Starting Solid Food
The first time a baby eats solid foods is a new chapter in your baby’s life and can be both exciting and a little scary. The good thing is that if you wait until your baby shows that they are ready, it will be much easier for you and them. Every baby learns key skills in the same order, but at their own unique pace, so it is important not to compare your baby with another. To begin with, it is more about babies exploring the feel and taste of food, rather than about the amount they eat. In the first year, they will still get most of their nutrients from breastmilk or first infant formula as they are learning to take solid food.
Starting Solid Food Workshops take place at a range of Islington locations. Contact your local Bright Start team for more information:
Bright Start Central - sessions alternate between online and at Willow Children's Centre every 2nd Monday of the month. To book contact: 020 7527 8465 or email@example.com
Bright Start North - sessions at Willow Children's Centre starting Thursday 25 January 2024, 12.45-2.15pm. To book contact 020 7527 8441 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Bright Start South - 3rd Tuesday of the month starting Tuesday 16 January, 2-3pm. To book contact 020 7527 4089 or email email@example.com
To find out about Children's Centres and Bright Start Services and Drop-Ins running this term, please refer to the Bright Start timetable.
Why wait till around 6 months?
- Your baby begins to need nutrients from solid foods as well as milk.
- Their body systems are mature enough to digest and use solid food.
- They can move food around their mouth with their tongue.
- They can cope with lumpier foods.
Signs of readiness to try solids when your baby:
- can stay in a sitting position with minimal support and hold their head steady.
- reaches out to hold small objects, takes them to their mouth and chews on them.
- can swallow some food, rather than pushing it all out with their tongue.
Your baby also can:
- copy what others are doing.
- feed themselves finger foods, learn to use a spoon, and start to drink from a cup.
- indicate “Enough” by closing mouth, pushing food away or turning their face away.
- react to new foods by screwing up their face and spitting food out. This does not mean your baby does not like these foods just that they are a new taste; offer again so your baby gets used to the taste.
- your baby’s gag reflex helps them eat safely.
They only have a small stomach, so only need small portions of food
What food/fluids to give your baby
- breastmilk – it continues to give lots of nutrients and protection to your baby for as long as you continue -
or, if not fully breastfeeding,
- first infant formula is still the best formula for your baby. ‘Follow-on’ or other formulas are not necessary or helpful. Your baby may also take water in a cup from the mains tap.
As your baby takes more solids, they will gradually take less milk.
From the beginning offer a variety of foods from the different food groups:
- Softly cooked or raw vegetables (e.g. broccoli, avocado, parsnip) or fruit (e.g. pear) - starting once a day and increasing gradually to 5 times a day by 1 year. Introduce vegetables before fruit to get your baby used to a wider range of flavours beyond the sweet taste of fruit.
- Starchy foods (e.g. rice, potatoes, pasta, chapatti, bread or toast) - starting once a day and increasing gradually to 4 times daily by 1 year.
- Protein foods: cooked beans and pulses like lentils (dhal) and peas, eggs, strips of tender meat, chicken, fish, once at first then up to 2-3 times a day by 1 year.
- Dairy foods, like cheese, yoghurt, tzatziki or raita, white or cheese sauce, fromage frais or custard – once at first, then up to 3 times a day by 1 year as they take less milk.
- Continue giving Healthy Start vitamin drops.
- Foods with added salt and sugar. Read food labels carefully.
- Pouches of baby food as a regular food. If using a pouch, do not let your baby suck from the spout but instead use a spoon to feed your baby.
- Whole nuts until 5 years (you can use nut butters without added salt or sugar or as an ingredient).
- Honey (up to the age of 12 months).
- Eggs that do not have the Lion mark.
- Reduced calorie or low fat foods.
- High fibre foods, which fill up baby’s stomach too quickly.
- Tea or coffee, as they reduce iron absorption and contain caffeine.
- Dairy and alternatives as a drink, such as rice, oat, soya milk or cow’s milk. Full fat cow’s milk or unsweetened calcium fortified non-dairy milk alternatives such as soya, nut, oat, coconut or hemp alternatives can be used in cooking, such as in sauces from 6 months. Avoid using sweetened versions and rice milk.
When and how to feed your baby
Offer a little food to your baby when they show interest, preferably some of what you are eating yourself, as long as it is suitable. Avoid times when they are particularly hungry or tired. Sit them up to eat and stay with them.
- Offer finger foods for your baby to pick up in their hands to eat. Finger- shaped pieces of food work best, as babies scoop them into their fist and eat what sticks out. At around 8-9 months, they begin to be able to pick up smaller pieces of food with their thumb and forefinger. You can also offer soft or mashed foods on a spoon, although your baby will soon be able to do it for themselves. Avoid pouches of baby food – they don’t help your baby chew or recognise foods, are low in nutrients and increase risk of tooth decay.
- Cut up any small round foods like cherry tomatoes, strawberries, grapes or sausage to reduce the risk of choking.
- Allow your baby to show you how much they want and how often. Start with just a few pieces of finger food or a few teaspoons of food. Your baby will gradually begin to take more as they get older, so that by 1 year you are offering 3 small meals and 2 healthy snacks.
- Work towards increasingly lumpy foods. By 12-months babies should be eating healthy home-cooked family foods with all the different textures.
- Start using a free-flow, non-valved cup (if you turn it upside down, the water comes out) to give water and then any formula. This helps babies learn to sip, developing the muscles used in talking. Cups also make tooth decay less likely.
Choking and gagging
A baby’s gag reflex is nature’s way of stopping babies from swallowing food that has not been chewed adequately. It brings food back to the front or out of the mouth. Your baby may turn red in the face and may cough and splutter, but they will usually continue to eat and be less bothered by it than you are. Make sure that your baby is sitting upright when eating so that the food can fall forward out of the mouth. As your baby gets older and more confident, they will gag less. If your baby gags frequently or you are concerned, discuss this with your health visitor.
Choking is when something completely or partially blocks the airway and is therefore different from gagging. It is often silent, which is why it is important to stay with your baby while he is eating. It’s also worth looking out for baby first aid sessions in your area so that you know what to do if your baby chokes.
Evidence suggests that the best way to avoid food allergy is to introduce your baby to the foods most likely to cause allergy (cow’s milk, egg, fish, peanuts and other nuts, sesame, shellfish, soy, wheat) when starting solid food, and not wait until later to give these foods to them. If you have a family history of allergy, you may choose to introduce those foods one at a time, in small amounts. If you are concerned, you may want to introduce these foods at a time when someone else is with you.