Opinions abound and many are very eager to offer advice – be discerning when those without nutrition qualifications want to advise!

Mother’s milk is without question the food of choice for any infant. It is perfect – as the only and primary source of food for a baby until he/she is around 6 months old.

Although the exact age may differ, babies are generally ready to start eating semi-solid foods from around 4 – 6 months of age, as this is when the mature suck is refined and the chewing action starts. At this stage a baby can be introduced to strained food/semi-solid foods. Age is not the only indicator as to when to start introducing solids. Weight, height and general health could influence a baby’s readiness for food.

When food is introduced too early, a baby could miss out on essential nutrients found in breast or formula milk and could suffer from indigestion, cramps and even allergies that could otherwise have been avoided. Starting too late could affect growth and development.

Generally, the advice given is that a mother should start with infant cereal. This however is not a rule set in stone and a mother may decide she would like to start with fruit. What is important is that the baby should be ready and excited to try out this new ‘game’- and indeed that is all it should be for the first couple of months since milk remains the most important food and the most important source of nutrients till a baby is about 1 year old.

Depending on whether a baby is breastfed or formula fed, the first meal should be given at a time when the baby is interested and a little hungry, but not so hungry that he/she is fussy, crying or unhappy.

Introducing food is also very much about timing. The decision about what to start off with may be made by the mother, who should take into account her intuitive knowledge and observation of her child. It may be that she will pick up on cues from her baby – for example, if he/she stares at a colourful piece of fruit or vegetable – then maybe that’s a good starting point. Alternatively, if it’s winter maybe a bit of warm porridge will be better received than cold fruit.

Other than the practical issues, a mother should be aware that the choice of food has to suit the child. If there is a family history of allergies, it may be better to start with foods that are less allergenic. If, for example, a mother ate a lot of fruit whilst breastfeeding then fruit may be a good starting point etc. Either way, this is often a period of uncertainty for many mothers so try and accept it and aim to make food time fun, stress free and even messy! A mother’s attitude (or the person that feeds the baby) towards the introduction to food may influence the associations a baby develops about mealtimes for the rest of his/her life. SMILE and have fun!

Mothers are often worried about how much to give when introducing food. Start with offering only a teaspoon of food and once the child has been introduced to all the different food groups, progress to offering him/her about a tablespoon of each food (from each food group) for the first year of life.

Need more information?

Subscribers to bettereat.net have access to Diet Guides that gives further detailed information and menu and meal planning guidelines.

Have a look at:

First food for baby – what every mom should know.

When to introduce food for baby

The do’s and dont’s of baby feeding – what every mom should know

Tips and ideas to prepare nutritious foods for babies