How and when should you start giving your baby solids?

During the first year of life, babies learn an incredible amount, going from tiny infants to boisterous toddlers in the blink of an eye.

Beginning to eat solid foods is an important step in your baby’s development, so here are some key facts to help on the way.

When to start introducing solid food to your baby?

Around the world, advice differs about when it is best for babies to begin with solid foods, and sometimes babies are started on solids as early as four months old.

The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to age of six months, with solid foods being introduced gradually after this time.

The UK’s Department of Health suggests waiting until your child displays the following three signs of readiness for solid foods, around the middle of their first year.

  • He or she can sit up and hold his or her head steady.
  • They can pick up food themselves and put it in their mouth.
  • They can swallow food; before a baby is ready, their tongue will automatically push it back out of their mouth.

So, if you allow yourself to be guided by your child’s development and look for the signs of readiness, you should be prepared to for things to get messy at around the six month mark!

How do babies learn to eat solid food?

Copying others is a great way for babies to learn new skills, and they love to be involved in family mealtimes, either sitting on an adult’s knee or in a secure high chair. At first your baby is likely to simply observe. Then they will begin to reach for food, pick it up and put it in their mouth.

Feeling happy around food is really important, so you might want to start offering solid foods at a time when your baby is not hungry or thirsty, so that they can focus on enjoying and exploring their food.

Exploring and experimenting with a range of new textures and tastes is fun and exciting for your baby. It is a good idea to wait a couple of days between introducing new foods to check for any sensitivities. If you are concerned that your child may be at risk of developing allergies you should ask your doctor’s advice on this.

Developing healthy tastes is important. Babies should be offered unprocessed, whole foods including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. If you are preparing a meal for the whole family and planning to offer it to your baby too, it is important not to add salt. Honey should not be given to babies under one. Babies also don’t need foods with added sugar, they are sweet enough already!

Practice makes perfect – some parents prefer to puree food for their baby while others practise baby-led weaning, where you cut food into chunks and give them to your baby to put in their mouth themselves and chew. It is also common to give a mixture of purees and finger foods. Even babies with very few or no teeth can manage finger foods surprisingly well so don’t worry about waiting for those first teeth to appear!

Whatever you choose, be aware of the risk of choking. Offer finger food in large finger-shaped chunks, avoiding hard foods like apple and raw carrot. Cut round foods such as grapes and tomatoes in half and always supervise your child when eating.

Having fun and learning is top priority – your baby will still get most of his or her nutrients from breastmilk or baby formula at this stage.

As your baby starts to eat more solid food, it is helpful to consider what they eat over the course of a week to ensure that their diet is balanced and includes sources of key nutrients such as iron and zinc.

Most importantly, relax and enjoy this exciting new adventure with your child. This will encourage them to develop a healthy relationship with food.