Introducing food to a baby’s diet is one of the biggest milestone of the first six months. It’s understandable that parents are in a rush to experience it – and then there are those who hope that a belly full of food will help their baby sleep longer.
Kate Di Prima, infant nutritionist and co-author of More Peas Please, admits there are mixed messages about the the best age to starting children on solids.
"It would be nice if we were all on the one page," she says.
While universal agreement is lacking, it's not recommended that babies try solid foods before the age of four to six months.
''Solids can be introduced with an infant's intake of milk from four to six months if a baby is breast feeding well and is thriving, and only then on the advice of a professional," Di Prima says. "After that we can texture up.''
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Signs your baby might be ready
- Wanting to put things in his/her mouth
- Able to suck small amounts of pureed food from a spoon
- Interested in food eaten by others
- More frequent feeding (breast or bottle)
- Can sit upright when supported with good control of the head and neck
- The first solids need to be sloppy, smooth in texture (i.e. no lumps) and mild in taste.
- Baby rice cereal is an excellent first solid food because of its smooth texture and high iron content. Mix it with a little human milk, formula or cool, boiled water.
- Other pureed foods to introduce are: vegetables such as pumpkin, potato, carrot and zucchini; fruit such as cooked apple, pear, melon and banana.
- Start with one to two teaspoons of solids. Increase the quantity to two to three tablespoons, and then build up to three meals a day at your baby's own pace.
- Try one new food at a time and introduce a new food every 2-4 days, adding onto your child's existing diet. This can help keep track of any adverse side effects that may arise if your child is allergic to a type of food, as you'll be able to tell which one triggered a reaction.
- While some guidelines recommend not giving your child cooked egg until 10 months, a study by Melbourne's Murdoch Childrens Research Institute found that it's safe to introduce it from around four to six months of age. The researchers believed this early introduction might actually protect infants from egg allergy.
- Likewise, while peanuts were once avoided in the first year of life, new guidelines suggest trying them earlier. The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommends giving babies pureed food or finger food containing peanut powder or extract before they are 6 months old - or earlier if a child is prone to allergies and doctors say it is safe to do so.
Hints, tips and safety advice
- Always wash your hands before preparing food and use clean utensils.
- A sippy cup can be introduced from 6 months.
- When appropriate, try adapting family meals to be suitable for your child rather than preparing separate meals. You can puree meats and vegetables used for the family meal.
- Small quantities of food can be frozen in ice cube trays or stored in airtight plastic bags and thawed as needed.
- Commercial baby foods are a suitable alternative if you don't have enough time to prepare meals. But try not to over-rely on these, as it's important a child tries a variety of different foods to develop taste preferences.
- It isn't necessary to add salt, sugar, honey or other flavourings to any food.
- Don't add solids to a bottle - babies need to learn that there's a difference between eating and drinking.