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How to know if your baby is ready to start solids

If you’re here reading this, you’ve probably had the thought, “Oh… my baby needs to eat actual human food at some stage. How do I do that?”. 

Welcome to the next fun (and very messy) stage of parenting: introducing your baby to solids!

Teaching a baby to eat is tough work (they don’t even know how to CHEW yet!) but it’s also an exciting time. There’s so much deliciousness in store for your little one – if only they knew.

So how do you know when your baby is ready? 

Here’s what the experts say…

The World Health Organisation recommends starting babies on food (in addition to milk) at around 6 months of age. That’s when they’re generally starting to move themselves around a bit, and their energy and nutrient requirements exceed what they can get from a boob or bottle. 

6 months is also the stage at which we can be confident a baby’s insides are developed enough to process solid foods. And yes, that means solid poops are in store for you too.

Here are the WHO’s tips on introducing solid foods:

  • Practise responsive feeding – feed slowly and patiently, encourage them to eat but do not force them, talk to the child and maintain eye contact
  • Practise good hygiene and proper food handling
  • Start at 6 months with small amounts of food and increase gradually as the child gets older
  • Gradually increase food consistency and variety
  • Increase the number of times that the child is fed:
  • 2–3 meals per day for infants 6–8 months of age
  • 3–4 meals per day for infants 9–23 months of age, with 1–2 additional snacks as required
  • Use fortified complementary foods or vitamin-mineral supplements as needed
  • During illness, increase fluid intake including more breastfeeding, and offer soft, favourite foods.

Here are some clear signs they’re ready…

Don’t quite know what you’re doing? Don’t worry, no one else knows what they’re doing either

Unfortunately, your baby won’t wake up one morning and declare, “Mother, I’d like a steak today please. Medium-rare.” (Wouldn’t we all, baby. Wouldn’t we all.) But they may tip you off that they’re ready by showing some of these signs:

  • They eye off your food – they display interest in your food, lean towards it and maybe try to grab at it. (Sorry, mama. Your days of snacking without having to share are about to come to an end.)
  • They can sit up unassisted – once your baby can sit up in a highchair without you needing to hold them up, their digestive muscles will be strong enough for eating. This doesn’t mean they need to be absolute pros at sitting up – they may still topple occasionally.
  • They open their mouths, rather than thrusting the tongue out – tiny babies have an automatic tongue-thrust reflex, which is there to prevent them from choking. When babies are ready for food, they’ll open their mouth when food comes towards it rather than performing this lizard-like manoeuvre.
  • They can turn their heads away from foods they don’t want – if your baby can turn their head well, they’ll be able to let you know when you’ve had enough.

Here are some signs it’s a no-deal…

When your baby is NOT ready for solid foods, they’ll let you know by:

  • Turning their head away from food
  • Losing interest or getting distracted
  • Pushing the spoon or food away
  • Clamping their mouth shut.

So, the sort of things you’d do if someone held a handful of dirt up to your mouth. 

Even if your baby is coming up to the 6 month mark and you desperately want them to show signs they’re ready for solids, it’s important not to force food onto them.

While there are myths out there that a baby starting solids will help them sleep better, it’s not true. Forcing your baby to eat food could cause damage to their undeveloped internal system (if they’re too little) and it can build a negative association with food from the get-go.

If you are concerned that your baby isn’t eating, you can get help from a speech pathologist or occupational therapist.

Here’s some solid advice: We recommend chatting to your pediatrician before giving your baby fortified foods or supplements. They’ll be able to give you proper medical advice to ensure the transition to solids goes smoothly and that they’re meeting their nutritional requirements.

Share this article with a new mama who is about to start the solids journey with her bub!

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