Starting solid food can be a confusing time for parents. On this page we will look at
- The first 6 months
- Signs of readiness
- Baby led weaning
- Spoon feeding
- Choking vs gagging
- Foods to avoid
- Further resources
The first 6 months
There can be a lot of confusion surrounding when baby should start to have more than just milk. The guidance has changed a lot over the years, with parents previously recommended starting baby as early as 8 weeks but often around 4 months. Baby food manufacturers can also confuse parents as some baby food is labelled as suitable from 4 months.
So why does the NHS, UNICEF, WHO & the UK Department for Health recommend that breast or formula milk is all baby needs until around 6 months? The guidance changed to 6 months in around 2003 and was based on research that showed benefits of waiting until baby was around 6 months. You can read more about waiting until 6 months here.
Signs of readiness
According to the NHS signs baby is ready for solid food may include:
- Sitting mostly unaided and with good head control
- They can swallow food, not spit it all back out
- They can pick up food and bring it to their mouth
Some parents may mistake waking at night, wanting more feeds or watching people eat as signs of readiness but these are normal variable factors in baby’s feeding patterns. You can contact Early Nourishment for support with this or visit one of our Nourished Feeding drop-ins if you are confused about the signs of readiness.
Starting solid food can be a fun time for parents and for baby. This method relies on baby feeding themselves. It is suggested that parents offer their babies the same food that they eat (apart from unsuitable foods, covered further in this section) and allow baby to explore using their hands. This can be a fun and healthy way for baby to learn how to eat. You can read more about baby-led weaning here.
If you are deciding to wean your baby this way it can be helpful to have the following equipment
- A highchair which is easy to put baby in and remove baby from
- Bowls that are not breakable can be helpful; although many parents find that putting the food straight on to the highchair tray works just as well, if not better
- A spoon for baby to practice eating items that are harder to eat with fingers, such as soups & yoghurt.
This method means parents offering foods on a spoon and putting into baby’s mouth. Parents will often feed their baby pureed food, mashed food and soup in this manner, along with yoghurt and cereal. There is no need to buy special baby food if waiting until 6 months; you can offer your baby what you are eating & blend or mash the food.
- Pots to store food
If spoon feeding, it is helpful to also offer some finger foods as well to help baby to learn hand eye coordination and how to move food around their mouth.
Gagging vs choking
No matter how you wean your baby there is always a small risk of choking. This risk is minimised when baby is over 6 months old and able to safely eat and move the food around their mouth themself. This video from St John Abulance shows what to do if baby starts to choke and how to recognise it
However, it’s useful to know that babies have a sensitive gag reflex to begin with this & this helps to protect them from choking. Watch this video to see the gag reflex in action, many parents confuse this with choking
Foods to avoid
Babies over 6 months can mostly have the same food as adults, in fact introducing them to a variety of flavours can help prevent fussy eaters later on! According to the NHS foods to avoid are
- Those high in salt such as takeaways, ready meals & crisps. If cooking at home use low salt stock cubes and refrain from adding extra salt.
- Sugar & sugary foods
- Foods high in saturated fat
- Whole nuts & peanuts – smooth nut butters are ok
- Unpasteurised cheeses
- Raw eggs if the egg is not lion stamped
- Rice milks
- Raw jelly cubes
- Raw shellfish
- Shark, swordfish or marlin
- Foods which may be a choking hazards such as those with small bones
This Ready, Steady… Eat! A parent’s guide to starting babies on solid food from Cornwall Healthy Weight is a great information video on starting solid foods