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FAQs

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What are the physical signs my baby is ready for solids?

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Sometime between 4 and 6 months is generally when babies are physically and emotionally ready to start solids. However, every baby is different so it is important that you watch for clues he is ready rather than going by the calendar. Here are some signs that he may be ready:

  • He can sit upright and hold up his head
  • He may start to take an interest when you are eating
  • Reaching out and grabbing food
  • He has lost the tongue-thrust reflex that automatically pushes food and/or spoon out of his mouth
  • Eagerly opens his mouth when a spoon touches lip or as food approaches
  • Can keep food in his mouth and swallow it
  • Watching and leaning forward when food is around

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Baby seems to be really hungry and has started waking at night. He is not yet 4 months old but can I start him on solids anyway?

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Some babies go through a growth spurt at around 12 weeks and may want more feeds. This is normal and does not signal the need to start solid foods. It is tempting to think that by giving some solids it may satisfy him for longer and therefore sleep for longer. Giving solids too early rarely helps these problems and may lead to other difficulties. These include:

  • Poor growth if solid food replaces breast milk or formula Milk is a far better source of energy than solid food when babies are very young. This is because babies won’t actually get many calories from food in these early stages.
  • Loose bowel actions or diarrhea as his digestive system is not developmentally capable of digesting the food A number of key enzymes required to digest solid foods do not start until closer to 5 and/or 6 months of age. Introducing solids before the gut is physically ready can lead to irritation and inflammation of the intestines.
  • Increased risk of tummy upsets and tummy bugs Immune systems are still developing and will continue to do so over the next 1 to 2 years. Up until 4 months this immature immune system is unable to fight off pathogens that may be introduced with solid foods.
  • Obesity Researchers have discovered that inflammation and changes in gut bacteria over a child’s first year of life can affect his metabolism. This can have long-term effects on energy production, insulin resistance, and the ability to burn fat. This places a child at risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes even before his 1st birthday.
  • Dehydration Before 4 months of age, babies have a limited renal capacity to conserve fluids and excrete dissolved solids. 
  • Gagging and choking Infants are born with a tongue-thrust reflex that automatically pushes food out of his mouth. They do not start to lose this reflex until 4 or 5 months of age. Introducing solids too early can cause babies to gag as they do not have the ability to move food to the back of the mouth to swallow. We want to keep this journey as positive as possible, even if it takes a little longer than expected. 
  • Allergies Introducing solids too early may contribute to an increased allergy risk.[76] 

So if he is going through a hungrier spell, instead of reaching for the solids, provide extra milk feeds. 

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How do I go about offering baby those first foods?

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Be prepared. Starting solids is messy, it rarely goes as straightforward as parents would hope, and you can guarantee there will be bumps along the way! That said, it can also be a rewarding experience and a journey you can enjoy together as a family. 

Step 1: Choose a time of day free of stress, when he is not overly hungry or tired. [21]

Step 2: Ensure he is sitting correctly: Upright, not slumped forward, off to one side or too far back. You may need to place some extra support around him, e.g. rolled-up towels or cushions. A footrest can also provide extra stability. If his legs don’t quite reach the footrest you can tape an old shoebox to the footrest in the interim. Also check the tray height. It should be sitting below his breastbone so his elbows can sit on the tray without being hunched. Again, you might need to sit him on a folded towel to lift him up a bit. 

Step 3: Stimulate the senses. Eating is a sensory experience. In fact, without being aware, our digestion process starts long before the food touches our stomachs. Watching food being prepared, its smell and feel, and the anticipation of eating, all stimulate a response that signals the release of digestive juices (saliva), thus preparing the body for receiving food. So involve him in this process. Even if the food comes in a packet, talk about it—the smell, the color, its yummy goodness, where it comes from—and when possible have some in its physical form. Show him what a whole carrot looks like. And don’t forget to eat some yourself, smile, and describe it encouragingly. 

Step 4: Choose a spoon. Ensure the spoon is small enough to fit in his mouth and flat enough that his lips can be used to suck off the puree. There are plenty of baby spoons on the market, so you might have to try a couple to find one that works for him.

Step 5: If he is getting agitated trying to sit up or use the spoon, stop there for the day. Remember, this is a learning experience for him and keeping it a positive and enjoyable one will pay dividends later! So if at any stage in the process the wheels come off, it is important not to show frustration but to praise him, and yourself, for getting this far and try again tomorrow. His emotional wellbeing [10] is equally important in his sensory journey as the food itself.

Step 6: Start small. Offer half a teaspoon of puree on the end of the spoon. Putting too much on the spoon in the initial stages can be frightening for him and difficult for him to swallow. Keep in mind that this is a sensory journey of tastes and experiences, not about nutrition. Don’t be tempted to scrape the top of the spoon on his upper lip. This encourages the tongue-thrust reflex (pushing food out) rather than sucking food to the back of the mouth. This is an important skill to learn to progress onto accepting different textures. If he struggles with this concept of sucking off a spoon right away you can try placing a little on a clean finger and offering him that first.  

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What should be baby's first foods and how much?

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Veggies, veggies, veggies, flavor, flavor, flavor! A baby’s first foods are not about nutrition, but rather, the experience and the exposure. In fact, how much a baby ingests in these very early stages are, more often than not, not very much at all! For the first 2, 5, or 15 times, it might be at most a teaspoon or two. All babies are different and all progress at different rates so it is important to listen to them and progress when they are ready (also known as responsive feeding) [36]. Remember, all his nutrition is coming from milk right now, so use this opportunity to build on a range of flavor exposures and experiences. Experiment and have fun and you just might be surprised! It might take several times for him to accept a new flavor, that’s normal. Repetition (a spoonful or two is all that is required) and persistence is the key to building acceptance and preference [5, 9, 91]. The good news is, studies have shown that this persistence pays off.

Exposure to a wide variety of minimally processed vegetables, spanning right across the flavor profiles, in their single form (i.e. not mixed with a sweet puree), on multiple occasions, can dramatically increase his chances of solidifying healthy preferences for life [2, 3, 7, 10, 19, 21, 32, 45, 51]. Unfortunately, this can go both ways. If his dietary exposures are predominantly overprocessed (infant cereal), sweet (the use of fruit and sweet vegetables to mask savoury or bitter flavors), or salty (as are most savory snacks), it is likely these will be the preferences he will take with him into the future. So, veggies in their single form first, veggies in variety, and veggies in repetition.

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What if baby doesn’t like it, can I mix it with something he does like?

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A common way to get vegetables into children is to ‘hide’ them in something they do like, e.g. mixing broccoli in with his favourite carrot. However, although this delivers the benefits of consuming tricky vegetables, it does nothing for learning to like, eat, and develop preferences for these vegetables in the future. Children can learn [2] to like a wide variety of flavors and textures and the only way they can do this is by being exposed to them on a regular basis [6, 27, 31]. This means carrot is carrot and broccoli is broccoli. Remember, a taste is all that is required [5].

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What’s best to feed beyond 6 months old?

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Nutrient-filled spoonfuls of flavor! As he approaches 6 to 7 months his nutritional demands to support and optimize healthy growth and development are high, and are no longer able to be met by his milk feeds [14]. However, his tummy is still very small so it is important not to fill it up with nutritionally ‘empty’ foods. Most of us interpret malnutrition to be ‘not enough food’ and a Third-World problem. But malnutrition is rife right here in our ‘land of plenty,’ as children are not ingesting food with the best nutrients. Even at a healthy weight (and indeed overweight), an individual can suffer from malnutrition if their diet is limited to a select handful of foods, or the wrong foods (often at the expense of nutrient-dense foods [23] and milk feeds). It is therefore important to consider all his nutritional needs, now and going forward, not only in terms of flavor, but also composition.

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What if baby turns his head away, or pushes the spoon away, or seems upset to go in his high chair?

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Even if he has been accepting of solids, there will be days he just might not want anything to do with it. Just putting him in the high chair might be enough to upset him. That’s OK. The most important thing to keep in mind is to not make a fuss [37], and try again later in the day or tomorrow. You may want to try feeding him cradled in your lap. Remember, for the last 6 months his comfort has been in your arms for milk feeds. For some reason, on this particular day his emotional world [9] maybe a little unstable and just may requires this added comfort and closeness.

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What time of day should I schedule baby's introduction to solids?

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Initially, until he gets the hang of it, he will only need one ‘meal’ a day. Mid to late morning or mid-afternoon are often good times to start. The morning milk feed is often his biggest feed of the day, so we don’t want to compromise this. Try and feed him roughly an hour after the first morning feed. This will give him time to process the milk, but be content enough to try a new experience. He has not yet made the connection that solid foods will satisfy hunger so he will be less accepting of solids if he is frantically hungry. 

It is important to make an infant’s introduction and first experiences surrounding food an enjoyable experience, so choose a time that is free of stress for both you and baby. 

Remember, eating is a sensory experience, so when it suits, sit him up to the family table at mealtimes. He will feel included and be more likely try new foods if he sees the family eat them.[62]

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What are good sources of protein?

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Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are all excellent sources of protein. Milk and milk products as well as pulses, legumes, and soy are also good sources of protein, however, milk should not be introduced as a drink before one year as this can interfere with iron uptake, and/or take the place of more nutrient-dense milk options (breast milk or formula, which is specifically manufactured to deliver nutrient needs). It is OK to use small amounts of full-fat milk in food preparation. Caution must also be applied when relying too heavily on pulses and legumes to meet protein needs. They are high in fiber, which is a good thing, but too much fiber can irritate an immature gut and provide too much bulk, limiting tiny tummies to other, more nutrient-dense [23] options.

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What are good sources of carbohydrates?

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Starchy vegetables (pumpkin, potato, sweet potato, yams) are all excellent sources of carbohydrates. So too are the rest of vegetable family as well as fruit. However, we know that fruit, although natural, can have a high sugar content (sugar is a carbohydrate in its simplest form) and so needs to be given in moderation as part of a healthy diet. When his gut is mature enough [58], further good sources of carbohydrates are wholegrain cereals, pasta, and rice.

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How much food does baby need?

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All babies are different so there certainly is no ‘one size fits all’ on portion sizes. In the beginning, most of his nutrition will be coming from milk, so it is far more important to concentrate on the quality, not the quantity,[5,9] the development of taste preferences [4], and the overall sensory experience.

Start by offering 1 to 2 teaspoons of first foods after a breast or infant formula feed. Slowly increase this to 2 to 3 tablespoons. Start offering complementary foods once a day and, as they get accustomed to it, slowly build up to 3 times a day [17]. Offer more food as your baby grows. As a rough guide:

  • 5 to 6 months: 1–2 tsp, 1–2 times per day
  • 6 to 7 months: 2–4 tbsp, 2–3 times per day
  • 7 to 9 months: 3–5 tbsp, 3 times per day
  • 9 to 12 months: 4–5 tbsp, 3 times per day

It is important to listen to your baby and take his cue on this. Responsive feeding [36] is allowing him to eat only as much as he wants to satisfy hunger.

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How and when should I start introducing textures?

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Learning to eat a wide variety of textures is another crucial step in the transition to solid foods. Surprisingly, this introduction can occur much sooner than caregivers think. However, driven largely by the fear of infant choking, and caregivers not knowing what is normal gagging, the progress toward solids can be impeded. Add to this the sometimes false and confusing messages from puree products aimed at the older infant (8 to 9+ months) packaged in a convenient pouch, it’s no wonder parents reach for the easy option.

In actual fact, most babies are able to tolerate gradually thicker purees and then onto soft lumps within 1 to 2 weeks of starting solids. Again, every baby is different so follow their lead on this. Once he is tolerating the runny puree well, gradually make it less runny and more viscous. Watch for signs that he is able to move the food around in his mouth and/or starting to make chewing motions, especially if you give him a piece of finger food. You can offer well-cooked, very smooshy (easily squashed between your thumb and forefinger) finger foods such as pumpkin and sweet potato early on, providing you always watch for choking hazards and signs [41]. Not only will this engage the senses  and increase eye and hand coordination, but babies also get the benefits of different textures, which will expand his tolerance for increasingly lumpier textures. 

It is important not to delay the introduction of appropriate textures as this can interfere with the development of essential chewing and oral motor skills. What’s more, studies have also shown that if the introduction of textures and soft lumpy foods are delayed beyond 9 months, it can increase food fussiness.[43,82] The studies indicated that these children tended to have greater feeding difficulties, increased chances of food phobias, and overall lower consumption of fruit and vegetables through the toddler years and even as 7-year-olds.[47] Prolonging the introduction of textures can also attribute to overeating as it is more difficult to pay attention to responsive feeding when food is rapidly swallowed (especially if eaten directly from a pouch and not off a spoon). 

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Baby-led weaning or purees—what’s best?

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The traditional method of transitioning babies onto solid foods is to offer smooth purees on a spoon, gradually moving to thicker and then textured purees. However, more recently, baby-led weaning (BLW) has taken favour. A BLW approach is to introduce or offer foods in their intact form, instead of pureeing, and allow the baby to feed himself. By offering only finger foods, in appropriate sizes, e.g. cooked vegetables, meat, and soft fruits, parents allow their babies to choose and be directed as to what they do and do not want to eat. This helps to engage all the senses while eating, and develops key motor skills and the muscles involved with chewing. It can mean the foods are more nutritious, if the alternatives are poor-quality, watery puree. However, it is one thing to offer highly nutritious foods, but it is a different matter if they are not consumed. We know that by 6 months, an infant’s requirements for iron in order to optimize growth and development [14] increase considerably. Iron-rich sources include red meats [24] but they are generally more difficult to consume as a finger food in the early phases. The variety of vegetables can also be somewhat limited to consume in a safe way. Peas, for example, pose a choking risk [41] if not mashed and green leafy vegetables are difficult to process without adequate motor skills. And when healthy alternatives are not on hand, it is easier to turn to processed, prepackaged foods such as bread, rusks, or biscuits.[39] 

A great compromise is to provide a highly nutritious puree, alongside some appropriate finger food. Thus, allowing autonomy and a sensory experience, while ensuring the exposure and consumption of a wide variety of flavors, textures, and nutrition. Regardless of feeding method, a responsive-feeding approach [36] is paramount.

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When is it OK to give baby cereals and grains?

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In order for him to be able to digest cereals and grains he needs to make use of enzymes he produces to break these down to release nutrients. However, the particular enzyme he requires, pancreatic amylase, is not produced until the second half of his first year (6 to 12 months). Although there will be no drastic effect (in most children) in introducing grains before this enzyme is present, it will mean that the nutrients from the grains may not be well absorbed. Undigested product can also begin to irritate an immature digestive system, effecting the balance of bacteria and microbiota [32]. Therefore, the general consensus is to wait until at least 6 months before incorporating small amounts of cereals/grains, preferably wholegrain,[87,89] into his diet. It is also important to offer a nutritionally dense [23] diet of varied flavors and textures to train healthy eating habits [1], and to limit highly refined and processed foods [50]. 

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Disclaimer: The information provided is the opinion of Good Feeding, it has not been evaluated by healthcare professionals, and is for educational purposes only.  Before starting any new foods or feeding practices, please consult your baby's healthcare professional.