing his tongue out when food is offered.
If your baby doesn’t seem interested in solids, closes his mouth or gets upset or pushes the food away don't worry. Just give him a breastfeed or bottle feed and try again another day. They do need to move on to solids so if it's taking too long, discuss with your caregiver.
Baby's first foods?
Baby's like very plain and smooth food. Remember, baby has never tried food before so simple pureed food (perhaps with a little breastmilk or formula mixed through to make it smoother).
Stage 1 baby food (6 -7 months)
For baby’s first tastes, keep it simple. Stick with just one flavour, starting with veggies to get baby used to savoury tastes before sweet. Rice cereal is the perfect first food for baby as it contains added iron and minerals.
Vegetables: steam and puree the following foods for baby’s first bites:
- sweet potato
Fruits: mash the following (make sure they are nice and ripe)
Steam and puree the following:
Stage 2 (7 – 8 months)
Now that they are used to eating you can introduce cooked meat – either shredded or mashed. You can start to combine flavours such as apple and pear, pumpkin and spinach or carrot and potato. You can now also start to use a fork to roughly mash to include more texture and lumps.
Other items to add include:
- milk-based foods such as custard and yoghurt
- grated cheese or cottage cheese
- bread, pasta and rice.
Stage 3 (9 – 12 months)
Your baby will now like to try more textures, so chop his veggies to include some lumps in his food and broaden the food you offer- get your baby used to eating a wider range of foods and preparing him for regular family meals.
Finger food should also be offered regularly. Here are some ideas - finger sandwiches,cooked broccoli florets, cooked carrot sticks, ham, pieces of chicken (boneless), mandarin segments, strawberries and halved, seedless grapes.
From 12 months
By now your baby will be eating similar food to the rest of the family so start trying to only prepare one meal. To avoid your baby eating too much salt or sugar serve baby’s food first before seasoning for the rest of the family.
At 12 months you can introduce the following foods:
- egg white
- peanut/nut butter
- full-fat milk as a drink.
You can use your regular cutlery however many parents prefer a softer spoon (in particular) when starting solids. Melamine plates are likely to survive the falls from high chair to floor as baby starts to have more ‘fun’ with dinnertime.
Here is a guide for what equipment you might like:
- Two to three shallow, unbreakable bowls (dishwasher and microwave safe)
- Six to eight soft, shallow spoons that are small enough for baby’s mouth.
- A stick blender for pureeing.
- An ice cube tray to freeze portions of baby food for later use.
Foods to avoid
While you want to allow your baby to explore the new tastes and texture there are some foods are best saved till later.
- avoid hard raw food such as carrots and apples as these can be a choking hazard.
- avoid honey until baby is over 12 months due to risk of botulism in honey (over 12 months the digestive system is more able to destroy the bacteria)
- avoid egg whites until your baby is over 12 months as these can pose an allergy risk.
- Avoid cow’s milk in food preparation (such as custards and yoghurt) until your baby is over 8 or 9 months. Full fat cow’s milk as a drink should be avoided until your baby is over one.
- Food with leaves or skin that could get stuck in your toddlers throat should be avoided as should fibrous or stringy food, small round food or extremely thick food.
Where can you go for advice?
You can talk to your Well Child Nurse, your GP (family doctor) or midwife, There is also specialist help available such as a paediatrician or lactation consultant. Community groups such as Plunket Family Centres, La Leche League, Kohanga Reo and marae based health services may also be able to help.
Solid foods and allergic reactions
Foods that people are most commonly allergic to are eggs, cows' milk, shellfish, soy, wheat, peanuts and other nuts. One reason for not introducing solids before baby is six months old is to help reduce allergies. Once solids are started however there is little real proof that holding off introducing food that most often cause allergies will help protect your child. Some Specialists advise delaying the introduction of wheat for babies with a family history of allergies. If in doubt introduce the foods slowly and one by one so you can determine what food is causing any reaction.