When should I introduce solid foods to my baby?
Your baby only needs breast milk or infant formula for the first 6 months.
At around 6 months old, most babies – whether they are breast or formula fed – need more iron as well as other nutrients, such as zinc and protein. A baby's iron stores, which build up while they're in the uterus, become low by 6 months. Their body also demands extra kilojoules and nutrient-dense food.
The current recommendation is to introduce solids at around 6 months but not before 4 months. Each baby is an individual and will show signs of readiness for solid foods at different times. However, all babies benefit from having solid foods by 7 months of age.
Babies also need solid foods, as well as breast milk or formula, to satisfy their hunger and meet their extra growth needs.
How will I know my baby is ready for solids?
Start with small amounts of soft, iron-rich, pureed foods. Your baby can be offered any food, in any order, as long as it is the right texture (see below) and is nutritious.
Your baby is ready for solids when they can:
- sit upright in a highchair with their head and back unsupported
- they're not as satisfied with their milk and seem hungry after they've been breast or bottle fed
- might show an interest in the food you're eating and reach out to eat some, as well
- show excitement about food
- open their mouth as you offer them a spoon
Why can't I give my baby solid foods before 6 months?
Babies need to be developmentally ready to eat solid foods. Learning how to move food from the front of the tongue to the back of the mouth then swallow is a skill that needs practice.
Until 4 to 6 months of age, babies still have a 'tongue extrusion reflex' – this means they push food out of their mouth with their tongue. Giving solids before 4 to 6 months can be a choking risk. Until they're old enough, babies only know how to suck and swallow milk, not how to move more solid textures to the back of their mouth to be swallowed.
Giving solids before your baby is ready can also mean they fills up on solids and won't drink the milk they need to grow and thrive.
For how long should I keep breastfeeding or bottle feeding?
Breastfeeding or formula feeding should continue until your baby is 12 months old. After that, water and cow's milk served in a cup should be your baby's main drinks. Cow’s milk should be limited to around 500ml per day. Some babies can have an intolerance or allergy to cow's milk, so they may need an alternative, such as soy. Follow your doctor's or allergy specialist's advice and read food labels carefully.
Breastfeeding can continue for as long as you and your baby are happy to keep going, but infant formula is not needed after 12 months.
Read more about balancing solids with milk feeds.
Can I give my baby 'allergy foods'?
Allergy foods are foods or drink that can trigger an allergic reaction. Common allergenic foods are peanut butter, cow's milk, wheat, egg, fish, shellfish, tree nuts (such as almonds and hazelnuts), sesame and soy.
The best time to introduce allergy foods is when you are introducing solids. It is also recommended that you introduce allergy foods before your baby reaches 12 months old. Leaving it until they are older may increase the chance of your baby developing an allergy.
If you're concerned that your baby could have a food allergy, speak to your healthcare provider.
Learn more here about how to introduce allergy foods.
How to start introducing solids
Solid foods can be introduced in any order as long as they are iron-rich and the food is the right texture. Look for signs that your baby's ready for solids.
There is no clear recommendation about the best time of day to offer first solids. But it can be helpful to give your baby solids after a milk feed, mid-morning, so if they're unsettled, it's less likely to impact their night-time sleep.
If you find your baby loves solid foods so much that they're cutting back on their breastfeeds or bottle feeds, reduce the amount of solids you're offering. Breastmilk or infant formula is still an important source of nutrition for the first 9 to 12 months of life.
What are the best foods and textures to start with?
Offer your baby healthy, nutritious foods which will support their growth and development. When they first start on solid foods, they won't need much. One to 2 teaspoons is plenty until they learn what's involved in coordinating their mouth to open, chew and swallow.
Start by offering your baby pureed foods that have a smooth and easy-to-swallow texture. Even though your baby won't have teeth to chew and grind their food, they will still use their gums to 'chew'. As they get older, they can eat foods with more texture. Chewing also helps with jaw and speech development.
You can try feeding your baby:
- iron-fortified cereals
- pureed or minced red or white meat, including fish
- cooked vegetables. Aim for white, orange, green and yellow vegetables in their diet each day.
- fruit, either cooked or mashed
- cooked and mashed egg
- dairy foods — for example, unsweetened yoghurt and full-fat cheese
- wholegrain bread, cereal and pasta
As your baby grows, transition them from purees to mashed foods with lumps and textures. You can also serve minced or chopped food, then 'finger foods'. These are foods that are cut into small pieces which babies can pick up and eat themselves.
How important is variety?
Aim for variety when it comes to your baby's foods. Colour, texture and taste are all important characteristics of first foods.
Where possible, cook and prepare your baby's foods so you know what's in them. Aim for fresh fruits and vegetables, cooked with a minimum of water until they are soft enough to chew. Freeze small containers or ice-cube trays containing freshly cooked meals.
Most babies show some hesitation when offered new foods and textures. It's worth reoffering foods a few times until they show interest or it's clear they're not keen and would prefer something else.
Share suitable food from your own plate and get into the habit of offering your baby different tastes. Avoid adding salt or strong-tasting additives or spices to your baby's food. Their taste buds are very sensitive and can detect even the most subtle flavours. By around 12 months old, most babies should be eating mostly the same food as the rest of the family.
Are there any foods my baby shouldn't eat?
There are some foods that are not suitable for infants, including:
- cow's milk as their main milk drink from 6 to 12 months
- reduced-fat milk or unpasteurized milk and dairy foods
- whole nuts, popcorn, hard sweets, whole grapes, raw carrot, raw apples or other hard fruit and vegetables
- honey — this can contain spores of botulism and should not be given to babies under 12 months
- cordial, soft drink or sweet drinks
- tea, coffee or energy drinks
When can my baby have water to drink?
Once your baby has reached 6 months, they're old enough to be offered water to drink. Cooled, boiled water can be offered in a sippy cup at mealtimes and in-between.
As long as a breastfed or bottle-fed baby is offered plenty of milk, they don't need extra water to drink. It's the practice of drinking from a cup which is useful.
Is a vegetarian or vegan diet safe for my baby?
Babies and toddlers fed a vegetarian or vegan diet can thrive as long as their food contains sufficient energy (kilojoules) and nutrients for growth.
Iron is especially important from 6 months. Nut pastes (such as peanut butter), avocado, wholegrains, tofu, healthy fats and oils are all great options. Iron-fortified cereal and green leafy vegetables are also essential.
If you are planning to offer your baby a vegan or vegetarian diet, speak to an Accredited Practising Dietitian before getting started.
Which is better – bought or homemade food?
Many babies eat a combination of homemade and bought food. Store-bought food is convenient and easy to prepare. It's also handy for when you are not at home or travelling. When buying store-bought food for your baby, read the labels and try to avoid foods that are high in sugar and salt.
Although making your own food might be a bit time-consuming, the advantage is you know what's in it. Making one big batch and freezing in portions will go along way. Homemade food will help your baby become familiar with family cooked meals. You can serve small portions of meals made for the rest of the family before any salt or spices have been added. Making your own baby food is also more affordable.
Where can I go for more information?
For more information on how to introduce solid foods, check with your child health nurse, or call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to talk to a maternal child health nurse.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: September 2020