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July 11, 2016

Starting your baby on solids is an exciting new phase, but knowing exactly when and how to go about it can be confusing. Dietitian Robyn Coetzee shares some tricks of the trade.

 5 things you might not know about starting solids

  1. Adding a little breast milk or formula to new foods can be a good way to ease your baby into becoming accustomed to new flavours and textures.
  2. The environment in which you feed your baby can have a big impact on their experience of eating and in turn lead to food likes and dislikes and fussy eating in the future. Try to be as calm and enthusiastic about the new food as possible. If you don’t like a food and your baby picks up on this, they are unlikely to take to it positively. Don’t worry about mess until after your baby has finished eating, particularly spills on their face. Repeatedly scraping your baby’s face clean can be a negative experience for them if it causes them pain.
  3. Some people think starting solid food early will help a baby sleep better, but this isn’t necessarily true. Your baby might want to start putting their hands or toys in their mouth, or have a growth spurt and want to feed more at around three months. This is normal and not necessarily an indicator that they’re ready for solids.
  4. Your baby has simple tastes, which adapt quickly. There’s no need to add salt, sugar, honey, sweeteners, butter, margarine, soy sauce or cream to foods for your baby. This can set up bad eating habits that are difficult to break!
  5. Avoid honey until your baby is at least 12 months old. This is because of the risk of bacteria that can be found in honey and could make your baby sick.

Top tips for starting solids

  • It’s best to offer solids when your baby is relaxed and happy.
  • When starting solids, it’s important to give baby their usual breast milk or formula feed first and offer solids as a ‘top up’.
  • Breast milk or infant formula is still your baby’s main source of nutrition until eight to nine months old. You could then start to offer solid foods first, followed by breast milk or formula. Your baby will continue to need breast milk or infant formula until they are at least 12 months old to ensure they’re getting all the nutrients they need.
  • Start small and build on things slowly. Try half to two teaspoons first and gradually increase the amount they are having.
  • Try one new food every two to four days  if your baby has a reaction to a food, this makes it easier to pinpoint what it might be from. Talk to your doctor if you suspect an allergy or have a family history of allergy.
  • If your baby doesn’t like a food the first time, don’t stop there! Try again with a smaller amount in a few days. Babies are used to just one flavour (breast milk or formula) so it can take time for them to become familiar with new flavours from different foods. It can take up to 15 exposures to a new food in a relaxed environment before some babies will accept it.
  • Start with plain, smooth, pureed single foods first. Build in new flavours, different combinations of foods and textures slowly.
  • Your baby is likely to be ready for mashed foods, finger foods and new flavours and textures from around seven to eight months.  Watch for signs that they are starting to pick up and put food in their mouths when feeding, starting to show some teeth, starting to bite and chew and can sit up on their own without support.
  • The best drinks for your baby are breast milk or infant formula and water. Avoid giving them any other types of drinks

The basics

Starting solids is an exciting developmental milestone for your baby and you can have fun exploring what they like and don’t like! The Ministry of Health recommends starting solids at around six months. It’s important to watch for signs that your baby is ready to start solids. These might include when your baby:

  • seems hungry after breast milk or formula feeds
  • can hold their head up on their own and sit with less help from you
  • starts putting their hands, feet and other objects in their mouth frequently
  • is interested in food and is starting to make chewing movements
  • opens their mouth easily when something touches their lips or as food approaches
  • can keep food in their mouth and swallow it and doesn’t stick their tongue out to push food away.

Preparing food

Always make sure your hands, the surface and utensils you use are clean before preparing food for your baby.

Remove the skins and seeds from fruit and vegetables before you cook or puree them and make sure meat, chicken and fish are well cooked. Once cooked, use a blender or push food through a fine sieve. Add expressed breast milk or formula to make the food runny enough for your baby to swallow. You can freeze homemade foods in clean sealed containers (try lidded ice cube trays) but be sure to use them within three to four weeks.

Meal ideas

Your baby’s iron needs increase at around six months. Make sure to include iron-fortified infant cereal or baby rice and pureed meats or legumes, followed by vitamin C-rich fruit and vegetables that aid iron absorption.

Some ideas for good first foods for your baby include:

  • iron-fortified infant cereal or baby rice
  • cooked and pureed meat, chicken, fish or legumes
  • pureed fruit (remove pips, seeds and skin first and cook hard fruits first to soften them)
  • cooked and pureed vegetables (without peels) such as potato, kumara, pumpkin or cassava.

Once your baby is comfortable with plain pureed foods, you can start to try combinations of foods such as:

  • cooked and pureed meat and spinach with expressed breast milk or formula
  • cooked and pureed chicken and pumpkin with expressed breast milk or formula
  • cooked and pureed lentils and carrot with expressed breast milk or formula. 

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