introducing first foods
The Department of Health recommends introducing complementary feeding at around six months.
Complementary feeding, or weaning, is the gradual introduction of solid foods to a baby’s diet. For the first 6 months, breastmilk or infant formula provide all the nutrients a baby needs except vitamin D, but as they get older, they need more nutrients and energy from food to help them grow and develop well.
During this time, babies experience new tastes and textures to help them develop new feeding skills. This booklet will help to guide you as you introduce your baby to their first foods and beyond.
When is it best
Let your baby guide you. Start at around 6 months, when your baby is showing these 3 signs that they are ready:
- They can sit with support and hold their head steady
- They like to watch others eating
- They put toys and other objects in their mouth
Introduce these foods around 6 months and one by one:
- milk and dairy foods
- foods containing wheat or gluten
- smooth peanut butter and other nut butters
- well cooked fish and shellfish
If your child tolerates these foods and shows no signs of allergy, keep offering them as part of your baby’s regular diet to minimise the risk of developing a food allergy.
If your baby was born prematurely, ask their medical team for guidance. The appropriate age for introducing first foods will depend on how prematurely your baby was born.
See www.bliss.org.uk for further information on weaning premature babies.
Consult your health visitor if you have concerns about allergy.
Foods that can cause allergies (e.g. milk, eggs, nuts, wheat, soya, fish, sesame), and foods containing these ingredients, should be introduced one at a time giving the food each day for 3 days so you can spot a reaction. If your baby has moderate to severe eczema, speak to your healthcare professional before introducing foods from the list above.
Soya-based infant formula and soya products should only be used if advised by your healthcare professional, as babies who are allergic to cow’s milk may also have other allergies.
Choking is rare in young babies
But take care before giving foods to your baby.
- Peel and lightly cook hard fruits and vegetables e.g. apples and carrots
- Cut small round foods in half e.g. grapes or cherry tomatoes
- Cut cheese into sticks rather than cubes
- Remove any stones or pips
- Remove skin and bones from fish, meat and meat products e.g. chicken.
Always stay with your baby when they are eating in case they start to choke.
Allow your baby to feed themselves using their fingers, as soon as they show an interest.
It can get messy but this is an important part of your baby’s development.
Offer water in a lidded cup without a valve with all meals.
Continue to offer breastmilk or formula milk feeds but allow your baby to gradually reduce the amount of milk drunk as he or she starts eating more food.
Never leave your baby alone with a bottle, or give one to help with sleep, as it could cause choking.
Only breastmilk or infant formula should be given as a main drink for under-ones. As babies start to eat more solid food, they will want fewer milk feeds so you can drop them gradually.
‘Follow-on’ formula can be introduced only after 6 months but it is not necessary to move your baby on to these milks.
Whole cow’s milk can be given as a drink once your child is 1 year old.
Milk-based puddings like yogurt or rice pudding are good milky options.
You may choose to continue giving your baby breastmilk alongside family foods for as long as it suits you and baby.
Milk-like drinks are not nutritionally similar to cow’s milk, and may be low in protein and other important nutrients. If your little one has a cow’s milk allergy, speak to a Registered Dietitian for advice.
Rice drinks aren’t suitable for children under 5 because of the levels of arsenic they may contain. Other alternatives to cow’s milk may be served after your child is 1 year old.
Offer your baby 3 meals a day, in addition to breastmilk or formula.
Infants of this age should still be given milk feeds responsively, but may want about four feeds a day.
They will be having a mixture of soft finger foods, mashed and chopped foods.
Each day try to give your baby a variety of foods including:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Starchy foods (e.g. potatoes, rice, pasta, couscous, quinoa and bread)
- Meat, fish (well-cooked, no bones), well-cooked eggs, pulses (peas, beans or lentils and nut butters)
- Whole milk and dairy products. Foods made from whole milk, such as unsweetened yogurt, fromage frais and custard. Whole milk can be used in cooking or added to other foods such as cereal.
Your baby can join in with the family by eating 3 meals a day by their first birthday.
Try and make their diet as varied as possible.
Whole milk can now be introduced as a main drink. Milk should be given in a cup.
Each day, try to give your child:
- Starchy foods at each meal (e.g. potatoes, pasta, rice, couscous, quinoa, bread)
- A variety of protein 2 servings of meat, fish eggs, beans and lentils or nut butters
- Fruit and vegetables Encourage your child to try lots of different fruit and veg. Include them in all meals. Try adding banana or grated apple to breakfast cereal or carrots or red pepper to pasta sauces to boost servings
- Whole milk and dairy 3 servings a day as a drink, in milk-based dishes, or as cheese, yogurt or fromage frais.
Keep all utensils and surfaces clean.
Wash your hands and your baby’s hands before meals.
Thoroughly wash all bowls and spoons for feeding.
Peel or wash fruit and veg.
Throw away half-eaten food.
When heating up food, always stir it well and make sure it’s steaming all the way through.
Cooked food can be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours but do not reheat it more than once.
Cook all food thoroughly and check the temperature before offering food to your baby.