Look for signs that your baby may be ready rather than focusing on a date to start. Your baby will be ready when you see signs such as having good head and neck control, showing an interest in food and what you are eating, and possibly reaching out to have a taste of something off your plate. Each baby is different but most babies are ready between four and six months of age. It is advisable not to start your baby on solids before four months of age. If you try your baby on solids and they clamp their mouth shut, push the spoon away, or push the spoon out with their tongue, these can all be signs that they are not quite ready. Leave it for another week or two and try again.
It is recommended to offer one new food at a time and wait for three to four days before you start the next food. Start at a time that your baby is happy and content and not when they are desperate for milk. You may start your baby with a pureed texture and eventually move onto lumpy textures and then onto finger foods. There used to be set guidelines on when to introduce different foods but it is now recommended to introduce a wide range of foods before one year of age. The order in which you introduce foods is not as important. Don’t forget the importance of iron rich foods from six months – include well-cooked pureed red meats and legumes once your baby begins to accept food. There are also many iron enriched baby rice cereals that are suitable from four months.
By around seven months your baby will be able to manage finger foods. While you can still feed your baby by offering food from a spoon, finger foods encourage independent eating and will further develop their oral motor skills, and in particular will promote chewing. Your baby doesn’t need teeth to manage finger foods. A suitable finger food is one that dissolves easily in their mouth, is soft and well cooked and can be mushed easily. Don’t be disheartened if your baby rejects some foods you put in front of them. Like us, they can develop their own personal likes and dislikes. Continue to offer these foods anyway. By one year of age your baby should be eating a range of family foods and will be drinking significantly less milk.
Using homemade or ready-made foods is a personal choice and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Homemade food can be more economical and you know exactly what you are feeding your baby. Alternatively offering ready made food can be super convenient, especially when you are feeling a little overwhelmed with the prospect of starting solids. If choosing ready made foods, look for ones with no added sugar or salt.
Remember babies can be messy and this is a valuable part of learning. Perhaps think about getting a large plastic mat to put under their highchair. Making mess is an important part of development and can even play a role in preventing fussy eaters.
If your child develops hives or vomits immediately after consuming a new food you should speak to your GP about possible food allergies. If there are no allergies in your family then it is safe to offer your baby egg and nut butters from six months of age. If your baby has a sibling with allergies you may wish to consult with a dietitian or GP about the correct timing of introducing allergenic foods.
Justine Urbahn is an accredited practicing dietitian specialising in infant, childhood and adolescent nutrition and is owner of Sunshine Coast Family Dietitian. For more information, visit www.sunshinecoastfamilydietitian.com.au.