Your baby’s first year of life is very important for their development, and knowing when and how to feed your baby healthy food is vital to giving them the best start in life.
As your baby grows and develops, they will need additional nutrients from sources other than breast milk or formula. Introducing your baby to healthy foods early will also teach them good eating habits, and will get them used to eating (and enjoying) a variety of them – even if they make a whole lot of mess in the process!
Birth to around 6 months
Breast milk is the best food for your baby as it provides all the important nutrients your baby needs until they are around 6 months of age.
Breastfeeding is best for babies as helps build a strong connection between mum and baby, helps your baby fight sickness and also helps prevent health problems in the future.
If breastfeeding is not possible, you should use an infant formula until your baby is around 12 months of age.
Around 6 months (but not before 4 months)
Your baby is now ready to try new ways of feeding, including trying solid foods. Solid foods are important at this stage because babies need extra nutrients, like iron, to support growth and development. Solid foods can also help your baby learn to eat, develop their teeth and jaws, allow them to experience new tastes and textures, and build skills they’ll need for language development.
You can start trying solid foods if your baby:
- Can hold their head up with no support.
- Can sit upright with help, such as in a high chair.
- Shows an interest in food by reaching out for food or looking at foods you’re eating.
- Does not stick out their tongue when offered food, but opens their mouth.
- Seems hungry even after a full breastfeed or bottle.
It’s important to remember that all babies are different, and your baby’s readiness for food may come earlier or later than others.
If you are concerned about your baby’s readiness for food, you should speak with a child health nurse, your GP, a dietitian or other health professional.
What are the first steps?
- Offer your baby small amounts (a half a teaspoon to start) of pureed foods from a soft spoon first. This may be after a breastfeed, bottle feed or while you’re having your own meal.
- Because all babies are different and develop at their own pace, some babies won’t swallow food straight away. It’s perfectly normal for babies to reject food in the beginning or spit it out, because after all, it’s all new and they are only learning.
- Don’t give up if progress is slow (and it probably will be!). Be patient and just keep trying.
- As your baby becomes used to solid food, gradually increase the amount you offer.
Which foods should I try first?
Foods high in iron should be the first you try with your baby. These can include:
- Iron-fortified baby cereal. Make into a smooth puree by adding breast milk or formula and mixing.
- Well-cooked and pureed meat, poultry and fish (with no bones) and eggs. You can also add water and/or cooked vegies like potato, sweet potato, pumpkin and carrot. Blend until smooth.
- Cooked and pureed legumes, beans or tofu. Examples include baked beans (with no added salt), chickpeas, butter beans, red kidney beans and lentils. You can also add water and/or cooked veges like potato, sweet potato, pumpkin and carrot. Blend until smooth.
Around 8 months
At this stage, your baby can be trying different tastes and textures and eating a variety of foods from the five food groups, which are:
- Meat and meat alternatives
- Grain (Cereals)
These foods can be introduced in any order. To help your baby progress and develop, gradually advance from pureed to minced or mashed foods, and then to finger foods, which will allow them to self-feed. Make way for mess!
Which foods should I try next?
- Meat and meat alternatives. Lean meats are best and you should cut off any fat. For example: pureed tuna or salmon, flaked fish, well cooked eggs, hummus, pureed legumes, strips of cooked chicken, small meat balls, nut paste/butter.
- Vegetables. Cook hard vegetables until soft and then puree or mash. For example: pureed pumpkin, mashed sweet potato, cucumber slices, sliced tomato, soft vegetable sticks.
- Fruit. Choose soft, fresh fruit or cook hard fruit until soft. For example: pureed pear, mashed banana, mashed avocado, mango cubes, chopped strawberries, mandarin pieces, grapes cut in half, plums and nectarines (with the skins and stones removed).
- Grain foods and cereals. Choose wholegrain or high fibre options. For example: Baby rice cereal, oats (porridge), toast fingers, soft cooked pasta
- Dairy. Full-cream products are best for children younger than 2 years of age. For example: plain natural yoghurt, fruit mixed with yoghurt, cheese slices, grated cheese, cottage cheese, tzatziki.
Foods to avoid
Just because your baby is ready to start solid foods, doesn’t mean they’re ready to try all foods. Some foods can make babies sick as they are not ready to digest them. Other foods don’t provide enough essential nutrients for your baby’s growth and development. Do not give your baby:
- Honey (if younger than 12 months)
- Raw milk (unpasteurised)
- Cow’s milk (if younger than 12 months) (but can be used as an ingredient mixed into a meal)
- Skim or fat-free milk
- Other milks (like soy, goat’s, sheep’s, coconut or almond)
- Fruit juice, cordial, soft drinks or energy drinks
- Teas, herbal drinks, coffee or drinking chocolate
- Whole nuts (nut paste only)
- Salt and salty foods, including processed meats, stock, soy sauce or canned foods with added salt. Also, never add salt to your baby’s food
12 months and beyond
Once they reach their first birthday, your baby should be having regular meals every day, with small amounts of a variety of textured and nutritious foods. At this age, they can also enjoy the same meals as the rest of the family, but these must be modified to suit them. Watch out for foods that may cause choking and supervise your baby at all times when they are trying new foods.
Important things to remember:
- Breastfeeding can continue for as long as you and your baby like.
- After 12 months of age, infant formula is not required. Your baby can now start having full-cream cow’s milk.
- Be careful not to fill your baby up on too much milk. This might make them miss out on other important foods because they are too full. Try offering them full-cream milk in a cup instead of a bottle, and aim for no more than 500ml a day.
- Little babies have little tummies! That’s why small, but regular meals should be offered. Try three small main meals and one or two small snacks each day.
- There is no need to add salt or sugar to your baby’s food.
- If your baby refuses a food, try again the next day. It can take 8-10 times of tasting (sometimes more) for a food to be happily accepted.
Australian Breastfeeding Association – Breastfeeding information
Australian Breastfeeding Association – Younger mothers and breastfeeding
World Health Organisation – Breastfeeding
World Health Organisation – 10 facts about Breastfeeding
Government of Western Australia – Department of Health – Baby’s first foods
Tasmanian Government – Department of Health and Human Services – Start Them Right – A parent’s guide for under 5’s
Health conditions directory – Introducing complementary foods: Feeding from around 6 months
Children’s Health Queensland – Baby’s first foods
Children’s Health Queensland – Good start to life – First year of life (for Maori and Pacific Islander)
Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy – Food allergies
Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy – Guidelines for infant feeding and allergy prevention
Did you know?
Breastmilk adapts to your baby’s changing needs as they get older and even changes during a feed – the first milk is thirst-quenching, and the later milk is rich, creamy and full of good fats.