When your little one reaches four months old, it’s likely people will start asking if they’re eating solid foods yet.
Recommendations for the right time to start feeding solid foods have changed over the past decades and can lead to confusion.
When can babies start eating baby food?
You want to make sure you’re doing the best thing for your baby.
Read on for more information about the best time for your baby to start eating solid food, what the current health information is, and how to set up the best eating habits for your little one.
What is a good age to start feeding baby food?
Leading children’s health experts around the world, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend you wait until your baby is at least six months old before you start feeding solid food.
In the first 6 months of life, breastmilk or infant formula is all a baby needs to meet nutritional requirements.
This recommendation is also endorsed by the World Health Organisation.
Is 4 months too early to start baby food?
It’s recommended your baby is at least six months before you introduce solids. However, every baby grows and develops at a different rate.
Some babies aren’t ready for solid foods at six months. Others might show readiness for solids earlier.
No matter how early your baby shows readiness, it’s important not to introduce solids before four months of age.
What happens if you start baby food too early?
You might have heard rumours that eating solid foods before six months will help your little one sleep through the night.
Contrary to popular belief, sleep is not a developmental milestone.
Unlike other developmental milestones (smiling, cooing, grasping at objects, holding up head), there’s no definite age your baby should start sleeping through the night.
It’s normal for your baby to wake and feed at night. Apart from being normal, it is important for his optimal growth and development.
If you start solid foods too early, you risk poor nutritional intake for your little one. Breast milk and infant formula are perfectly designed to meet all your baby’s nutritional requirements for the first 6 months of life.
Starting solid food before your baby’s digestive system is ready can lead to unpleasant side effects, such as constipation, gas, and poor digestion.
Other risks associated with starting solid food too early include:
- Increased risk of choking
- Increased risk of weight problems and obesity later.
How do I know my baby is ready for solid foods?
Your baby should start to show signs of readiness for solids anywhere from around 4-6 months of age.
Signs your baby is ready for solids include:
- Good head control and neck control
- Ability to sit unsupported (or with little support) in high chair
- Loss of tongue thrust reflex (no longer pushes food out of the mouth with the tongue)
- Showing an interest in what you are eating
- Opening the mouth when offered food on a baby spoon
- Picking up soft foods and putting them in the mouth.
Some babies might not be ready at 6 months, and this is normal.
Which baby food should I introduce first?
One of the most important reasons your baby should start solids around 6 months of age is to prevent iron deficiency.
Iron is an essential mineral that helps to carry oxygen around in the blood.
Babies have a good store of iron from their time in the womb. This store lasts for about 6 months.
Although they get some iron from breast milk and formula, by 6 months of age, milk drinks alone can no longer meet their requirements.
Some good sources of iron you can offer as your baby’s first foods include:
- Meat, poultry, and fish. Offer as mince, for spoon-feeding, or in lightly cooked strips for baby-led weaning. Even if your baby only sucks on the juices, this is still a valuable source of iron
- Cooked tofu and legumes
- Egg. Make sure all parts of the egg, including the yolk, are fully cooked
- Soft fruit and cooked vegetables
- Iron-fortified infant cereals.
You can read more about iron deficiency in babies here.
Why isn’t my baby interested in solids?
Sometimes babies are developmentally ready for solids, but other factors could be affecting their interest in eating.
Here are some possibilities:
Your baby is already full from a milk feed
Breast milk, or infant formula, is the most important part of your baby’s diet until he reaches 12 months of age.
For this reason, when you start to feed your baby solids, it’s recommended to first offer his usual milk feed.
When your baby starts eating solid foods, it’s more about experiencing new tastes and textures than replacing milk feeds with meals.
As your baby gets used to trying family foods, you can offer them before a milk feed.
Your baby doesn’t like the taste or texture
It’s very common and completely normal if your baby turns his nose up at your first offers of solid food.
Imagine how strange minced beef or mashed vegetables must taste to a baby who has lived off sweet, warm milk for his whole life!
For this reason, parents find when they mix baby foods with a small amount of expressed breast milk or infant formula, their little one likes it much better.
Some ideas for first milky foods are:
- Mashed banana or avocado with some warmed, expressed breast milk or formula
- Stewed fruits, such as apples or pears, mixed with warm, expressed breast milk or formula
- Oats made with breast milk or formula instead of cow’s milk
- Iron-fortified baby cereal mixed with warmed, expressed breastmilk or formula.
Babies and toddlers often need to try new foods lots of times before they accept them.
Your baby is tired or uncomfortable
Like anything new, the best time to introduce solids to your baby is when he is calm and alert.
If he is too hungry, tired, distracted, hot or cold, needs a nappy change or is feeling unwell, any of these factors can influence his eagerness to try something new.
Your baby needs a little more time
It’s completely normal for 6 or 7 month olds to need a little more time before they are ready to tackle solids.
Every baby of this age is learning so many things – supporting their own head and neck, sitting unaided, practising grasping objects, and bringing them to their mouths.
Every baby is unique, and they’ll develop and reach milestones in their own time.
If your baby isn’t showing any interest in solid foods by around 9 months of age, or if you’re concerned about any aspect of his development, seek advice from an appropriate health care provider. This could be your maternal and child health nurse, your family doctor, or a pediatrician.
Are carrots a good first food for babies?
Carrots make a good addition to a nutritious diet for a baby and are a suitable option for a first food.
To prepare carrots for baby to eat, steam them until tender and then mash them with a fork before you give them to your baby on a spoon.
Alternatively, you can steam carrot sticks until they are soft enough for your baby to chew with his gums while he grasps them in his fist. If you can mash the food against the roof of your mouth with your tongue, then it’s soft enough.
You don’t need to puree carrots, or any solid foods, as long as they are soft. It’s important for your baby to experience different textures.
Carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant and a vital nutrient to support healthy vision.
As mentioned earlier, babies shouldn’t be introduced to any solids before they are 4 months old.
Be mindful that carrots and other root vegetables contain nitrates, which can potentially be harmful in babies under 4 months.
When should I introduce water to my baby?
When your baby is around 6 months of age and has started experimenting with solids, you can introduce him to water.
Water shouldn’t replace breast milk or formula but should be offered in small amounts, to sip on while eating.
When you introduce water to your baby, it’s also a good opportunity to let him experiment with a sippy cup or straw cup.
Teaching your baby to sip water from a sippy or straw cup, rather than a bottle, allows him to develop motor skills and learn about satiety (feeling full).
Babies under 6 months should never be given water.
Even in very hot weather, breast milk and infant formula contain enough water to meet your baby’s needs. Offering water can result in a baby drinking less milk than is needed for proper growth.
You can read more about other reasons why young babies shouldn’t have water here.
Giving large amounts of water over a short period of time is extremely dangerous and can cause your baby to become very sick.
What foods can’t you give to a baby?
Choking is a serious hazard in babies and young children. Although it’s important for your baby to experience different textures of food, make sure all solid foods offered to your baby are soft.
Common choking hazards in babies and young children include:
- Whole grapes – cut them into quarters lengthwise
- Raw vegetables – cook them until soft before offering them to your baby
- Nuts – offer nut spreads on soft bread
- Hot dogs and sausages – the right size and texture to become lodged in the airways
- Popcorn – hard to chew and easy to inhale and can block the airway
- Marshmallows – slippery and easy to inhale and can block the airway.
Apart from foods that are choking hazards, the following foods can also be dangerous to babies and young children:
- Cow’s milk: For any child under the age of one, the proteins in cow’s milk are too large and numerous to be digested in their immature gut. Giving your baby cow’s milk can create an intolerance to these proteins, found in all dairy products
- Honey: Unpasteurised honey can contain spores that can cause infant botulism – a rare but very serious gastrointestinal condition. It’s not recommended for the first year
- Runny eggs: Raw or runny eggs can contain salmonella. Salmonella poisoning causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and headache.
If you notice any signs of food allergy after giving a new food, it’s important to seek immediate medical assistance.
- Swelling of lips, tongue, eyes, or face
- Hives or welts
- Difficulty in breathing, blue around the mouth
- Pale or floppy
- Any change in behaviour (e.g. very unsettled).
Symptoms of food allergy usually appear quite quickly after ingestion. Talk to your doctor or pediatrician if there’s a family history of reactions to highly allergenic foods, such as eggs or shellfish.
When can a baby eat food from a jar?
You can start using food from a jar at the same time you introduce solids. As mentioned above, this is when your baby shows signs of being ready for solid food.
Always supervise your baby while he is eating, and make sure he is sitting up and able to hold his head on his own.
There’s a huge range of baby food available – from organic ranges to gourmet meals – but it’s best to look for the most nutritious options.
As with homemade food, introduce new foods to your baby one at a time.
When using baby food from a jar, don’t feed directly from the jar. Instead, spoon a small amount into a separate bowl first. There’s a risk of introducing bacteria from your baby’s mouth into the jar, via the spoon, and contaminating the remaining food.
If you don’t use all the food in the jar, you can refrigerate it to use later. After 24 hours, it’s best to throw away any uneaten portion.
Do babies drink less milk after starting solids?
When you first introduce solid foods, they aren’t meant to replace breast milk or formula.
Breast milk or formula is still the most important part of your baby’s diet in his first year.
You should continue to breastfeed or give formula as often as before, and you should continue to offer milk before solids until your baby is at least 8 or 9 months old.
After introducing solids, you might notice your baby has quicker milk feeds. This is completely normal and part of the weaning process.
Some babies will continue to have their milk as usual, and might take a little longer to show an interest in solid foods.
As time goes on, your little ones will begin to drink less milk as they get their vital nutrients from food. Continue to offer a wide variety of food from different food groups.
Starting solids is an exciting time for you and your baby! Your baby is growing and learning and these early days can shape lifelong attitudes toward healthy eating.