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Starting solid food

When to start

For the first four months babies can’t properly digest any foods other than breast or formula milk. Some foods, in particular wheat (which is found in several baby cereals), may cause problems well into the future.

Most babies are ready to start solids when they are about four months old. (Babies who were born prematurely will be ready at different times. Ask your GP or health visitor for advice about what is best for your baby.)

It’s wise to introduce some solids by the time your baby is six months old, as he or she now needs more iron and nutrients than milk alone can provide. Increase solid foods gradually so that between six and twelve months these become the main part of the diet, with breast or formula milk to drink alongside. If weaning is delayed after six months, some babies also have difficulties in eating foods with lumps and will only accept purées.

How will I know my baby is ready?

Babies are usually ready to start on solid food between four and six months. Talk to your health visitor for advice, especially if your baby was premature. Try giving solids when your baby:

  • is still hungry after finishing a good milk feed and you’ve tried giving more milk;
  • starts to demand feeds more often;
  • after sleeping through the night, starts waking again to be fed.

Go on breastfeeding, alongside giving ‘solid’ food, for as long as you and your baby want.

Hints for successful weaning

The idea of weaning is to introduce your baby gradually to a wide range of non-milk foods so that by the age of one your baby will be joining in family meals. All babies are different. Some start solid food earlier, some later. Some take to it quickly, some take longer. Some are choosy, others like anything and everything.

  • Go at your baby’s pace.  Allow plenty of time for feeding, particularly at first. Until now your baby has only known food that comes in a continuous flow from nipple or teat. Your baby needs to learn to move solid food from the front of the tongue to the back in order to swallow it. The food tastes and feels different – it’s bound to take time.
  • Make sure everything you use for feeding your baby is really clean. Spoon out the amount you think your baby will eat and heat this, rather than heating a large amount that then goes to waste. You can always heat up more if it is needed. Heat food really thoroughly and allow it to cool, stir well and test before offering it to your baby. Throw away any food your baby hasn’t eaten as it is not safe to reheat previously warmed food. Don’t refreeze warmed food if it isn’t used.
  • Your baby may be happy to eat food that hasn’t been heated.
  • Cover the floor with newspaper and use a bib to catch food spills – weaning can be a messy business!
  • Always stay nearby when your baby is eating to make sure he or she doesn’t choke.
  • Do not rush or ‘force feed’. Most babies know when they’ve had enough to eat. Don't spend a lot of time persuading your baby to take food – they soon learn that refusing food is a good way of getting attention, or of getting a sugary pudding instead of a savoury first course. Of course it’s right to give attention, chat and enjoy meals together, but when food is refused, it might be best to call an end to the meal.
  • Choose a time of day when you are both relaxed.
  • When your baby shows an interest in feeding him or herself, this is a good sign. Encourage this by giving your baby one spoon, whilst you try to spoon in most of the meal with another. It will be messy at first, but try not to worry about it.
  • In the end you want your baby to be eating a variety of ordinary foods and adapt to your pattern of eating – say three meals a day with a drink at each meal and two or three additional snacks. Offering a wide variety of foods now may help avoid choosiness later on. 
  • Use mashed-up family food when you can – you know what the ingredients are and it will get your baby used to eating what you eat. (Commercial baby foods can be useful but don’t let them replace family foods altogether. See the box on page 67 for more information about using commercial baby foods.)

Baby foods

It can be useful to have a few jars, tins or packets of baby food in the cupboard, but don’t let them replace home-made foods altogether.

Use puréed or mashed-up family foods when you can – it’s cheaper, you know what the ingredients are, and it will get your baby used to eating what you eat.

If you buy baby foods:

  • check they are suitable for your baby’s age, e.g. from four or seven months;
  • check the expiry date;
  • check the seals on cans and jars haven’t been broken;
  • read the instructions carefully about how to prepare the food;
  • avoid these foods before six months: wheat-based foods which contain gluten, nuts, seeds,
  • eggs, fish, citrus fruits and juices – check the label for these;
  • choose foods which state they do not contain 
  • added sugars;
  • if your family has asthma, eczema or allergies to foods, talk to your GP or health visitor to see if your baby needs to avoid other foods;
  • if your baby is under six months, you should avoid the following: rusks which contain wheat (unless ‘gluten-free’) and sugar; ‘baby muesli’ which may contain nuts and wheat; ‘mixed cereals, which are likely to contain wheat.

Here’s how to start off (age four to six months)

Start with a teaspoonful of smooth vegetable or fruit purée (with no added salt or sugar) or cereal (not wheat-based), for example sago or baby rice, mixed to a thin consistency. Offer it to your baby before or after one of the milk feeds, or in the middle of the feed if that works better. If the food is hot, make sure you stir it and test it before giving it to your baby.

Most babies take time to learn how to take food from a spoon. Be patient and prepared for some spitting and mess. Your baby may at first also cry between mouthfuls. Until now, food has come in one continuous stream. Now there are frustrating pauses.

Don’t press the food on your baby. If it really doesn’t seem to be wanted, stop. Wait until next time. The main aim at this stage is to get your baby used to the idea of taking food from a spoon. Your baby will still be getting most of the nourishment he or she needs from breast milk or 600 ml (around a pint) of formula milk a day.

First foods you might try:

  • Purées of carrot, parsnip, potato, yam or courgette.
  • Purées of banana, cooked apple, pear or mango.
  • Purées of rice, cornmeal, maize or millet mixed with baby’s usual milk.

You can also buy baby rice and other first foods. Follow the instructions on the packet to make these up.

The next six to eight weeks

Feeds will still be mainly breast or bottle, but now very gradually increase the amount of solid food you give either before, during or after the milk feed. Try to follow your baby’s appetite. Give the amount that seems to be wanted.

At the same time, move gradually from solid food at one feed in the day to solid food at two, and then three feeds. You will find that as your baby eats more solid food, his or her milk intake will start to decrease. Once he or she is on three meals a day you can drop one milk feed, but your baby should still be having breast milk or 500–600 ml (about a pint) of formula a day. Full-fat cow’s milk products can be used in weaning after four months (for example, yoghurt, custard or cheese sauce). Again, try to follow your baby’s appetite and go at your baby’s pace.

Try to keep cereals for one feed only. Begin to add different foods and different tastes. You’ll be able to use lots of the foods you already cook for yourself. Just mash, sieve or purée a small amount (without added salt or sugar) and give it a try.

Using your own food is cheaper than bought baby foods, you will know what the ingredients are (e.g. halal meat) and your baby will get used to eating like the rest of the family. Preparing larger quantities than you need and freezing small portions for later, for example in an ice cube tray, can save time and effort.

More first foods to try

  • Add to the vegetable, fruit and cereal purées other foods such as:
  • purées of meat (including liver) and poultry;
  • purées of lentils (dahl) or split pulses, hummus;
  • full-fat milk products (yoghurt, fromage frais, custard) unless advised otherwise by your health visitor;
  • full-fat cow’s milk can also be used for cooking from four months (e.g. in custard or cheese sauce) but avoid using cow’s milk as a drink until your baby is one year old.

Foods to avoid giving your baby

  • Salt Do not add any salt to foods for young babies as their kidneys can’t cope with it. Baby foods are not allowed to contain salt, but ingredients such as bacon and cheese will contain some. It’s best not to encourage a liking for salt at any age. When you’re cooking for the family, leave out the salt so your baby can share the food. It’s healthier for you all without the salt anyway. 

  • Sugar Only add sugar to food or drinks you give your baby if it is necessary. Sugar could encourage a sweet tooth and lead to tooth decay when the first teeth start to come through. If stewing sour fruit, for example rhubarb, you may need to sweeten with mashed banana, breast or formula milk or a little sugar. 
  • Honey This is a sugar too and can cause the same problems as sugar. Don’t give honey until your child is one year old, even for easing coughs. Very occasionally it can contain a type of bacteria which can produce toxins in the baby’s intestines and can cause a very serious illness (infant botulism). After the age of one, the baby’s intestine matures and the bacteria are not able to grow.
  • Nuts Whole nuts should not be given to children under five years in case of choking.

Other foods to avoid up to six months

As well as avoiding giving your baby salt, sugar and honey, some babies can be upset by certain foods that can cause an allergic reaction. These foods are listed below and should not be given to your baby before six months.

Wheat-based foods which contain gluten, e.g. wheat flour, bread, breakfast cereals, rusks, etc. If someone in your family can’t eat foods containing gluten, talk to your GP before giving any wheat, rye or barley-based foods to your baby. You can obtain a list of gluten-free foods from the Coeliac Society (see page 142).

  • Nuts and seeds including ground nuts, peanut butter and other nut spreads.
  • Eggs 
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Citrus fruits including citrus fruit juices.

Nut allergy

Some people are allergic to nuts or seeds. In recent years, peanut allergy, although still uncommon, appears to be increasing among children. It is not yet known why. The children who face the highest risk are those whose parents or brothers/sisters suffer from allergic conditions such as asthma, eczema, hayfever or other allergic disease (known as ‘atopy’).

  • To reduce the risk of developing this life-threatening allergy:
  • pregnant or breastfeeding mothers who are ‘atopic’, or those for whom the father or any sibling of the baby has an allergy, may wish to avoid eating peanuts or peanut butter products during pregnancy or while breastfeeding;
  • peanuts and foods containing peanuts such as peanut butter or unrefined or cold-pressed groundnut oil should not be given to infants from ‘atopic’ or ‘allergic’ families until they are at least three years old or to infants or children who are allergic to peanuts;
  • refined peanut oil, vegetable oils and cosmetics or creams containing refined groundnut oil are all safe;
  • read contents labels carefully and if you are in doubt avoid the product;
  • if there is no allergy in the immediate family, there is no need for children to avoid peanuts after weaning. These can be given from six months but should always be crushed or flaked. Do not give whole peanuts or any type of whole nuts to children under five in case of choking;

From 6 to 9 months

Choosing what to feed your baby should get much easier now. You can now add:

  • citrus fruits 
  • well-cooked eggs 
  • wheat-based foods such as bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, flour 
  • fish and shellfish 
  • ground nuts and peanut butter (see Nut allergy, above).

In other words, you can give your baby almost any family food, as long as it’s the right consistency for your baby (i.e. mashed or minced). Avoid adding salt and sugar or honey to your baby’s food.

Once your baby has grown used to a variety of foods, give solids first and the milk feed second.

Your baby should still be having breast milk or a minimum of 500–600 ml (about a pint) of formula or follow-on milk. As solid foods become a large part of your baby’s diet, it is important to offer a range of different foods to provide all the vitamins and minerals needed.

Try to give two to three servings a day of starchy foods such as potatoes, yams, rice, bread and unsweetened breakfast cereals.

Fruits and vegetables make good finger foods or can be a part of the meal. Include them at two or more meals each day.

Your baby should have one serving of soft cooked meat, fish, egg, tofu or pulses, such as beans or lentils (dahl) a day. Red meat (beef, lamb and pork) and liver are excellent sources of iron. Eggs (well- cooked) are a quick, nutritious and cheap source of protein.

Some meals to try at six to nine months 

Breakfast

  • Porridge or unsweetened cereal mixed with full-fat cow’s milk or baby’s usual milk
  • Mashed banana and toast fingers

Lunch or tea

  • Mashed cooked lentils with rice
  • Cauliflower cheese
  • Minced chicken and vegetable casserole with mashed potato
  • Plain fromage frais with stewed apple
  • Soft ripe peeled pear or peach as finger food

Dinner

  • Scrambled egg with toast, chapatti or pitta bread
  • Mashed boiled sweet potato with mashed carrot and broccoli

Giving lumps and finger foods
Encourage your baby to chew, even if there are no teeth, by giving finger foods. For example: toast, bread, breadsticks, pitta bread or chapatti, peeled apple, banana, raw or cooled cooked green beans or carrot sticks, cubes of cheese. Avoid sweet biscuits and rusks, so that your baby does not get into the habit of expecting sweet snacks. Even low-sugar rusks contain sugar.Finger foods provide chewing practice and encourage babies to feed themselves. Also give foods which have a few lumps. Most babies can start to chew soft lumps, such as cottage cheese or rice pudding, from six to seven months even if they have no teeth. If you delay giving ‘lumpy’or finger foods, you may find your baby refuses to eat ‘lumpy’ foods as they get older. Chewing also encourages development of speech muscles. Always stay near to your baby during feeding to give encouragement and to make sure he or she doesn’t choke.

Drinks
Keep to your baby’s usual milk (breast milk or about 500–600 ml (1 pt) formula or follow-on milk). Give milk at waking and bedtime. At mealtimes give milk, water or diluted fruit juice. If you give fruit juice, use a lidded feeding cup and dilute it 1 part juice with 10 parts water. After six months, tap water need not be boiled. Remember that cow’s milk should not be given as a drink until your baby is one year old, but it can be used for mixing foods such as cereal or adding to potatoes after six months.

Some more meals to try from six months

Breakfast

  • Wholewheat biscuit cereal and milk
  • Boiled egg and toast fingers
  • Stewed apple and yoghurt

Lunch or tea

  • Mashed pasta with cheese and broccoli
  • Mashed canned salmon with couscous and peas
  • Baked beans (reduced salt and sugar) with toast
  • Stewed fruit and custard

Dinner

  • Shepherd’s pie with green vegetables
  • Cottage cheese dip with pitta bread and carrot sticks
  • Rice and mashed peas.

From 9 to 12 months

By now your baby should be learning to fit in with the family by eating three minced or chopped meals a day plus breast milk or around 500–600 ml (1 pt) of formula or follow-on milk a day. Your baby should also have fruit or other healthy snacks in between meals.

If your baby is on the move, you may need to increase the amount of food you give. Babies have small tummies, and they need energy for growth, so make sure you give them full-fat dairy products, such as yoghurt, fromage frais and cheese. Cutting back on fat is sensible for adults, but not for babies.

Give plenty of starchy foods (three to four servings) and fruits and vegetables (three to four servings). Don’t encourage a sweet tooth by giving biscuits and cakes – they will fill your baby up without providing the right nutrients. Only add sugar to foods if it is really necessary (e.g. to sour stewed fruit such as rhubarb).

If you have decided not to give your baby meat or fish, make sure that you give two servings a day of split pulses (red lentils, split peas), tofu, etc. The vitamin C in fruit and vegetables helps to absorb iron so give fruit and vegetables at mealtimes. If you or your family have a history of hayfever, eczema, asthma or other allergies, see page 69 for important information on allergy to nuts.

Drinks
Still breastfeed or give 500–600 ml (1 pt) of formula or follow-on milk a day. Give milk on waking and at bedtime. Give milk, water or diluted fruit juice at mealtimes. Tea is not advised for babies.

Bottle, beaker or cup?

How you give drinks is important. A lidded beaker is better than a bottle with a teat. Drinks flow very slowly through a teat and drinking can take a long time. This means your child spends a lot of time with a teat in the mouth, which may delay speech development and damage teeth, especially if drinking a sweetened drink. Move on from a lidded beaker to drinking from a cup as soon as your child is ready. If you give a bedtime drink in a bottle, make sure it is only water or milk. If it is a soya drink or a soya-based formula, remember to clean teeth afterwards.

Start encouraging your child to use a cup after six months. You may find it easier to use a jug with graduated measurements to mix infant formula for use in a cup.

From 12 months onwards

Your baby should be having a good mixed diet by now with probably three meals a day with a couple of healthy snacks in between. You can now start to give your baby full-fat cow’s milk as the main drink (not semi- or skimmed milk). Aim to give around 350 ml (12 oz) a day. Carry on breastfeeding if you want to.

  • If your baby doesn’t like milk, give at least two servings of full- fat yoghurt and cheese or milk-based dishes (cheese sauce, rice pudding, etc.) a day. This will provide calcium for healthy bones.
  • Your baby’s diet should now contain plenty of starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta and rice, and a wide range of fruit and vegetables. 
  • To give a rough idea of the amounts, aim for about four servings of starchy foods, four servings of fruit and vegetables, and one or two servings of meat, fish or eggs a day. 
  • Offer a variety of foods. Why not go back to the foods that your baby didn’t like earlier and try them again?
  • Remember, red meat (pork, beef and lamb) and liver are excellent sources of iron. Serving meat and vegetables together rather than at separate meals helps to absorb iron. If your baby has a meat- and fish-free diet, give two servings of lentils, peas or beans a day.

Drinks
Give breast milk or 350 ml (12 oz) full- fat cow’s milk a day. Give milk, water or diluted fruit juice at mealtimes.

Weaning from the breast or bottle

You can go on breastfeeding your baby alongside giving solid food for as long as you want to. If both you and your baby enjoy it, there’s no reason to stop. A bedtime breastfeed can make a good end to the day.

Continuing to breastfeed or use infant formula (or follow-on milk after the first six months) during the first year ensures a good source of nutrients as well as being convenient and cheap.

If you use a bottle or trainer cup don’t put anything in it other than formula or breast milk or water.

Comfort sucking on sweetened drinks is the major cause of painful tooth decay in young children. It’s a good idea anyway to wean from a bottle by the end of the first year as bottle-sucking can become a habit that is hard to break.

It’s a good idea to teach your baby to use a lidded feeding cup to give milk or water any time after six months. Offer the breast or bottle as well at first, and gradually cut down. Or, if you think this puts your baby off the cup because there’s something ‘better’ coming afterwards, try cutting out the breast or bottle feed at one meal in the day and using a cup instead.


We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.