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.
Your baby will show signs of being ready when they:
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.
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.
Some foods are risky to small children.
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.
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.
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.