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Is your baby ready to start solid foods?

By Dietician, Janelle Anderson

Your baby should start to be introduced to solid foods at around 6 months of age, but not before 4 months, when your baby is ready.

Signs that your baby is ready for solids include:
- Being able to sit upright with good head and neck control;
- Showing interest in your food and reaching for food;
- Opening their mouth when food is offered.

When your baby is ready, it is important to ensure that iron rich foods are introduced first, and foods that are known to be more likely to cause allergy are introduced by 12 months of age. Studies show this may reduce the chance of your baby developing food allergies.

Tips for introducing solids:

1. If possible, continue to breastfeed whilst introducing solid foods.
Breastfeeding whilst introducing solids and through until at least 12 months of age has been shown to have a protective effect against the development of allergies.

2. Start with iron-rich foods.
At around 12 months of age, the iron stores that your baby was born with start to deplete, and your baby’s diet needs to be supplemented with solid foods in order to meet their required iron intake. Good choices include iron fortified rice cereal, cooked egg, minced and mashed meat or chicken, and pureed baked beans.

3. Introduce foods one at a time
Introducing each new food around 1 or 2 days apart will allow you to identify if any foods cause a reaction.

4. Introduce foods that are known to cause allergies
Unless your baby has been diagnosed with an allergy to a specific food, they should be introduced to cow’s milk, soy milk, sesame, wheat, fish and seafood before 12 months of age. Well-cooked egg, smooth peanut butter, and nut butters should also be introduced in small amounts to start, before 12 months of age. Delayed introduction of these foods has been shown to increase the risk of developing a food allergy. If there is a family history of allergy, it is recommended to introduce these foods during the day, so that you can watch your baby for any signs of a reaction.

5. Aim to offer your baby a variety of foods from each food group.
Babies should be provided with a range of foods to ensure that they are getting enough essential vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc. Include a range of foods from the following food groups: vegetables, fruits, dairy, meat/meat alternatives, and grains/cereals.

6. Do not provide your baby small, hard pieces of food
Hard pieces of raw apple, carrot or nuts are not suitable for young babies, as they pose a choking risk. Instead grate, cook and mash hard fruits and vegetables.

7. Progress to finger foods, and then to cut up foods as and when your baby is ready.
Suitable finger foods include steamed vegetables, soft fruits, bread, strips of meat or poultry.

8. Focus on providing healthy ‘family foods’ and eating together as a family
Babies are more likely to try new foods and be less fussy eaters if they are introduced to the same foods that the family would usually eat (mashed or pureed as required). Eating as a family allows opportunity for role modeling by parents, carers and siblings, which can help to develop healthy eating habits in babies and toddlers.

Janelle is available Thursdays at Growing Bones. Book online here.

About the Author

Melissa McDougall