healthychildprogramme

The best time to start introducing solids is at 6 months.

Before this, your baby’s digestive system is still immature and developing, and introducing solids too early can increase the risk of infections and allergies. It is also easier to do this at 6 months.

Starting your baby on solids before 6 months will not necessarily make them sleep through the night. There is no evidence to support this.

For information on Healthy Start click here

Unicef Start for Life Introducing Solid Foods Leaflet

Please explore the following sections for more information:

Introducing solids to babies is recommended at aged 6 months due to the development of their digestive organs and up to this age they can get all the nutrition they need from their own stored supplies and milk, whether breast or formula. It is not recommended to start weaning before babies are 17 weeks old, again due to their internal organ development and early weaning is also reported to be linked to increased allergies. Babies also have a tongue thrusting reflex that helps to protect them against choking and by 6 months they have mastered new skills to enable them to pass food from the front to the back of their months and swallow allowing them to commence baby led weaning.

Your baby is ready if they can:

  • stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady
  • co-ordinate their eyes, hand and mouth so that they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth all by themselves
  • swallow food. Babies who are not ready will push their food back out, so they get more round their face than they do in their mouths

These signs do not usually appear together before 6 months of age.

Getting started
  • Make sure your baby is sitting up straight so that they are able to explore foods better and are less likely to choke.
  • Allow your baby to enjoy touching and holding the food.
  • Always stay with your baby when they’re eating in case they choke.
  • Never force your baby to eat, just wait until the next time if they are not interested this time.
  • As soon as your baby shows an interest allow them to hold the food and feed themselves.
  • If you’re using a spoon, wait for your baby to open their mouth before you offer the food.  Your baby may like to hold a spoon too..
  • Start by offering just a few pieces or teaspoons of food, once a day.
  • If the food is hot, allow it to cool and test if before giving it to your baby.
  • Don’t add salt, sugar or stock cubes to your baby’s food or cooking water.

Click here for more information about starting your baby on solid foods.

Click here to read the Unicef Start for Life booklet introducing-solid-foods

Eating together
  • Enjoy mealtimes together.
  • Babies will enjoy watching you eat and learn from being a part of family meal times.
  • Help them join in by talking to them and giving them food when you or the rest of the family is eating.
  • Try to have mealtimes around the same time every day, this can make it easier for your baby to know when to expect to eat.
Healthy eating starts here

Babies like the food they get used to so try to give them as many different, healthy foods as you can – this way they are more likely to continue eating them as they grow up. It’s a good habit to get into and will hopefully make your life easier as they get older.

Try not to give your baby foods or drinks with added sugar, salt or fatty foods as this will make them more likely to want them as they get older.

At first you will need to allow plenty of time for eating. Rushing or forcing your baby could lead to problems.

  • Be led by your baby and go at their pace
  • Stop when your baby shows you they have had enough
  • Do not make your baby finish a portion if they don’t want it

Most babies will indicate when they are full up by:

  • pushing the food away
  • turning their head away
  • spitting it out
  • crying
  • refusing to open their mouth
When they are young it is better to offer them smaller more frequent meals and healthy snacks.

Be prepared for mess! Feeding can get messy but this is an important part of your baby’s development.

You can always cover the floor with newspaper or a protective mat to make cleaning up easier.

Show them

Babies will copy their parents and other children and will want to eat what you eat. You can help them by showing them that you eat healthier foods.

Some babies will like soft foods and some prefer finger foods and it may take a while for them to accept one or the other. You can try either method or both together. If they don’t take food one way try the other and it they take neither leave it a few days and retry.

Babies weaned after 6 months are far less likely to choke and gag on food as they sit up for their food. Babies also have a tongue thrusting reflex that helps to protect them against choking and by 6 months they have mastered new skills to enable them to pass food from the front to the back of their months and swallow allowing them to commence baby led weaning.

Baby led weaning can be enjoyable if approached without expectation and is relaxed.

Finger foods to include easy to eat food that they can pick up and eat by themselves, that will mush easily, melt in the mouth but can be gummed, for example:

  • small chunks/fingers of cheese, lightly toasted bread or bagels
  • well cooked – cauliflower, broccoli florets, potato, sweet potato, carrot, butter nut squash, parsnips
  • soft fruits like pear, cooked apples, banana, mango, plum-ripe, papaya, avocado- seedless and peeled

Click here to read the Unicef Start for Life Introducing Solid Foods Leaflet

  • From 6 months old for babies it is recommended to give a small amount of food prior to their milk, but if they are very hungry it is best to offer the milk and attempt giving food at another time. The pace of eating should be determined by the baby and they will let you know when they don’t want anymore. They may also be fussy about the tastes and textures they will eat, so any food a baby refuses can be tried again on another day, as it does not mean they will not eat this food in the future. Babies enjoy holding food and baby utensils, and sitting up they start leading the meal time activity, though usually messily. It is reported that babies who are solely spoon fed tend to eat more than those using the ‘baby led’ method and can be fussier eaters. However, a combination of spooned and finger foods can give parents the confidence that their baby has the right nutritional requirements for their age.
  • By the time a baby is 7 to 9 months they may well be taking three meals a day but still have about 600mls of milk. Water can be offered in an open cup or free flow cup with meals from 6 months old. Their supply of iron and zinc that was built up in pregnancy will start to dwindle at this age so it is important to offer foods that contain these.
  • At aged 10 to 12 months the babies may still be taking 450mls of milk a day, but the majority of nutrition will now come from food. Babies like and benefit from social interaction so including them in family meals times will support their eating habits, with them copying behaviours at the table.
  • By the time your baby is 12 months old they will have reduced the amount of milk they drink be drinking no more than 350mls of milk and it is at this time that they can be offered full fat cow’s milk as a drink. There is no research evidence to say that follow on milks are required by children.
  • At the age of 2 a child can be gradually introduces to semi-skimmed milk if they have a good balanced diet, but it is not until they are 5 years old that skimmed milk is recommended. Whereas breastfed babies can continue breastfeeding until they or you want this to stop, and it is often a natural decrease.

Click here to read the Unicef Start for Life Introducing Solid Foods Leaflet

Read our helpful tips

  • Always offer the same food as the other family members and peers wherever possible. It is important not to offer alternative meals, snacks, pudding or favourite drinks (such as milkshakes) if the meal is refused as this can be seen as rewarding your child for poor feeding behaviour.
  • Give clear instructions about what to eat and follow through any consequences you set, for example, your child can have a favourite pudding only if the agreed amount of the main meal has been eaten.
  • Start by offering food you know your child will eat and gradually increase the variety.
  • Ensure meals look attractive and the plate is not piled too high with food as this may put your child off.
  • Allow your child to get messy and explore different foods.
  • Don’t try to trick your child, or force feed them, they need to trust you.
  • Try to ignore challenges such as throwing food.
  • Offer small, regular meals and limit the time taken to about 20 minutes, clear away any uneaten food at the end of this time without commenting on it.
  • Do not give your child too many drinks or snacks as this can fill them up, offer drinks after they have eaten some food rather than directly before mealtimes.

Click here to read the Unicef Start for Life Introducing Solid Foods Leaflet

It is best to give your baby homemade food if possible, with no added salt or sugar.

You can store any unused food in the fridge or it can be frozen. Then you can just reheat the amount that you need.

It is also quicker, easier and a lot cheaper than jars.

Baby food in jars or packets can be handy but portion sizes are often too big and much of it has the same texture. This might stop your baby from liking other foods. That’s why jars are best left for when you don’t have much time or you’re out and about with your baby. Even if the label says from four months, the research reviewed by the World Health Organisation shows that your baby is not usually ready for solid foods until around 6 months of age.

Click here to read the Unicef Start for Life Introducing Solid Foods Leaflet6

At 6 months babies start to require extra calories to sustain growth as they are becoming more active and require extra iron sources in food. Breastfed babies will determine when they want breast milk and there is no set pattern to this, with new born babies feeding on demand very regularly and as they get older in response to their requirements. This control will continue through to eating food, babies will eat as much as they require and will turn their heads, close their mouth or push out foods when they are full and the amounts they eat may vary day to day.

The pace of eating should be determined by the baby and they will let you know when they don’t want anymore. They may also be fussy about the tastes and textures they will eat, so any food a baby refuses can be tried again on another day, as it does not mean they will not eat this food in the future. Babies enjoy holding food and baby utensils, and sitting up they start leading the meal time activity, though usually messily. It is reported that babies who are solely spoon fed tend to eat more than those using the ‘baby led’ method and can be fussier eaters. However, a combination of spooned and finger foods can give parents the confidence that their baby has the right nutritional requirements for their age.

Click here to read the Unicef Start for Life Introducing Solid Foods Leaflet

At 6 months babies are what is going on around them, at meal times seeing family eating and talking. They are curious about what you are eating and ask in their own way for food.
  • Babies are able to hold their head steady.
  • Babies will be able to sit or sit supported.
  • Babies can take food off a spoon using his upper lip and move food to the back of their mouth, and swallow it.
  • Babies can reach out for things and put things in their mouths.
  • Babies can pick up and hold finger food and put it in their own mouth.
  • Babies may be able to hold a spoon but will not be able to guide it well enough to feed themselves.
Babies will make a mess when eating both down their front and around them
Baby led weaning
  • Some babies will like soft foods and some prefer finger foods and it may take a while for them to accept one or the other. You can try either method or both together. If they don’t take food one way try the other and it they take neither leave it a few days and retry.
  • Babies weaned after 6 months are far less likely to choke and gag on food as they sit up for their food.
  • Baby led weaning can be enjoyable if approached without expectation and is relaxed.
  • Finger foods to include easy to eat food that they can pick up and eat by themselves, that will mush easily, melt in the mouth but can be gummed, for example :-
Small chunks/fingers of cheese, lightly toasted bread or bagels. Well cooked – cauliflower, broccoli florets, potato, sweet potato, carrot, butter nut squash, parsnips. Soft fruits like pear, cooked apples, banana, mango, plum-ripe, papaya, avocado- seedless and peeled.
Spoon fed method
  • Use a soft tipped spoon, bib and non- breakable dish
  • Babies can start on mashed food, either cooked vegetables or fruit mixed with breast or formula milk.
  • Don’t force them to take the next spoonful, allow them to open their mouth before offering more food.
  • Babies will only take a few teaspoons once in the day to start with. This will slowly increase until they are eating three meals a day.
Drinks
Introducing a free flow cup or preferably an open top cup with water at mealtimes will encourage your baby to learn to sip rather than suck, which is better for their teeth. The use of a bottle is not recommended after your child is one year old. Teats, spouts and straws encourage children to suck for long periods of time and if they contain drinks other than milk or water this can lead to tooth decay as they have increased contact with their teeth. Non spill cups can be convenient but it is important to teach your child to sip, not suck. It is not advised to add food products to a milk drink.
Drinks under 6 months
  • Breast and formula fed babies receive enough water in their feeds.
  • The only time water is advised is when it is hot weather and this is for formula fed babies. Any water given to a baby under 6 months should be boiled and cooled before offering to your baby.
  • Breastfeeding Mothers are advised to drink more water rather than give it to their babies.
Click here to read the Unicef Start for Life Introducing Solid Foods Leaflet

Allergies can also produce symptoms like, wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and runny nose, itchy skin and rashes, swollen lips and throat, sore, red and itchy eyes, diarrhoea and vomiting. Severe symptoms, known as anaphylaxis, will require emergency medical advice and can be life threatening.

  • It is best to introduce food that is known to cause allergies one at a time, for example eggs, fish and shell fish, wheat, gluten, nuts, seeds, some berries. Though any foods can cause an allergic response or sensitivity.
  • Cows’ milk can be used in cooking from 6 months but should not be given as a drink to your baby until they are over 12 months old. So if you are breastfeeding try to continue until the baby is over 1 years old.
  • If a baby is allergic to cow’s milk they have a higher chance of being allergic to soya milk also.
  • Food containing ‘E’ numbers can cause a variety of reactions in children e.g. hyperactivity.
  • Adding salt to your babies’ food is not advisable as their bodies are not developed enough yet. Adult ready meals and adult gravy also contain salt and are not advised at this age.
  • Adding sugar their food is not advisable as it can affect their teeth development even before they have grown through their gums.
  • Artificial sweeteners are not suitable for babies. They can encourage a sweet tooth.
  • Some fish contain high levels of mercury and should be avoided i.e. shark, swordfish and marlin
  • Hard foods like whole nuts are a choking hazard
  • Honey should not be given to babies under a year old as it can contain bacteria and cause tummy upsets.
  • Babies can have full fat spreads, yoghurts and cheese. Low fat spreads aren’t advised and they require the extra nutrition
  • Foods carrying a risk of food poisoning should be avoided, raw and uncooked shellfish, mould-ripened cheese e.g. brie and camembert, soft/raw eggs.
  • Rice milk is not recommended as it has been found to contain arsenic

Click here to read Unicef Start for Life Introducing Solid Foods Leaflet

 

Introducing solids to babies is recommended at aged 6 months due to the development of their digestive organs and up to this age they can get all the nutrition they need from their own stored supplies and milk, whether breast or formula. It is not recommended to start introducing solids before babies are 17 weeks old, again due to their internal organ development and early weaning is also reported to be linked to increased allergies. Babies also have a tongue thrusting reflex that helps to protect them against choking and by 6 months they have mastered new skills to enable them to pass food from the front to the back of their months and swallow allowing them to commence baby led weaning. At 6 months babies start to require extra calories to sustain growth as they are becoming more active and require extra iron sources in food.

Click here to read the Unicef Start for Life Introducing Solid Foods Leaflet

Fussy eating is very common and most children will go through a phase of it as they grow up. It can often occur during the transition from soft to lumpy foods. It can be seen as part of normal development. Toddlers will refuse food that they have eaten before.

In this phase of development children will try to test the limits and strive for independence. Most children will grow out of the fussy eating, particularly when they start school.

Here are some suggestions about how to conduct mealtimes;

  • The most important thing you can do is to be calm and consistent as possible at mealtimes
  • Don’t worry too much about the combination of foods – remember breakfast cereal doesn’t always need to be kept for breakfast!
  • Meal times should be fun and relaxed, but with rules and structure to help your child learn appropriate behaviour
  • Give plenty of encouragement to your child when they are eating, even when they only eat a little bit, and ignore any unwanted behaviour – children soon learn that good behaviour is a much better way of getting your attention
  • Try to ensure there are no distractions such as TV at mealtimes. Ideally all meals should be eaten at the table. This will help the child associate the table with meals, whereas the lounge is associated with watching television
  • Try to eat together as a family. Children will copy parents, siblings and peers. Often children with eat well at school or nursery, but refuse meals at home

A good example should be set at home with lots of encouragement and the same rules for all the family!

  • Give your child plenty of motivation to eat, they will be more motivated if they get lots of encouragement from you, if they are old enough you can talk to them about how important food is to help us grow strong
  • A scrapbook recording new foods eaten can be very rewarding to a child. Perhaps they could receive a reward when they fill a page?
  • Some children have developed a genuine fear of food. Give them plenty of reassurance, comfort and encouragement to tackle their fears

Things may get worse before they get better, but try to persevere, it will be worth it in the end. Be patient… even though this is not always easy!

For more information click here 

Click here to read the Unicef Start for Life Introducing Solid Foods Leaflet

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