Here, we talk to paediatric dietitian, Dr Kyla Smith from Baby Mealtimes about how to start babies on solids and what to expect.
When is my baby ready?
Physical signs that your baby is ready for food generally occur between five to six months of age. While some babies may seem ready earlier, Dr Smith says that solid foods should never be offered before four months of age.
“You need to look for signs in your own baby and consider their developmental readiness,” says Dr Smith.
"There are a number of things that they need to be able to do before they’re ready for solid foods.”
These things include being able to hold their own head up, sit upright (with some support is OK), be interested in food, and accept it readily without pushing it out.
“It’s so important your baby’s introduction to solids is positive and they enjoy eating and mealtimes,” says Dr Smith.
“It’s very normal for many babies to take a long time to enjoy solids, and that’s OK. You never want to force it.”
Dr Smith notes that introducing solids by six months of age is important to top up their iron stores. If your baby is still uninterested in food at seven months, she suggests initially speaking to a child health nurse.
How should I feed my baby solids?
There are different approaches you can try when introducing solids, and there’s no right or wrong.
The key is finding what works for you.
Baby led weaning (BLW) is a relatively new approach to feeding babies that doesn’t involve purées at all.
The BLW recommendations suggest starting from six months of age when babies have the skills to manage soft finger foods. It’s important to choose soft finger foods that aren’t a choking risk for your baby at this age.
Traditional purée feeding involves starting with silky smooth purée, progressing to thicker purée, then mashed foods to lumpy foods to finger foods. The transition to finger foods can start as soon as you like.
“A good approach to feeding is to follow your baby’s cues and adopt a mixed feeding approach with spoon and finger foods,” says Dr Smith.
“Spoon food is a great way to offer your baby foods high in iron in a form they can easily swallow, as most high iron finger foods aren’t really suitable for babies to actually eat much of.
“Finger food is a great way to teach your baby self-feeding.”
Dr Smith notes that lots of babies around nine to 10 months may start to refuse the spoon. If they’ve practiced with finger foods from the start, then they’re much better equipped to be ready to feed themselves.
RELATED: The Ngala Guide to looking after your baby from 3-6 months
What should I feed my baby?
Dr Smith advises that you don’t have to ‘encourage’ or pressure your baby to eat anything. Instead, she suggests eating a variety of foods with them, so they mimic you.
Some ideal early foods include steamed chunks of veggies such as sweet potato, broccoli and pumpkin, avocados, yoghurt, meat and lentil puree, soft fruit pieces and trimmed lamb chops.
“The focus for your first year of feeding should be about exposing your baby to as many different tastes, flavours and textures as you can,” says Dr Smith.
What do I need to know about allergies?
One in 10 children in Australia will develop a food allergy by the age of one, the most common being egg, peanut, cow’s milk (dairy), tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews), soy, sesame, wheat, and fish and other seafood.
Introducing allergenic food in the first year of life is important in helping to prevent allergies. This applies to all babies, even those with eczema or less common food allergies.
“If you’re very concerned about allergies, try rubbing a tiny bit of the food on the inside wet part of your baby’s lip and monitor for a reaction,” says Dr Smith. “If there’s no reaction, you can offer a small amount to eat.”
“It’s important to note that some babies may still develop a food allergy despite following all the advice, but this is absolutely not your fault.”
An allergic reaction to a food usually occurs within minutes. However, some reactions may be delayed. Signs include swelling of the lips, eyes or face, hives or welts, vomiting, or any change in your baby’s well-being.
If your baby has an allergic reaction to any food, seek medical advice.
Call an ambulance immediately if there are signs of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) such as difficult/noisy breathing or your baby becomes pale and floppy, or has tongue swelling.
Fun for everyone
Remember, your main aim is to teach your baby about food.
“Try not to focus on the amount they’re eating and instead do your best to introduce them to a wide variety of tastes and textures and help them to feel confident about eating,” says Dr Smith.
“This helps them to develop the skills they need to eat a variety of foods as they get older.
“Last of all, make sure you get a chance to enjoy eating with your baby. Mealtimes can be a really fun time to spend together!”
Dr Kyla Smith is a paediatric dietitian specialising in feeding babies and fussy eating. She runs Baby Mealtimes, a subscription website covering everything you need to know about feeding your baby with confidence and without stress, providing daily meal inspiration, Q&A sessions and tips.