Which foods for baby?

Summary
  • Breastmilk (or infant formula) provides most of baby’s nutrition until they are having 4-5 meals a day.
  • Around 6 months, babies need solid foods as well as breastmilk (or infant formula).
  • Iron rich foods should be amongst first solid foods offered.
  • Always supervise babies and young children when they are eating.
  • The amount eaten is ALWAYS baby’s decision. 

From milk to food

Breastmilk (or infant formula) is baby’s main source of nutrition from birth until roughly 4-5 meals are served a day. From around 6 months’ age, your baby will require extra nutrition from solid foods. Your baby will require less milk as the amount and frequency of solid food increases. The rate this happens will vary between babies.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend you continue breastfeeding until 12 months or longer, alongside solids. Infant formula is recommended to be stopped at 12 months. 

If you are using infant formula, stage 2 or toddler/follow on formulas are not necessary. Cow’s milk can be introduced to your child from 12 months. A milk alternative may be required if baby is diagnosed with cow’s milk protein allergy or dairy intolerance. For more information visit Breastfeeding your baby

Baby holding and looking down at broccoli

To start off with, it’s more about learning than nutrition  

Babies only need a very small amount to start with; around 1 teaspoon. They’ll still be meeting their nutritional needs from breastmilk (or formula). This stage is about learning the skills first and not about how much they eat.

How you introduce the number of new foods and variety is up to you and how ready baby is. You’ll find baby will accept some foods more easily than others. 

The best way for babies to learn is from watching others, so try to eat together at the table when you can and be a positive role-model. For more information on increasing variety and new foods go to Increasing mealtime and food variety

By around 9 months, baby will have developed enough chewing and swallowing skills to move from having milk before solids to having milk after solids, although for some babies it can be earlier.

By 12 months of age, its likely baby will be eating the same foods as the rest of the family. Small changes will be needed i.e. cutting food into smaller pieces, cooking a little longer to be softer, or removing baby’s meal before adding salt or strong spices. 

Baby eating meat with father.

Australian Dietary Guidelines for 7-12 months

The Eat for Health Website provides more detail about the five food groups including the recommended servings for age.

This is a guide of foods to SERVE over a day. Then we leave it to them to learn, explore and become familiar, without any pressure.

IMPORTANT!  The guidelines are for an average baby on an average day… but there are very few average kids and even fewer average days!

Between 6 and 12 months, the amount of solid food eaten increases from very small amounts to being baby’s main source of nutrition. Your baby is unlikely to consistently eat the amounts suggested in the guidelines, especially early on when first starting solids.

Some babies are bigger, some are smaller, some eat more, some eat less, some days they are hungry, some days they don’t want to eat… then throw in teething, colds, tiredness, natural caution with new foods, the list goes on.

Choose iron rich foods at first 

Why is iron so important?

Babies have enough iron stored until around 6 months of age. After 6 months a baby’s iron stores start to run out and they need to be topped up with iron-rich solid foods. See below for iron-rich food ideas.

Images of iron rich foods, infant cereal, red meat eggs, chicken tofu, fish, beans.For more detailed information on the best sources of iron in foods. 

Did you know? By adding vitamin C to iron-containing meals or snacks…

… you can help ‘boost’ the amount of iron that is absorbed in the body. Raw fruit and vegetables will contain higher amounts of vitamin C than cooked fruit and vegetables. Some soft vitamin C-rich foods are: kiwi fruit, strawberries, oranges/mandarin, grapefruit, tomato. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts and kale are also high in vitamin C.  For more information on Vitamin C click here.

Vegan and Vegetarian diets

Vegetarian and especially vegan diets come with a higher risk of baby not getting enough iron due to low intakes of animal foods. If you are choosing a vegan or vegetarian diet for baby keep breastfeeding as long as you can.

It is recommended that you see a Dietitian to make sure you are providing enough nutrition for baby and get advice on iron and B12 supplementation. For more information on vegetarian diets for babies: Royal Children Hospital Melbourne: information on vegetarian diets for babies.

Two vegan vegetarian meals.

Commercial baby foods

Commercial baby foods can be helpful when we are really busy or in a rush. If we use them all the time our baby won’t get used to the tastes and smells of family foods, which is an important part of learning to eat. If you do use them, make sure you squeeze into a bowl as too much sucking from pouches can cause tooth decay and affect speech and tongue-swallow development. 

If we use commercial baby foods all the time, they won’t get used to tastes and smells of family foods, leading to increased fussiness later.

Squeezing out pouch puree food.

Home prepared food can be just as convenient. Food can be cooked, mashed and frozen in ice cube trays for single serves. Base meals and snacks around minimally processed and natural foods.

Pre prepared soft foods for baby in ice tray

It’s a great idea to invest in a kitchen device like a rice cooker and a food processor/stick blender so you can make simple, quick meals for your baby. As baby grows, there will be less need to prepare separate foods as they can eat the same food at family mealtimes.

Food and drinks not to give baby

Honey
Honey can contain a bacteria that causes infant botulism (a rare, but potentially fatal condition). Avoid honey until at least 12 months of age when the child’s digestive tract and immune system is better developed. For more information on botulism visit https://www.cdc.gov/botulism/prevention.html

Raw or runny eggs
This includes foods that contain raw eggs (e.g. home-made mayonnaise or uncooked pancake mix). Raw eggs carry risk of bacteria that can be harmful to babies. For more information visit (https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/egg-allergy)

Extra salt or sugar
Babies have sensitive taste buds and don’t need these extras added to their food.

Whole nuts
Babies can choke on whole nuts. Smooth nut pastes/spreads can be offered from 6 months.

Soft drink, cordial, flavoured milks and fruit juice
These drinks do not offer nutritional benefits to babies under 12 months and can lead to dental decay, dependence on high-sugar foods and drinks and make fussy eating worse. Water and breast/formula milk is all the fluid needed for a developing child.

Cow’s milk
Cow’s milk should not be offered as a drink until 12 months old. Small amounts can be added to foods, and foods such as yoghurt and cheese are fine, but should not replace breastmilk (or formula).

Tea, coffee and energy drinks
These contain caffeine and reduce your baby’s ability to absorb iron.

Plant based milks
These include rice, oat, almond, soy or coconut milks. These are not actually milks and don’t provide enough nutrition for babies under 12 months. Please seek individualised professional advice from an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) or your doctor if you are concerned about milk intolerances or allergies, prior to avoiding milk products.

Milk from other animal sources (goat/sheep)
These milks are not recommended as there are differences in protein and electrolyte levels.

Allergies

The latest evidence recommends introducing common ‘allergenic’ foods to baby from 6 months of age onwards, or earlier if there is a family history of allergy to foods. Delaying the introduction of these foods can increase the chance of baby developing food allergy.

Providing baby with a wide range of ‘allergenic’ foods before 12 months can reduce the likelihood of developing an allergy. Some babies may still develop an allergy despite following this latest evidence-based advice.

Common ‘allergenic’ foods 

When first introducing a common ‘allergenic’ food, offer only one food in a very small amount (approx. ¼ teaspoon), away from other foods/mealtimes. This will help to work out which food baby is allergic to if there is a reaction. 

Unless your baby has an allergic reaction to the food, continue to give the food to your baby regularly (twice weekly), as part of a varied diet. If possible, continue to breastfeed while you introduce foods to your infant. 

If an allergic reaction occurs, it will often happen from a few minutes to within a couple of hours after baby eats the food. If you notice any of these symptoms (see symptoms below), stop feeding immediately, wipe baby’s hands and face, and seek medical attention. Do not offer the food to baby again until you have received medical advice. 

Common signs of an allergic reaction include…

  • Swelling of lips, tongue, eyes and face
  • Hives on the skin
  • Rash
  • Wheezing or persistent cough
  • Vomiting

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) has more detailed information on allergies

Get advice from your GP, Child and Family Health Nurse, Dietitian or Paediatrician if:

  • your baby already has a food allergy.
  • your baby has severe eczema.
  • your family has a history of food allergy and you’re concerned about starting solids.
  • you’re worried about reactions to food.

Baby’s drinks: Breastmilk (or infant formula) and water only 

Around 6 months, infants can start drinking from a cup as soon as they are ready. Cups should have an open top or free-flowing spout.

 

Which cup should I use?

Baby cups are a great option while baby is learning about wet fluids, how to tilt their head backwards and drink from a cup. If you don’t have a baby cup, try using a small medicine cup. A cup that is too big can be difficult for your baby to hold, has a wider mouth and can spill more easily with baby having to tilt head back further before getting water. Baby may get a fright if it spills on them!

Sippy cups are not recommended as they require baby to ‘suck’ to get the water out. We want babies to become confident learners in drinking and managing free-flowing water and to decrease the risk of fluid going down the wrong way into their lungs. A sippy cup allowing free-flowing water from spout when tilted is ok. This doesn’t rely on the sucking motion.

As your baby develops with lots of practice, they can move onto a bigger cup and try with a straw.

Image of open cups and straw cups