How to introduce your baby to solid foods

Guideline indicates as close to 26 weeks as possible, but don’t delay beyond this point

Joanne O’Halloran is a senior community dietitian with the HSE. In the first of two articles she shares advice on how to introduce your baby to solid food.

- The age you introduce your baby to solids will be the same whether you breastfeed or formula feed. It should begin close to six months, but the exact timing depends on each individual baby’s nutritional and developmental needs. The guideline is as close to 26 weeks as possible, but don’t delay beyond 26 weeks, and don’t introduce solids before 17 weeks.

- A lot of parents confuse things like chewing fists, waking up in the middle of the night, and wanting extra milk, as signs of being ready for solids. However, these are not necessarily signs, they are just normal behaviours for a baby.

- If you are considering introducing solids don’t think about what the baby down the road is eating. You need to ask the question, ‘Is my baby ready?’ They should be able to co-ordinate their eyes, their hands, and their mouth, so that they can look at the food, pick it up, put it in their mouth, and swallow the food rather than spit it back out. They should be able to sit with some support, and have good head control.


Start as you mean to continue. For family meals have the baby at the kitchen table

- For those first tastes we would suggest to go savoury rather than sweet, with vegetables as opposed to fruit. This is because babies have a natural liking for sweeter foods. Start with any vegetable that you can get down into a smooth thin puree; carrots, parsnip, butternut squash, cauliflower and broccoli are all suitable. You can use a hand blender, or some parents mash it up and pass it through a sieve to remove any lumps.

- Fruits such as banana, mango, peach, pear, apple, apricot, plum, melon and avocado also make smooth purees. Some parents still like to give plain baby rice as the first food, or finely milled porridge oats mixed with the baby’s own milk. All these are suitable.

- Start as you mean to continue. For family meals have the baby at the kitchen table, sitting in their highchair, and well supported in a five-point harness, not just a strap around their waist. When they’re a little bit older, their feet should be supported in the high chair on a little foot rest.

- Pick a time of the day when you’re not rushed or under pressure. Ensure the baby isn’t too hungry or too tired. The often rules out first thing in the morning because they usually wake up ravenous, while at the other end of the day they may be getting tired and cranky, and just want the breast or bottle before they go to bed. Mid-morning is often a good time to start those first solids, after their nap when they are generally not looking for a breastfeed or formula feed straightaway.

- Screen-free mealtimes are important for the whole family, even at this stage. Put away your phone, turn off the TV, turn off the radio. Make sure you are giving the time to your baby, that you’re not distracted by anything, or having a conversation with someone else.

- Sit in front of your baby to feed them, not behind or beside them. This allows you to make eye contact with them, and they can see the food, and they can watch the spoon coming towards them and be ready. Talk to them about the food, the process, the colour, the taste.

- Introduce the spoon gradually to the baby’s mouth. Touch the spoon off their lip, and then hopefully they’ll stick out their tongue or start to suck the food off the spoon, and open their mouth. Only then start to introduce the food slowly into their mouth.

- Encourage them to touch and play with the food as weaning progresses. Avoid wiping their mouths and the highchair during meals. All the various senses need to be involved. They are tasting but they also need to be able to see the food, to smell the food, and to touch the food. That’s why sucking pouches of baby food is not recommended. Your baby can’t see the food, or smell the food, or touch the food. They will also not get the eating skills of using a spoon or their fingers.

- Introduce one new food at a time, about every two days, for those initial two weeks. For this first fortnight, you’re not counting what they’re eating, it is just about getting used to the experience of eating solids. Continue to breastfeed responsively or give their bottles as normal.

If your family is vegetarian incorporate green leafy vegetables, pureed lentils, chickpeas

- After you introduce your baby to solids you need to start thinking about introducing red meat, or another source of iron, within two weeks of those first vegetable and fruit purees. Both breastfed and formula fed babies need to have iron rich food in their diet from six months as their stores of iron are becoming depleted. There’s often a sense that babies need teeth, or to be that bit older for red meat, but they should be getting pureed cooked minced meat or stewed beef as soon as possible.

- If your family is vegetarian incorporate green leafy vegetables, pureed lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans and eggs. It is also possible to use a suitable fortified breakfast cereal with no added sugar or salt (eg Ready Brek or Weetabix).

- The main allergens in the first year of life are egg, milk or dairy, and peanut. We now know that delaying the introduction of these allergens actually increases the risk of allergy. We now encourage parents to introduce these potentially allergenic foods when the infant starts solids, one at a time over a couple of weeks. Peanuts should be given as smooth peanut butter with no added salt or sugar. Whole nuts should never be given to children under the age of five because of the risk of choking.

- If your baby refuses a food don’t force them. Don’t upset them, or get yourself stressed or bothered. Wait for a few days and offer the food again. It can take babies and young children up to 15 times before they finally accept a food. Keep trying it. It’s certainly not a sign that they don’t like it; it’s a sign that they need to learn more about it.

  • If you have any food related queries or concerns talk to your local Public Health Nurse. Further information and advice is available on or in the My Child 0-2 Years booklet, given to all new parents.