Making it to 6 months can be a big milestone for your little one. By now, they are likely to be strong enough to hold their own head up when sitting and their teeth could be starting to erupt from their gums. You might’ve noticed that they’ve started paying more attention to what you are eating, and may even be attempting to grab the very food off your own plate. This can mean they are ready to try their first foods! While it can seem daunting, we’ve got you covered – from when and what to start with, through to what to do if they’re not particularly keen on their first taste of vegetables. Read on to find out more.
When do I introduce first foods?
While breast milk or infant formula are still the most important sources of nutrition for the first year of a baby’s life, at around six months of age it’s no longer enough on its own. Not only do they need more energy to keep up with their rapid rate of growth, but they also require higher intakes of certain micronutrients such as zinc and iron.
Most babies will be ready to try solids at around the age of six months, but this can vary from child to child. Similar to how all toddlers don’t start walking and talking at the same time, a baby’s developmental stage and appetite for food can also differ, so it’s important that you let them guide you. Your little one will let you know they are truly ready to eat when they start to:
- Put their hands in their mouth and reach for foods
- Show signs of chewing movements
- Readily open their mouth when food approaches or a spoon touches their lip
- Move their tongue back and forward as food enters their mouth ( as opposed to it protruding from their mouth)
- Keep food within their mouth and swallow it
If you find they’re not showing much of an interest in food at around six months however, don’t worry too much! The real problem is when food is introduced far too early when your baby may not be ready. Studies have suggested that early introduction of solids, before 4 months of age, can lead to a higher risk of them developing eczema, respiratory disease, dehydration and diarrhoea, impaired iron absorption and malnutrition. So keep a look out for the above signs at around 6 months, and watch how they react when you offer them different foods – they should be eager and excited to give them a go!
They’re ready to eat! What foods should I introduce first and how much?
From around 6 months
From birth to around six months, your baby has the ability to store an adequate supply of nutrients which, when combined with breastmilk or formula, will fully support their nutritional needs. From around six months onwards however, these stores start to deplete and other dietary sources become more important. Because of this, the best first foods to gradually introduce include:
- Good sources of iron and zinc such as iron-fortified cereals, cooked and pureed meat, chicken or fish
- Pureed plain rice, congee and legumes
- Cooked and pureed vegetables without skins, pips or seeds (such as carrot, kumara, pumpkin, broccoli, cassava, puha and pumpkin)
- Pureed fruit without skins, pips or seeds (such as apple, pear and banana)
- Commercial, age appropriate infant foods
For the busy mother on the go, a great idea is to prepare batches of baby food in advance to ensure you have something on hand. Simply steam and puree some fresh vegetables or fruit, and place spoonfuls in an ice cube tray in the freezer, defrosting them as you need to. The same can be done with cooked and pureed meat, rice and legumes.
At 6 months of age, breast milk or formula is still the most important nutrient source and needs to make up the majority of your babies daily intake, so it’s best to introduce only very small amounts of food as ‘top-ups’ at the end of a feed, until they reach 8-9 months. Start by offering between ½ - 2 teaspoons of food after a milk feed, and increase this to around 4 teaspoons at each meal over the course of 2-3 months. You may wish to dilute the first feeds with expressed breast milk or infant formula to get a smooth puree, and then work up to a thicker consistency.
From 8 -12 months
At around 8-9 months of age, you can start offering larger amounts of solid food and begin to use milk feeds as ‘top-ups’. The foods you provide can also start to become thicker and more solid if you notice they are becoming more interested in a range of foods and textures, are learning to crawl and can bite well and chew soft lumps. Try mashed or grated vegetables, chopped up pasta or rice, finely chopped tender cooked meat, tofu, egg or legumes or soft fruit with plain yoghurt. Some babies prefer to be spoon-fed, while others take great pride in being able to pick up their own food, going at their own pace. Soft ripe fruit (such as kiwifruit or banana), thin slices of cheese, gently cooked vegetables (such as steamed carrot and kumara) and slices of wholegrain toast could also be offered if they enjoy a more ‘hands on’ approach.
From 12 months onwards
From 12 months of age, you can happily start introducing a range of spoon and finger foods such as bread, sandwiches, finely chopped salad vegetables (such as cucumber), yoghurt, and finely chopped meats. You’ll know they’re ready when they can easily use their hands and fingers to feed themselves, have molar teeth appearing and can bite through and chew a range of different foods. They can also start drinking toddler milk or whole plain cow’s milk. Introduction before the age of one however, is not recommended as an infant’s gut is too immature and can increase the risk of allergy and gastrointestinal bleeding, so stick to breast milk or formula until they reach this age.
It’s important to remember that young children and babies can choke quite easily, so make sure you keep an eye on them while they’re eating, and that they are seated. Grating, cooking, mashing and removing skins can help to reduce the likelihood of them choking, however foods such as whole nuts, large seeds and whole grapes should be avoided at this age.
What if I’m worried about allergies?
Food allergies affect up to 10% of infants in New Zealand, with milk, eggs and peanuts being the most common in children. While some of these allergies can resolve themselves by school-age, it can be tricky to navigate when they are little. It’s best to try new foods one at a time, introducing something new every 2-4 days. But if you suspect an allergy, or have a strong family history of allergies, it’s best to discuss with your doctor before trying foods containing known allergens.
Starting solids may sound messy and stressful to some, but when equipped with the right information, it can make this special time both fun and exciting for you and your baby! So once your little one has let you know they’re ready, start letting them explore the wonderful world of food.
Allergy New Zealand. (n.d.). Allergy FAQs. (Retrieved March 14, 2017)
Health Promotion Agency and Ministry of Health. (2014). Starting solids - HealthEd. Wellington: Ministry of Health.
Ministry of Health. (2008). Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Infants and Toddlers (Aged 0-2): A background paper - Partially revised December 2012. Wellington: Ministry of Health.
National Health and Medical Research Council. (2012). Infant Feeding Guidelines: Information for Health Care Workers. Canberra.