Introducing solid foods to your baby (known as weaning) is an exciting time in your baby’s life.
You may have many questions and queries about introducing solid food. Here we try to answer your questions and address any worries.
For advice on introducing solid foods to a premature baby visit: How do I know if my baby is ready to wean? | Bliss
Every baby is an individual. There are 3 signs which, together, show your baby is ready for their first solid foods alongside breastmilk or infant formula:
- Baby can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady
- Baby can co-ordinate their eyes, hand and mouth so that they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth all by themselves
- Baby can swallow food. Babies who are not ready will push their food back out.
It’s rare for these signs to appear together before a baby is 6 months old.
3 signs that parents/carers often think mean that their baby is ready for weaning are:
- Chewing fists
- Wanting extra milk
- Waking in the night (starting solid food will not make them anymore likely to sleep through the night).
None of these behaviours necessarily mean that a baby is ready for solid foods.
For top tips on: foods to be aware of, looking after your baby’s teeth, and how to get started with weaning, have a look at this video on our YouTube channel.
To watch our video on mealtimes and for top tips on making the most of this special time, click here.
As parents and carers, you play an important role in starting to build healthy eating habits into your children’s lives. An area that is very important is mealtimes.
To model healthy eating behaviour for your baby, we suggest the 4 ‘s’:
- SITTING – sitting at the table for meals and snacks means we think more about what we eat and are less likely to eat just for the sake of it
- SLOWLY – we eat better portion sizes if we eat slowly and think about what we are eating
- SOCIABLY – children often copy parents, carers and siblings. Making meals a social occasion is important for modelling healthy eating.
- SIX MONTHS – by waiting to start solid foods until your baby is six months old, you make sure that they are really ready to start eating solid foods.
To watch our video on introducing tastes and textures click here.
Weaning is all about introducing tastes and textures, learning to have confidence in your baby, and understanding which foods to start off with.
Evidence tells us that the foods we like are a result of experience: the more often we experience a food or new taste, the more we will like it. Babies and toddlers learn to like the foods that they are offered. Don’t be surprised if your baby spits the food out at first or appears to dislike it. New tastes take a little getting used to. Studies have found that it can take a child between 8-14 times before they accept a ‘new food’.
Good first foods to try:
- Vegetables are a good first food as there is a wide variety with different tastes. They are also a rainbow of colours so are attractive to babies. They are also easy to prepare and can be served as a range of textures (pureed, mashed or finger foods). Remember never to add salt or sugar to food served to babies.
- Starchy foods can also be offered as first foods. Things like sweet potatoes, potatoes or pasta are ideal. You can cook and mash up rice, or other cereals such as porridge oats, rather than buy expensive baby versions, which are often less healthy.
- Protein foods are rich in nutrients, so offering your baby fish, meat, beans, eggs, lentils and tofu makes sure they get iron and zinc. This is important for growth and development.
- Dairy and dairy alternatives are excellent first foods to introduce to babies as they can also be mixed with other tastes and flavours. Choose unsweetened full fat milk yoghurt, cottage cheese or milk alternative products such as plain coconut yoghurt. Avoid ‘baby’ yoghurts as they are often sweetened.
- Once your baby has experienced a range of savoury tastes, fruit can be introduced. Fruit is often easily accepted as it has a sweeter taste. Cook fruit to soften, and make sure they are free of large pips or hard skin. If serving fruit as finger foods, make sure pieces are soft and manageable. Avoid chunks of apple and harder fruits.
To watch our video about salt and sugar in baby food click here.
As most people know, too much sugar is bad for our children's health. It can lead to the build-up of harmful fat on the inside the body. This fat can cause weight gain and serious conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Sugar is bad for our teeth too and can cause painful tooth decay or sometimes lead to even having to have teeth removed.
When talking about sugar, we mean sugar that has been added to food or drink to sweeten it. This could be from a food manufacturer, a chef at a restaurant or even at home.
So how can we reduce our children’s sugar intake?
A simple way to do this is to make a sugar swap. When it comes to cutting down on sugar, even making just a few swaps can make a big difference to how much sugar you’re eating.
You don’t need to worry about the types of sugars in plain milk or plain yoghurts, or fruit and vegetables as this isn’t ADDED sugar, though fruit juices and smoothies can be sugary. Young children should be offered water to drink.
You'll find traffic light labels on most food and drink, usually on the front of the pack. These labels use red, orange and green colour coding to help us understand what's inside our food. When it comes to reading food labels, a good rule of thumb is to go for more greens and oranges and cut down on reds. Not all packaged food has traffic light labels, but nutritional information is always included on the pack.
Too much salt in our children’s food can put them at risk of high blood pressure and heart disease later in life. Children should be having less than 3g grams of salt a day – that’s less than half a teaspoon.
Foods that contain a lot of salt include processed meats such a ham and sausages, takeaways and ready meals, crisps and savoury snacks, and even things like gravy, stock cubes and ketchup.
When you begin to introduce solid food to your baby from 6 months of age, you might be surprised to find that the products for sale on the baby aisle in supermarkets contain lots of salt or sugar. Brands that we know and trust can be misleading with their packaging. This can lead us to believe these products are perfect for babies, but once we take a closer look at them it’s often not the case.
These products might be ready-prepared foods sold in jars and pouches, packets of baby cereals and porridges, baby juice drinks, or snacks such as biscuits, yoghurts or fruit pouches. Evidence suggests that many baby foods are less healthy, contain high levels of salt or sugar, and are of a different texture to our homemade meals.
Products marketed as baby snacks or biscuits are not needed in the diets of babies at all. Commercial baby foods are also very expensive.
The simplest way to reduce our salt intake is to avoid ultra-processed foods. This means if there are more than a handful of ingredients on the label, put it back on the shelf.
Many parents worry about their baby choking on these new foods.
Babies often gag when they start eating solid foods. This is because they are learning how much food they can chew and swallow at one time, and how to chew new textures.
When babies gag, they might:
- push their tongue forward and out of their mouth
- bring the food forward in their mouth
- make a retching movement
- sometimes vomit.
More more information on gagging, have a look at this video.
Difference between choking and gagging
Gagging is a normal reflex as your baby learns to chew and swallow solid foods. Babies make noise when they are gagging, such as retching sounds.
However, choking is quiet. If your child has white skin, it may begin to look blue if they're choking. If they have brown or black skin, their gums, inside their lips, or their fingernails may begin to look blue.
For more information on safe weaning, visit: Safe Weaning | Gagging | Start for Life (www.nhs.uk)
Choking: what to do
If you think your child is choking and cannot breathe properly:
- shout for help
- get them out of the high chair
- support their chest and chin with one hand and – with the heel of your hand – give 5 sharp blows between the shoulder blades
First aid courses:
British Red Cross: first aid courses
The NHS website has advice on:
How to stop a child from choking
To watch our video on the myths and truths of weaning click here.
TRUTH: ‘Manufacturers often advertise sloppy baby food from 4 months but this doesn’t meet with current advice about what is best for babies’
Makers of baby food advertise pureed baby food as being suitable from 4 months because they want to sell as much as possible. Babies are developmentally ready for solid food from around about 6 months of age. You can build up your baby’s experience of different textures from that age. Many people never use pureed baby foods at all.
Manufactured baby foods are very different from real homemade food in texture, taste and cost. It is better for your baby to eat homemade foods you cook from scratch. It’s much cheaper too! Have a look at the First Steps Nutrition recipe books for ideas on what to make.
MYTH: ‘From 26 weeks/ 6 months of age you should give your baby 3 meals a day’
This is down to each individual baby. You won’t know how your baby will react to food. They may want 3 meals quite soon after starting solids however they may be happy with one meal for a while. Slowly is the key. Don’t worry if your baby isn’t ready for 3 meals straight away. Remember introducing food to your baby is a time for them to learn about new textures and tastes whilst breastmilk or formula continues to be a large part of their diet.
MYTH: ‘Waking up at night is a sign my baby is ready for other foods’
This is something that happens to most babies at around 4 months old. They may begin to wake more at night, however this isn’t a sign they are ready for solid food. Research suggests that offering solid food has no impact on helping babies to sleep for longer. Babies have lots going on around this time: rolling, interacting, babbling. The brain uses the night-time to make these connections, which is why they can wake up a lot.
TRUTH: ‘Using food as a reward is not recommended for babies and children’
Using food as a reward is not a good way to praise children. This can lead to overeating and also to them preferring sweet foods.
MYTH: ‘Bigger babies need to start on foods earlier than smaller babies’
It doesn’t matter how big your baby is. The development of their digestive system and kidneys will be at the same rate as for smaller babies.
MYTH: ‘If I give foods earlier, my baby will have fewer allergies and be a less fussy eater’
We know that the recommendation is that babies should be exclusively breastfed or have formula for about six months. Introducing solid food when your baby shows signs is the best approach. There is no evidence that introducing foods early has benefits
MYTH: ‘Babies can’t have any cow’s milk before one year of age’
Babies can have cow’s milk in their foods from 6 months, in things like mashed potato. However, they shouldn’t have it as a drink until they are one year old as it does not have enough iron in it.
MYTH: ‘Babies don’t like lumpy foods’
Lumpy food is a very different and new texture for babies. Take it slowly and allow baby to deal with these new tastes. Babies over 6 months old do not need pureed food.
MYTH: ‘My baby doesn’t have any/ very few teeth, so I can’t give them finger foods’
Babies who are developmentally ready for solid foods can have finger foods. Not having teeth is not a reason to hold off from offering them. Babies love to hold and mouth things; this is how they learn about them. Start off by offering finger foods you feel safe with such as broccoli, cauliflower, or sticks of cooked carrot.
You may have heard of baby led weaning. This approach means you allow the baby to completely feed themselves, with all family foods. This can be messy but so much fun! This allows your baby to choose how much they want to eat and to eat what you eat, whilst learning about tastes and textures.
MYTH: ‘Products marketed as baby porridge, baby rice, rusks etc. are a good place to begin with introducing foods’
These products are not good baby or toddler foods, despite the advertising. Homemade foods are much better for your baby, cost much less, are healthier and often taste different. If babies eat lots of these processed foods that are high in salt and sugar, their bodies start to crave them rather than healthier, home-cooked foods.
MYTH: ‘My baby won’t drink water so it’s fine to offer juice instead’
Water and milk are the only liquids your baby needs. Juice is not recommended, even baby juices, as these often contain hidden sugars and can cause tooth decay even before their first teeth come through.