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When should babies start solid foods?

Plan your baby’s food journey from six to 12 months as they move from a primarily milk-based diet to eating solids.

While advice about when to introduce solid foods to babies varies around the world, most countries recommend that solids should be offered at around six months of age and not before four months.

Promoting the exclusive breastfeeding of babies to around six months of age and delaying their introduction to solid foods is informed by the knowledge that:

  • an infant’s nutritional needs can be met by breast or infant formula until this age but not beyond (eg the iron requirements of children older than six months need to come increasingly from solid foods)
  • breastfeeding reduces diarrhoeal disease in children, which is particularly important in low and middle income countries to protect babies’ health
  • most babies will be developmentally ready to accept solid foods by six months of age.

By six months of age most babies will be able to sit up and will have the head and tongue control they need to enjoy eating.

What does the research say?

Despite advice to delay the introduction of solid food until around six months of age, many parents believe it’s good to start feeding solid foods earlier than this. Some reasons for this include the belief that their baby:

  • needs more food than they’re getting from breast or infant formula
  • will sleep better if they consume solid foods in addition to milk.

In Week 1, we discussed the interpretation of growth charts and that many parents are not confident that breastmilk alone will provide enough nutrition for healthy growth. However:

  • it’s very unlikely that a baby will need more nutrition than that provided by breastmilk
  • it’s also unlikely that introducing solid foods to babies will improve their sleep and/or prevent them from waking at night.

Let’s look at each of these points in further detail.

How can I tell when my baby is ready for solid foods?

Signs that your baby is hungry and ready to start eating solid foods include:

  • getting excited when they see you getting their food ready
  • leaning towards you while they are sitting in the highchair
  • opening their mouth as you’re about to feed them.

To find out more about identifying whether your baby is hungry and ready to start solid foods, watch this video to hear Associate Professor Rachel Laws talking about when you’ll know it’s time to introduce food to your baby and the importance of including iron rich foods as first foods.

Can introducing solid foods earlier help babies sleep better?

Some parents believe that introducing solid foods will help their baby sleep better at night.

It’s not uncommon for babies at around three to four months of age to start waking more at night, even if they have been good sleepers until then. However, this doesn’t always mean they are hungry. If your baby has been fed in the past three to four hours, try to re-settle them without feeding.

Other common reasons for night waking include:

  • Sleep cycle: As babies move from one sleep cycle to another, they may wake and call out for their parents. Sometimes babies will need your help to re-settle (for example rocking and patting). When developmentally ready your baby may be able to re-settle themselves. Emphasising the difference between night and day, putting your baby to bed drowsy but awake and having a sleep routine can help them learn to re-settle themselves.
  • Sleep habits: At three to four months of age, babies start to learn sleep associations (eg always being fed or rocked to sleep or having a dummy). If they do wake between sleep cycles, then they need the same things to get them back to sleep.
  • Developmental milestones: Other developmental milestones can affect sleep and cause your baby to wake up more often. For example, when your baby learns to roll, they may get stuck in new positions, or they might just want to practice their new skill at night!

Helping babies to learn good sleeping habits is clearly important.

There are many sources of help for parents regarding the establishment of good sleep habits. The Raising Children Network is a great place to start. See the links below.

Your task

Tell us about your own experiences with either your own baby’s introduction to solids or that of a friend or family member.

When doing so, you may want to consider:

  • Why did you or others introduce solid foods when you did?
  • Where did you (or they) get their information and support?
  • How did your baby react to the introduction of solids?
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Infant Nutrition: from Breastfeeding to Baby's First Solids

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