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When should you start your baby on solids?

This post was contributed by Registered Nurse/Midwife and Gestational Diabetes Educator, Jenny van Gemert MNurs GDipMid GDipEd. (Insta)

In this blog post, we will be discussing the more traditional introduction of solid food, as opposed to other feeding styles such as baby-led weaning. Should you be more interested in an alternative method, be sure to approach your care provider for more information.

How to know when your baby is ready

It’s important to introduce solids at the right time in order to ensure your baby’s increasing nutritional needs are met as they grow and develop, but to also help your little one learn essential skills for eating (like chewing). Solids should start at around 4–6 months of age once your baby can sit up and support their own head. Before 4–6 months, your baby will be using stores of iron from their time in the womb while also receiving nutrients from breastmilk and/or formula – solid food is not required in these first few months, and can even be dangerous.

When your baby begins to show an interest in food, they are telling you that they are ready for something other than milk. Some of the behavioural signs to look out for include reaching for your food, staring at your mouth as you eat, and opening their mouth when they see you eat. Babies at this stage might even pick up and try to eat food they find around the house – so don’t underestimate what a little person could find under a couch cushion! If your baby is older than six months and not yet expressing any interest in food, you should seek advice from your Maternal Child Health Nurse (MCHN) or GP.

Initially, you should continue to feed your baby breast milk or formula alongside any solid food. You may find that your baby starts to require these feeds less, as solids begin to fill them up and provide more of their nutritional requirements. To start with, it’s a good idea to try solid food soon after a liquid feed. This will ensure that hunger doesn’t distract your baby from trying out their new eating skills.

How to make the change

Begin with smooth purees before moving on to mashed foods and small, soft pieces of food. A good starting point can be a rice cereal from the chemist or supermarket, made into a thin paste. You can use breastmilk or formula to thin out the paste. It’s best to start with foods with a thinner consistency and then slowly move onto minced or chopped food.

There’s no need to prepare different food for your family and your baby – you can simply adjust the consistency of the same dish. It’s also unnecessary to introduce your baby to only one type of food at a time. Mixing is encouraged, unless you are trying to test if your baby is allergic to a particular ingredient.

Use clean, plastic plates, bowls and cutlery – nothing sharp or breakable, as these items will inevitably end up on the floor. There is no need to sterilise tableware; simply wash with hot soapy water and be sure to rinse before drying.

Solid foods to feed your baby

You can start by feeding your baby what the rest of your family likes to eat – this will make life easier!

Some of the foods you can try include:

  • Easy-to-chew root vegetables including sweet potato, pumpkin and carrots
  • Corn
  • Avocados
  • Softer fruit including apples, pears and bananas
  • Avocado
  • Pureed meats and cooked egg.

Some parents like to add sweeter fruit purees to savoury foods in order to make them more appealing. Although this does work, it can be hard to wean a baby off the sweet addition once they are older. Instead, try feeding the savoury food on its own first. If this doesn’t work, alternate each teaspoon: one with the fruit, one without, and so on.

Solids to avoid

You should avoid the following foods until your baby is at least 12 months old:

  • Honey
  • Raw or runny egg.

While babies can have cow’s milk when eating cereal and cooked foods like mashed potato, it should not be your baby’s main milk source until they are older than 12 months. Full cream dairy is recommended until your child is two years old, after which reduced-fat dairy can be introduced. Unpasteurised milk should always be avoided.

Alternative milks such as soy, goat or almond are also not recommended before your baby is two years old. We always recommend you ask your MCHN, GP or paediatrician before commencing a non-dairy milk.

Bread, pasta, cheese and other foods that require more chewing are best introduced when your baby is older – and wait until your child is at least five years old before feeding them whole nuts, grapes or other choking hazards.

Managing allergies

When you introduce solids, you should be mindful, but not anxious, about any potential allergies your child may have. Babies with eczema or who have siblings or parents with an allergy are more likely to also have an allergy. If you are concerned that your baby may have an allergy, introduce foods one at a time and check for a reaction.

If your baby has a reaction to a particular food (e.g. rash), don’t feed it to them again until first seeking the advice of your MCHN or GP. It can be helpful to take a photo of the allergic response in case it reduces in severity before your doctor can see it. If your baby has a more severe reaction (face, lip or neck swelling), visit your closest emergency department (preferably one with a paediatric ward).

If your baby has any difficulty breathing whatsoever, dial 000 and ask for an ambulance. While you wait, remove any food left on your child’s face or mouth and follow the advice of the phone operator.

Should you feed your baby sugary foods?

Babies don’t need sugar added to their food. This includes fruit juices, cordials and all soft drinks. Soft drinks in particular provide no nutritional value.

Sugar in a baby’s diet can lead to dental health problems, poor oral hygiene and unnecessary weight (which comes with its own health risks). Most importantly, too much sugar early in life can be the start of an unhealthy relationship with food. Once your baby tastes that first yummy ice-cream, there’s no going back – pureed carrot just won’t cut it.

Your child will get the chance to try out cakes, biscuits and other sweet treats in the coming years. Once they are older, you can teach them about balance and the difference between a ‘sometimes’ food and an everyday snack.

Have fun with it

Introducing your baby to the world of food is a wonderful and exciting time. For many parents, it feels like the end of the tiny baby stage. Once your child is on solids, they can enjoy eating with the rest of the family. So if you don’t have one already, invest in a high-chair so your baby can join you at the table. It doesn’t need to be expensive – try IKEA, Kmart and second-hand listings on Facebook or Gumtree. If you all eat together, everyone can have a great time watching the many delighted (and not so impressed) faces your baby makes as they try new foods for the first time.

What to do if you need help

To avoid confusion, we recommend sticking to reputable sources of information, including websites such as VicHealth, Raising Children and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Your MCHN is also an incredibly valuable source of up-to-date, evidence-based information.

If you are unsure about the introduction of solids to your baby’s diet, you can also make a 45-minute appointment with me, Jenny Van Gemert. As a registered nurse and midwife, I can assist you with the process of introducing solids and can provide personalised guidance. These appointments cost $90 and can be arranged by calling 03 9418 8299.

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