What can my baby eat before 6 months of age?
What can my baby eat before 6 months of age?
Is my baby ready?
When should I start solids?
Do they need teeth?
What should I feed them first?
When can they eat meat?
When can they eat bread?
I want introduce solids with baby-led weaning, when can we start?
What about eggs and peanut butter?
There are oh-so many questions when we begin to come out of the newborn haze and realise it’s time to consider introducing solids – some of which will be answered in this post. And the ones above are just a select few out of the many hundred that often run through our minds when it’s time to move on from the simplicity (said in retrospect!!) of breastfeeding or bottle feeding your babe.
If you are part of a parents’ group – in person or online – or are searching for information on the internet there is so much discussion around the topic of introducing solids and what babies are doing, what they are eating, what parents fed their first babies etc. and you will quickly realise (if you haven’t already done) every baby is so very very different and each parent’s approach is different. Not everything will suit your baby.
Parents, friends, talks and courses, social media, websites and professionals (us included!) can give you lots of information and advice on starting solids but tuning into your own baby and noticing their behaviours, interest in food and general sensory preferences will give you your best lead on what to to do.
So here’s the up to date infant feeding advice for a baby up to around 6 months of age based on the NH&MRC Infant Feeding Guidelines (2012) and some advice on what to feed and offer your baby in the first few weeks of starting solids.
UP TO 4-6 months of age
BREAST MILK AND/OR FORMULA
Key feeding milestone/oral motor development: your baby is relying on their suck, suckle and swallow reflex to feed from the breast or a bottle.
From the time of birth breast milk and/or formula is an essential requirement for your baby’s healthy growth and development and should be their main drink until at least 12 months of age. In Australia, it is recommended that infants be exclusively breastfed until around 6 months of age when solid foods are introduced. The benefits of breastfeeding to both the mother and baby are many, and along with wonderful support, further information can be found at the Australian Breastfeeding Association. The frequency, duration and number of feeds your baby is having during these first few months will vary widely, particularly if you are breastfeeding on demand. If you have any concerns regarding your child’s growth and development, breastfeeding or formula feeding we recommend you seek professional advice from your GP, child and family health nurse and/or paediatrician.
AROUND 4 months of age
BREAST MILK AND/OR FORMULA
Key feeding milestone: oral exploration with objects, toys, fingers and hands.
By 4-6 months the number of feeds you feed your baby may still vary, particularly if you are demand breastfeeding, but you may find more of a routine begin to develop. This will be more especially so if you are supplementing with, or feeding exclusively, with formula. At 4 months of age you notice your baby beginning to pick up objects and toys and begin to put them in their mouth, A LOT! Their fingers and hands too (sometimes even their toes). Oral exploration is a key developmental phase – it allows babies to discover the taste and texture of different objects. For babies beginning to teethe it may also help relieve some of the discomfort in their gums. Of course, it’s always essential to ensure the objects in their reach are safe to prevent choking. It’s common to notice your baby showing greater interest in the foods you are eating and wanting to grab at them. While it might be tempting to offer them a taste, most babies still won’t be ready to start solids at 4 months of age.
NOTE: Often babies at 4 months will begin to wake more frequently through the night. Sometimes we are told by a well-meaning person that our baby is ready for solids and by offering food it will help them sleep through the night. This is a common misconception. Sure, one sign of readiness for solids is finding it more difficult to satisfy your baby on milk alone but if you aren’t noticing any other signs of readiness and begin to introduce solids too early your bub’s digestive system won’t be ready and in fact it can cause more discomfort and more waking and wind, constipation and other signs of tummy discomfort. Instead at 4 months they are going through a significant developmental leap and as they process a lot of new information while they sleep so it’s perfectly normal for them to wake more often as they are approaching new milestones.
(Note: this picture is of an older baby, around 9 months of age, but better demonstrates oral exploration with objects.)
AROUND 5- 5 1/2 months of age
BREAST MILK AND/OR FORMULA
MAYBE SOME SINGLE FRUIT AND VEGETABLE PUREES
Key feeding milestone/oral motor development: your baby may begin to eat small amount of thin, pureed foods from a spoon, begin to chew using up-and-down ‘munching’ motions, gag reflex is disappearing, but some gagging and coughing is normal.
Your baby is still reliant on breast milk and/or formula to meet their dietary requirements. However your baby may be beginning to show more signs of being ready for their first tastes of solids and some babies in your parents’ group will probably have begun to wean their babies. As the guidelines suggest waiting until your baby is around 6 months of age, it is typical for most babies to be ready between 5 and 6 months of age. (It’s important to note here that if you are wishing to introduce solids with finger foods, aka baby-led weaning, it is recommended to wait until your baby is six months of age. You can find more information on baby-led weaning and introducing finger foods in our Finger Foodie ebook.)
Some basic notes on when, where, what and how much to offer:
When to offer the first meal: when you are ready to start solids we recommend choosing the middle of the day ‘lunch time’ to offer the first meal, (30-60 minutes after a milk feed) as there is more opportunity to watch for later signs of discomfort, allergies or intolerance, they are likely to be more hungry compared with ‘breakfast time’ and as well as be more alert and engaged compared with at ‘dinner time’. We suggest continuing with one mealtime per day for at least a week, even longer if you have started at 5 months. After a week or two you may like to introduce a second mealtime. Too many solid mealtimes too early can reduce their appetite for breastmilk which is still their main source of nutrients at this age. Head over to this post we wrote to give your more info and advice: Starting Solids: Food timing & meal frequency.
Where to feed your baby: be sure they are seated appropriately with sufficient support to ensure good head, neck and trunk control for safe swallowing. A soft bumbo-style seat with appropriate harnesses, a slightly reclined pram or bouncer or high chair with additional cushions or towels, if required, can all be good options.
What foods to offer: babies are used to the thin, sweet tasting liquid of breast milk and/or formula. Therefore, a nice transition to solids for babies at this age is a sweet tasting puree, smooth and thin, such as pear, apple, pumpkin or sweet potato. These are low-allergenic fruits and vegetables to help minimise any discomfort to their tummies as they adjust to solid foods. Zucchini, avocado, cauliflower, broccoli, banana, carrot, parsnip are all some other wonderful first foods to try either on their own or in combination with one or two other veggies. To help acceptance of their first purees you can add in a little breastmilk or formula if required. (Note: the older your baby is the more textured, with even a lump or bump or two, a meal can be and still be well tolerated and enjoyed). Take a look: 10 first food puree combos.
(Pear & Cinnamon.)
(Broccoli, zucchini & apple.)
(Pumpkin, sweetcorn, zucchini.)
(Mashed Carrot & Apple, Pumpkin & Papaya)
How much to offer: most babies, especially the younger ones, will push the puree back out of their mouth as fast as it went in. You might have a tablespoon to offer them with only a fraction of that reaching their bellies but that is totally fine and normal! It’s important not to force them. Sticking to a few teaspoons at each mealtime is a good guide for the first few days to ensure they are really ready for starting solids and to help their tummies adjust. For younger babies (5 months) they may eat small amounts for a while compared with older babies (closer to 6 months) who will progress to larger quantities faster. Tune into your babies and recognise and respond to their hunger and fullness cues appropriately.
This is only the tip of the surface we have so much more information, tips, recipes and advice on these topics, including a 4-week starting solids guide, in our starting solids ebook, Baby Foodie, so be sure to check it out.
Our books, One Handed Cooks – raising a good eater & Boosting Your Basics, making the most of every mealtime, will have you covered in this aspect, lots of information on hunger, fullness, mindful eating and trusting your child’s hunger and fullness cues.
FROM 6 MONTHS
When your baby is six months of age you can really begin to expand on the foods, flavours and textures. Quite quickly too if your baby is tolerating and enjoying solids and already well-established on first tastes. Note: if you haven’t yet started solids, that’s perfectly OK but t’s important for solids not to be delayed longer then 6 months of age for their nutrition, growth, health and wellbeing.
“Foods can be introduced in any order provided iron-rich nutritious foods re the first foods and the texture is suitable for the infant’s stage of development. Cow’s milk products including full-fat yoghurt, cheese and custard may be given, but not cow’s milk as a main drink before 12 months.” – NH&MRC Infant Feeding Guidelines
At this age, milk is no longer meeting their dietary requirements, particularly of iron and zinc, which are essential for your baby’s healthy growth and development as well as strengthening their immune system. Adding meats, chicken, fish, eggs, legumes is important here as well as wholegrains for texture and nutrients – try quinoa, rice, millet, wholegrain breads, oats and pasta. Allergenic foods can begun to be introduced in small amounts too – eggs, dairy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Oh and that question about teeth? Answer: they don’t need teeth for finger foods or textured meals – their gums are surprisingly strong.
WHAT TO READ NEXT:
If you have waited until now to start solids and are baby-led weaning or planning to introduce finger foods early to your baby (so many benefits!) try our books or our ebook, Finger Foodie, for more detailed information on appropriate finger foods as well as loads of delicious and nutritious recipes to try.
Our post on what does a 7-month old eat? is always super popular and will give you an insight of what’s to come!
And of course Baby Foodie – our short concise guide to starting solids with 50+ recipes.
A NOTE ON WATER
When your baby starts solids they should be offered a small amount of cooled, boiled water in a sippy cup at mealtimes. At first it is more of a mouthwash than a drink as they tend to spit and splutter it out as they learn how to ‘sip’. The best sippy cups to help with your baby’s oral motor development don’t have a ‘leak proof’ valve, or have one that can be removed. You can also begin to assist your baby with an open cup too once they get the hang of it. For more head here: Introducing the Sippy Cup, Keeping Babies and Toddlers Hydrated
(Picture of a 7-month old baby – for reference only.)
*Please read our Disclaimer: if you have specific concerns regarding your child’s readiness for starting solids, child’s appetite, eating behaviour, growth/development or the nutritional adequacy of their diet we recommend you consult your medical practitioner for assessment and referral to an appropriate health care provider, e.g. an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), GP, Paediatrician or Child and Family Health Nurse.