introducing first foods
The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.
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 provides all the nutrients a baby needs, but as they get older, they need more nutrients from food to help them grow and develop well.
During this time, babies will begin to experience a range of new tastes and textures. This booklet will help to guide you as you begin to introduce your baby to their first foods.
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 are able to stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady
- They can coordinate lifting food and putting it in their mouth
- They can swallow food and not push it back out.
Introduce these foods one by one and not before your baby is 6 months old:
- milkand dairy food
- foods containing wheat or gluten
- nuts and peanuts
- fish and shellfish
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. eggs, wheat, nuts, soya, seeds, fish, milk), and foods containing these ingredients, should be introduced one at a time with 2-3 days in between so you can spot a reaction. If there is a family history of food allergy, 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.
Foods that could cause choking
- To prevent choking, and before giving foods to your baby:
- Peel and lightly cook hard fruits and vegetables e.g. apples and carrots
- Slice small round foods e.g. grapes or cherry tomatoes
- Cut cheese into sticks rather than cubes
- Remove any stones or pips
- Remove all skin and bones from meat and meat products e.g. sausages and 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.
Water should be offered with all meals.
Continue to offer breastmilk or formula throughout the day.
Gradually reduce milk feeds as your baby 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 contain. Other alternatives to cow’s milk can be served after your child is 1 year old.
You may 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. bread, rice, pasta and potatoes)
- Meat, fish (well-cooked, no bones), well-cooked eggs, pulses (peas, beans or lentils)
- Whole milk and dairy products. Dairy products made from whole milk, such as unsweetened yogurt, fromage frais and custard. Small amounts of 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 3 to 4 servings (e.g. potatoes, pasta, rice, bread)
- A variety of protein 2 servings of meat, fish or alternative protein sources (e.g. beans and lentils)
- Fruit and vegetables Encourage your child to try lots of different fruit and veg. Aim for 5 servings a day. 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 should not be reheated more than once.
Cook all food thoroughly and check the temperature before offering food to your baby.