Around the age of six months, your little one will be ready for the challenge of first foods. Watch for signs of readiness, such as increased appetite, showing more interest in food, or trying to imitate your habits by opening their mouth and reaching for your food.
Starting solids before bub is ready can cause tummy discomfort and potentially puts them at higher risk of choking. Make sure your little one has good head and neck control, and can sit up with support.
The first solids are really a boost to current milk feeds, with these new tastes and textures almost as important for learning how to eat and for promoting tooth and jaw development as they are for nutrition. When offering first foods, always breast or bottle-feed before solids so bub is in a more settled mood and doesn’t fill up before their milk. Begin with around one to two teaspoons of solids after a breast or formula feed, gradually increasing to two to three tablespoons of solids around three times a day.
The most recent Infant Feeding Guidelines (2013) were released with some new key messages.
Until around six months, breast milk or formula is enough to provide bub with all nutritional needs. However, as they develop, added nutrition is essential to build stores of vitamins and minerals, in particular iron and zinc, which are important for cognitive development.
Previously, many babies were started off with soft fruits and veg, but now pureed red meat, chicken, fish and iron-fortified baby cereals are also recommended.
As your little one’s intake grows more varied, full-fat dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt offer calcium, protein and fat for growth (no low-fat for under twos), and fruits and vegetables offer sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre
to get the digestive system working. Don’t stay on blended textures for too long – move from purees to mashes to small lumps as soon as bub is ready.
Give foods similar to what the family eats, but never add salt as little kidneys struggle to process it. Also, avoid added sugars and syrups so as not to encourage a sweet tooth – and no honey until at least 12 months, owing to the risk of botulism.
Nutrient-poor foods such as cakes, ice-cream, biscuits and potato chips should be avoided.
Before six months, exclusively breastfed babies do not need to be given any water as it can lead to electrolyte imbalances. After this age, cooled boiled tap water is ideal for thirsty little ones.
Don’t give infants fruit juice or caffeinated drinks. Also, soft drinks have no place in an infant’s or young child’s diet – even as a treat.
Allergies are a key concern for many parents. Currently, the notion of delaying potentially allergenic food well beyond six months is poorly supported by scientific evidence, with a theory that delaying certain foods for the first few years may increase the risk of allergies.
Further studies in this area are needed, however parents with no family history of allergy should not delay foods without the guidance of their GP.
AND DON'T FORGET... PLAY IT SAFE
Always supervise your little one at meal times to ensure they don’t choke. Make sure all foods are of appropriate texture, avoiding those that are hard to chew, or are crunchy without being able to dissolve well with saliva.
Cold foods must be kept and served below 5C, and hot foods heated to 60C and then cooled and served immediately will prevent bacteria multiplying. Never give lightly cooked meat or runny eggs to an infant.