By the time your baby is about 6 months of age – but not before 4 months – breast milk or formula will no longer provide all the nutrition they need for healthy growth. That’s when it’s time to begin adding solid foods to your baby’s diet.
Start by offering small amounts of solids once a day, at a time of the day that suits you and your baby.
Eventually your baby will increase the amount of solid food they eat, until they are able to eat 3 small meals a day with the rest of the family.
Breastfeeding or formula feeding should continue alongside the solid foods, as they still form an essential part of the infant diet.
Why start at 6 months?
At around 6 months of age:
- Your baby’s appetite will not be satisfied by breast milk or formula alone.
- Your baby will be running low on iron and zinc — solids are needed to replenish these and other nutrient levels so your baby can continue to grow.
- Your baby’s digestive system will be ready to cope with solid food.
- Your baby will be physically mature enough to take food from a spoon with their mouth.
- This is also the time you should start to introduce allergy foods to your baby’s diet.
Why not start earlier?
By waiting until your baby is about 6 months old, you will ensure that they quickly adjust to this new way of feeding. Younger babies who are not ready for solids will just push the solid food back out of their mouth — making mealtimes frustrating and time-consuming.
Other disadvantages to starting your baby on solids too early include:
- increased risk of infections
- decreased breast milk production, if you are breastfeeding
How do I know when my baby is ready?
As your baby approaches 6 months, look for the following 4 signs that they are ready to add some solid food to their diet:
- Your baby can sit up without support and hold their head steady.
- Have the co-ordination to look at food, and pick it up and put it in their mouth without help from you.
- Can bite and swallow solid food instead of just pushing it out of their mouth with their tongue.
- Have increased appetite, such as demanding more frequent milk feeds, more hand-to-mouth behaviour, like putting toys in their mouth, and showing interest in food, including the food on your plate.
Getting the texture right
Your baby’s first solids food might be smooth, mashed or in soft pieces, depending on what they like. They can quickly go on to minced foods and then chopped foods.
Your baby needs a variety of food textures. This helps them learn how to chew, and chewing helps with your baby’s speech development. It also helps to encourage self-feeding and prevent feeding difficulties as your baby develops.
By the time your baby is 12 months old, he or she should be eating food with the same texture as the food the rest of the family is eating.
Very first foods
There is no set order for introducing food as long as you include iron-rich foods — like iron-fortified rice cereal, meat, fish, chicken and tofu — and the texture is right. Start with offering mashed foods that are easily digested, which may include:
- vegetables (eg pumpkin, potato, sweet potato, taro) fruits (eg cooked pears/apple, ripe banana)
- well-cooked rice or iron-enriched rice cereal
- coarsely mashed fruit and vegetables,
- well-cooked meat: minced, stewed or grated (cook, freeze then grate)
- fish (fresh or tinned) — bones removed
- legumes (eg lentils)
- pasta and bread (e.g. toast fingers and rusks)
Dairy products including full-fat yoghurt, cheese and custard may be given, but not cow’s milk as a main drink before 12 months.
From about 8 months most babies are ready for finger foods that they can pick up for themselves. Examples include:
- soft pieces of soft raw fruit or cooked vegetables (such as, whole small banana, pieces of melon or avocado and tomato slices)
- small pieces of boiled or steamed vegetables (for example, beans, potato, pumpkin, carrot circles and broccoli florets)
- toast fingers and rusks
- cooked meat that is cut into strips that your baby can pick up and chew
By 12 months your baby should be eating family foods, plus breast milk or cow’s milk, plus some healthy snacks like pieces of fruit and rice cakes.
What should my baby drink?
- Keep giving your baby breast milk or infant formula as their main drink up until they are 12 months old. Small amounts of cooled, boiled water may also be given in a cup.
- As your baby eats more solids they will gradually reduce their intake of milk, or drop one of their milk feeds altogether.
- Beyond 12 months, your baby can drink full-fat pasteurised cow’s milk and water from a cup. You may wish to keep offering your baby some breast milk beyond 12 months, as well.
Some food and drinks to avoid
Avoid giving your baby small, hard pieces of food that can cause choking, such as, nuts, seeds, raw carrot, celery sticks and chunks of apple. Also avoid juices and sugar-sweetened drinks, coffee and tea and honey.
Excessive amounts of salt and sugar are also unhealthy for your baby, and can encourage bad eating habits. It’s best to cook everything yourself using fresh ingredients, rather than using processed foods. However commercial baby foods are convenient on occasions.
Cow’s milk, other animal milks, and plant-based milks like soy, almond or rice milk, are not suitable alternatives to breast milk or infant formula in the first 12 months. However, they may be used in cooking or be mixed with foods from 6 months.
See Introducing solid food — common questions.
Some tips for introducing solid foods
- Pick a quiet time, when you and your baby are relaxed and you have plenty of time.
- Breastfeed (or offer infant formula) first.
- Begin by offering a few teaspoons of food, once a day.
- If your baby isn’t interested the first time you try with solid food, wait until tomorrow and try again.
- You may have to try a new food several times before your baby accepts it — don’t get put off if they reject a food to begin with.
- Let your baby be your guide when it comes to knowing when they are full. Don’t try to force your baby to finish a portion of food if they don’t want to.
- Always supervise your baby at mealtimes.
- If you have heated or defrosted baby food, always check the temperature yourself before offering it to your baby.
- Wash your hands and your baby’s hands before each meal.