This is a source of much confusion for lots of mums with some sources suggesting that solids can be commenced from 4 months (17 weeks of age), and other authorities suggesting exclusive breast or bottle feeds until 6 months of age. It is thought that a baby will be ready to start solids between 4-6 months of age and it is not recommended for the introduction to start later than 6 months.
You will know when your baby is ready when:
- they have good head and neck control
- they are able to sit with support (they don’t need to be able to sit on their own)
- they are showing interest in food
- they are aware of their hands and fingers
- their tongue thrust reflex is reduced (they stop sticking their tongue out at you all the time!)
Why not before 4 months (17 weeks?)
- Breast milk or infant formula provide all of the nutrition your baby needs for the first 6 months of life.
- It is unlikely that your baby will be coordinated enough to be able to swallow solids prior to this time
- An infant’s digestive system is very immature and may not be able to digest foods other than breast milk or formula.
Stage 1 (from 4 – 6 months)
Initially, offering solids is about teaching your baby about eating and starting to provide extra iron, zinc, protein and vitamins. For this reason, solid foods should be offered after a breast or bottle feed, or at a separate time to milk feeds.
Start by offering a small amount (1-2 teaspoons) of solid food once per day and slowly build up the amount depending on your baby’s appetite.
The food should be warm, slightly runny and smooth in texture.
It is important to introduce one food at a time and introduce new foods 3 days apart to ensure your baby has no reaction to the new foods. You might need to offer new foods up to 10 times before determining that your baby does not like them.
Once your baby is managing 2-4 tablespoons of food, you can offer food on another occasion.
Stage 2 (around 7-9 months)
It is important to progress babies onto thicker and lumpier textures of food once they are tolerating a variety of pureed vegetables, fruits and meats to minimise the chance of any delay in feeding and speech development.
When trying lumpier and more textured foods, your baby my spit them out initially. Continue to encourage and try with these foods as your baby just needs some time to figure out what to do with them. Some babies like finger foods earlier than others.
Stage 3 (from around 9 to 12 months)
By now, the solid component of your baby’s diet is becoming more important than the milk component. Your baby is likely to be increasing their independence and feeding themselves is an important part of this independence. This self-feeding ranges from picking up finger foods, to using a spoon or drinking from a sipper cup or open cup with assistance and these skills will develop over these months.
It is important to try to move your baby toward family foods over these months and producing texture appropriate versions of family meals will help you get to the point where the whole family is eating the same food.
A little bit about baby led weaning…
Some babies may not open their mouth wide when a spoonful of food approaches them. For some babies this is a sign that they are not ready to start solids, while for others, it is a sign that they want to be independent and try things out for themselves. For those independent little bubs, there is another method of introducing solids called Baby Led Weaning.
The idea behind baby led weaning is to let your baby feed themselves right from the beginning of solids introduction. This means that the gradual progression of textures in their diet is bypassed and instead, whole pieces of food are given to them to feed to themselves, allowing them to pick and choose which foods they like, and which they don’t.
While this makes meal preparation much easier – just feed them pieces of whatever you are eating (before it is salted) – it certainly doesn’t mean less mess. My first son was one of these independent eaters and while at the time I could never quantify exactly how much he was consuming (which as a parent – and a dietitian parent at that – we find hard to deal with), he really enjoyed eating from day one and continues to have a broad diet with lots of textures to this day (just waiting for the terrible threes to change all of that!)
If baby led weaning is something you were wanting to explore, there are many websites, YouTube clips and books to help you with inspiration of how to present the food to your bub.