When to start
Which foods and how much?
Guide to feeding solids
Foods to avoid
Gagging or choking?
In years gone by, many parents and health professionals recommended introducing solids to young babies as early as 3 to 4 months of age. However, it is now recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Australian Dietary Guidelines released by The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), that solids should only be introduced from 6 months of age. If possible, babies should only have breast milk until 6 months. If this is not the case, then a combination of breast milk and infant formula (or formula alone) is all that is required for proper growth and development in the first 6 months.
NOTE: Introducing solids does NOT help your baby sleep through the night, although this is a common myth.
When first introducing solids, be aware that breast milk and/or formula remain the most important part of your baby's diet, especially in the early weeks. Solid foods are initially just an 'extra' for your baby, not their main source of food just yet. If your baby doesn't show much interest at first, wait a week or so before offering solid foods again or try an alternative food if they don't seem to like the one you first offered. If you plan to wean your baby from the breast before 12 months of age, you will need to substitute formula milk until their first birthday. This is explained further in the section on cows milk.
When to start
There are many developmental reasons why giving young babies solid foods should be delayed until 6 months, along with the benefit of helping to reduce the likelihood of allergic reactions, especially in families with a history of allergies or food intolerance.
Babies under 6 months have:
- An immature digestive system which makes it difficult for their bowel to cope with solid foods.
- A natural tongue thrust reflex which causes their tongue to push solid food out of their mouth, rather than swallow it.
Babies from 6 months or older:
- Coordinate chewing and swallowing better, but they don't necessarily need teeth to eat most solid foods .
- Generally have sufficient head control to allow them to swallow safely.
- Start sitting up with assistance (or by themselves), making eating much easier.
You may like to read more in growth and development before 6 months.
Food tastes under 6 months.
Some babies around 4 to 5 months of age show obvious interest in what others around them are eating. Although not necessary, a few parents decide to start giving their baby small 'tastes' of different foods in the weeks before beginning solids in earnest. Take care in what you give your young baby, to help avoid severe food reactions. For example you should not give babies under 12 months honey, peanut butter, strawberries or eggs. Read more in foods to avoid.
Rice cereals added to a bottle.
It is not recommended to add rice cereal to a baby's bottle of breast milk or formula, unless advised by your paediatrician. Rice cereal is made to be eaten as a solid food separately, not as a milk additive.
Babies are born with self-regulating hunger mechanism that lets them know how much food they need. During the early months, their body takes cues from the volume of milk they drink. Adding rice cereal to their bottles of expressed breast milk or formula interferes with this natural hunger mechanism, making babies ingest a deceptively large amount of calories. This may 'teach' your baby's body to overeat. When starting solids and using a spoon, your baby rests between mouthfuls and then stops when they feel full, allowing them to develop good eating habits to take them into older years.
Premature babies can start solids in a similar way to babies born after 37 weeks. However, depending on how early your baby was born (less than 34 weeks), they may not be ready to sit up and eat finger foods or a wide range of solid foods until 9 to 12 months or so. Be guided by your baby and how they are progressing.
To prepare for introducing solids to your baby, you will need a teaspoon with smooth edges, an unbreakable dish (some have suction caps on the base to adhere to the table); baby bibs to save food soiling their clothes and some face washers to clean your baby's face and hands when finished. If you don't have something to sit your baby in, you may start with sitting them on your lap or in a baby chair then progressing to a high chair.
Eating food is a new skill and a totally new sensation. Many babies love feeling and playing with different food textures and may initially spit it out (or as they get older throw the food, plate or spoon). This is normal, so be prepared for a mess with food on your baby, in their hair and spillage on the highchair and floor, as well as perhaps on you! You may wish to spread some newspaper or plastic sheeting under your baby's chair or use an area that is easily cleaned when giving your baby solids in the early months.
Updated December 2007
Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council. Dietary Guidelines for all Australians. 2003, ref N29 - N34.
Australian Breastfeeding Association
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand
Barker, R. Baby Love, Everything you need to know about your new baby (fully revised and updated), 2005, Pan Macmillan Australia.
World Health Organisation (2002), The Optimal Duration of Exclusive Breastfeeding - Report of an Expert Consultation, Geneva, Switzerland, 28 - 30 March 2001.
Related feeding articles
Baby food recipes
Last revised: Friday, 21 December 2012
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.