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Your baby’s first foods

Before the age of six months, all babies need to grow and thrive is breast milk or solids. At around six months of age, but not before four months, babies can be offered a range of nutritious foods in any order, as long as the textures are suitable for them.  Fortunately, we’ve moved on from offering very specific foods according to a baby’s age. The current recommendations are that it’s fine to offer any food, in any order, when the baby is ready.

One of the main reasons for introducing solid foods at around 6 months is because a baby’s iron stores start to drop.  What built up during pregnancy starts to deplete and foods rich in iron and zinc help to support a baby’s brain development.

What are the signs of readiness for solid foods?

Your baby will show signs of being ready when they:

  • Can hold their head up and sit with support.
  • Are reaching for food and getting excited when you and/or the family are eating.
  • Aren’t satisfied with milk alone in their diet.
  • Can transfer food from the front of their tongue to the back and then swallow.
  • When they open their mouth when food or a spoon is touching their lips.
  • Picking up pieces of food and bringing it up to their mouth.

What textures should I be offering my baby?

Start by offering your baby smooth purees which are mixed with a little water, breast milk or formula. Even if your baby doesn’t have any teeth yet, they’ll be able to ‘chew’ with their gums.  Pureed, mashed or mushy foods are easier to chew and will help to support your baby’s speech development. As they grow, increase the textures of their foods and encourage them to pick up small pieces of ‘finger foods’. By around 12 months of age, there are many benefits in offering babies a family diet.  Your baby can eat whatever you and the rest of the family are eating, as long as it doesn’t have added salt, sugar or strong flavourings.

Ideal solid foods for babies

It’s important that you offer your baby milk first and then solid foods afterwards until they are around 9 months of age. After this age, you can reverse the order and offer solids and then milk. This is because milk needs to be the primary source of nutrition until 9 months of age.

At breakfast: Iron fortified rice cereal, pureed apple/apricot/pears are good.  Toast fingers with butter and a fine scraping of vegemite or avocado.

At lunch time:  pureed vegetables and a little red or white meat. You could also offer a small amount of well-cooked lentils, beans or pulses.

At dinner time: pureed vegetables, a little red or white meat. Some yoghurt and fruit. 

What foods can’t I give my baby?

Some foods are risky to small children. 

  • Foods which are high in sugar, fat, salt are not healthy for small children. 
  • Honey may contain spores of botulism – a rare but potentially dangerous bacteria which can cause significant illness in children under 12 months.  Children in this age group are most susceptible.
  • Whole nuts and other hard foods which may cause choking.
  • Lollies, popcorn, cheerios (small sausages), seeds and hard, uncooked vegetables such as carrot.

What drinks can I give my baby?

Continue to breastfeed if you and your baby are happy to keep going. It’s not just your baby who’ll benefit from breastfeeding, but your body as well. Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer as well as heart disease and other health conditions. If your baby is aged less than 12 months and you’re not breastfeeding, give them infant formula. Once they’ve had their first birthday, they can have full fat cow’s milk to drink. 

Water is perfect for babies.  You can offer them cooled boiled water from a sipper cup at each mealtime.

Allergy foods – what, when and how?

In Australia, as in the rest of the world, there is a continued rise in allergic diseases, including food allergies.  We don’t really know why this is happening and there are many hypotheses which are being suggested.  The most common food allergens are dairy, soy, nuts, fish and shellfish, wheat, seeds and egg.

Some infants with a family history of allergies are at a higher risk themselves.  However, babies with no family history can also develop allergies.  The current guidelines from health experts who specialise in allergies are clear and relevant for all families, including those where siblings or parents already have food allergies or other allergic conditions.

All babies should be given allergenic solid foods including peanut butter, cooked egg, dairy and wheat products in their first year of life.  This includes infants at high risk of allergy.[1]

5 top tips for introducing solid foods

  1. Continue breastfeeding when introducing solid foods, there is some evidence that this is protective against developing allergies.
  2. Unless there is an allergic reaction to a particular food, continue giving it regularly – twice a week as part of a varied diet. 
  3. Offer cooked egg before 8 months of age when there is a family history of allergy. This can reduce the risk of developing an egg allergy. 
  4. Introduce one new common food allergen at each meal. If there’s a problem food, this can be identified.
  5. If your baby has a reaction to a particular food, stop giving it and seek medical advice.

Speak with your Child Health Nurse for more information about introducing your baby to solid foods.  If you feel your baby may be at risk of developing a food allergy, your GP could refer you to a paediatric dietician or allergist who specialises in food allergies.

Written for Milton by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse, March 2023.