Food, glorious food: introducing solids to your baby
Just when you feel like you’re getting into a nice little rhythm with your milk feeds – you guessed it! It’s time to shake things up again with the introduction of solid food, which is also known as weaning. It is a big (and sometimes messy) milestone in your baby’s first year but it doesn’t have to be a stressful one! Find out everything you need to know for a smooth and enjoyable transition to solids below!
When to begin?
Health experts recommend that babies begin weaning between 4 and 6 months of age (although most advise that the closer to 6 months, the better). It is very important not to introduce solids before 4 months of age because babies’ kidneys and digestive systems are not mature enough to process anything other than breastmilk and/or formula, which meets all their nutritional needs up to that point. However, from around 6 months onwards, babies have used up the iron stored in their bodies from when they were in the womb, so they begin needing additional energy and nutrients in the form of solid foods.
As well as being in the right age bracket, there are several other signs to look out for which may indicate that your baby is ready to start solids:
- They can sit upright with limited support, and have good control of their head and neck
- They are showing interest in the food you are eating and possibly reaching for it too
- A noticeable increase in appetite (i.e. normal milk feeds no longer satisfying their hunger)
- Opening their mouth to taste if you offer them mashed food on a spoon
How to begin
When trying solids for the first time, it is best to choose a time of day when both you and baby are happy and relaxed. This will be different for everyone, but generally speaking, after a milk feed when bubs is full and content is a good time to start. If you attempt to wean when your baby is hungry, they will likely only be interested in what they know will satisfy them quickly, which is their milk.
You only need to offer 1-2 teaspoons of very soft, mashed, or pureed food to begin with, and then you can gradually increase the amount and frequency based on your baby’s appetite cues. It is advisable to introduce one food at a time, and to leave a few days in between each one, to give your baby time to adjust to the new flavours and textures and to rule out any potential allergies. Once your baby is taking around 6 teaspoons worth of food at your chosen mealtime, it is a sign they might be ready for an additional meal during the day.
There is no need to rush or put too much pressure on yourself or your baby. The early stages of weaning are all about experimentation and just like us grown-ups, babies will have their own likes and dislikes too. Try to go off their cues as much as possible, and if they are still resisting or downright refusing a certain food after a couple of days, move on to something new. The more playful and responsive you can keep the process, the more likely your baby will be to take to this new experience in a positive way.
You can find a detailed breakdown of what types of food are appropriate for 6-12 month old babies here. By around 12 months of age, your baby should be eating three small meals a day (ideally the same meals and at the same time as the rest of the family), plus breastmilk and/or formula.
Equipment needed for the early stages of weaning
- A highchair that supports baby’s whole body, including their feet on a footrest.
- A blender, liquidiser, or sieve
- Silicone bowls, sectional plates and feeding spoons
- A bib – ideally wipeable silicone with a pouch for catching drips
Don’t stress about the mess
The ideal end game of weaning is to have a healthy, happy baby who has a variety of nutritious food in their diet. Part of that comes from letting them play and experiment with food in those very early stages – the way it feels, tastes and smells. So, allow them to familiarise themselves with solids through touch as well as taste. Let them mash food with their hands and handle a spoon and don’t worry if half of it ends up on the floor or in their hair or even on the wall (it does happen!). Embrace the mess, have fun with this new learning experience, and know that it will all contribute to your growing baby’s overall health and wellbeing. Bon appétit!