Wednesday, 09 March 2022

Solid Foods Campaign

The Office of Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID)'s new 'Introducing Solid Foods' campaign launches today.

As part of the campaign, a weaning hub is available on the Better Health Start for Life website to help parents introduce solid foods to their baby.

https://www.nhs.uk/start4life

https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/weaning/

 

Introducing your baby to solid foods, sometimes called complementary feeding or weaning, should start when your baby is around 6 months old.

At the beginning, how much your baby eats is less important than getting them used to the idea of eating.

They'll still be getting most of their energy and nutrients from breast milk or first infant formula.

Giving your baby a variety of foods, alongside breast or formula milk, from around 6 months of age will help set your child up for a lifetime of healthier eating.

Gradually, you'll be able to increase the amount and variety of food your baby eats until they can eat the same foods as the rest of the family, in smaller portions.

If your baby was born prematurely, ask your health visitor or GP for advice on when to start introducing solid foods.

Why wait until around 6 months to introduce solids?

It’s a good idea to wait until around 6 months before introducing solid foods because:

  • breast milk or first infant formula provide the energy and nutrients your baby needs until they're around 6 months old (with the exception of vitamin D in some cases)
  • if you're breastfeeding, feeding only breast milk up to around 6 months of age will help protect your baby against illness and infections
  • waiting until around 6 months gives your baby time to develop so they can cope fully with solid foods – this includes solid foods made into purées, cereals and baby rice added to milk
  • your baby will be more able to feed themselves
  • your baby will be better at moving food around their mouth, chewing and swallowing it – this may mean they'll be able to progress to a range of tastes and textures (such as mashed, lumpy and finger foods) more quickly, and may not need smooth, blended foods at all

Signs your baby is ready for solid foods

There are 3 clear signs which, when they appear together from around 6 months of age, show your baby is ready for their first solid foods alongside breast milk or first infant formula.

They'll be able to:

  • stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady
  • co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth by themselves
  • swallow food (rather than spit it back out)

The following behaviours can be mistaken by parents as signs that their baby is ready for solid foods:

  • chewing their fists
  • waking up in the night (more than usual)
  • wanting extra milk feeds

These are all normal behaviours for babies and not necessarily a sign that they're hungry or ready to start solid food.

Starting solid foods will not make your baby any more likely to sleep through the night. Sometimes a little extra milk will help until they're ready for solid foods.

Get tips to help your baby sleep well

How to start solid foods

In the beginning your baby will only need a small amount of food before their usual milk feed.

Do not worry about how much they eat. The most important thing is getting them used to new tastes and textures, and learning how to move solid foods around their mouths and how to swallow them.

They'll still be getting most of their energy and nutrients from breast milk or infant formula.

There are some foods to avoid giving to your baby. For example, do not add sugar or salt (including stock cubes and gravy) to your baby's food or cooking water.

Babies should not eat salty foods as it's not good for their kidneys, and sugar can cause tooth decay.

Tips to get your baby off to a good start with solid foods:

  • Eating is a whole new skill. Some babies learn to accept new foods and textures more quickly than others. Keep trying, and give your baby lots of encouragement and praise.
  • Allow plenty of time, especially at first.
  • Go at your baby's pace and let them show you when they're hungry or full. Stop when your baby shows signs that they've had enough. This could be firmly closing their mouth or turning their head away. If you're using a spoon, wait for your baby to open their mouth before you offer the food. Do not force your baby to eat. Wait until the next time if they're not interested this time.
  • Be patient and keep offering a variety of foods, even the ones they do not seem to like. It may take 10 tries or more for your baby to get used to new foods, flavours and textures. There will be days when they eat more, some when they eat less, and then days when they reject everything. Do not worry, this is perfectly normal.
  • Let your baby enjoy touching and holding the food. Allow them to feed themselves, using their fingers, as soon as they show an interest. If you're using a spoon, your baby may like to hold it or another spoon to try feeding themselves.
  • Keep distractions to a minimum during mealtimes and avoid sitting your baby in front of the television, phone or tablet.
  • Show them how you eat. Babies copy their parents and other children. Sit down together for family mealtimes as much as possible.

Texture progression

Once you've started introducing solid foods from around 6 months of age, try to move your baby on from puréed or blended foods to mashed, lumpy or finger foods as soon as they can manage them.

This helps them learn how to chew, move solid food around their mouth and swallow.

Some babies like to start with mashed, lumpy or finger foods.

Other babies need a little longer to get used to new textures, so may prefer smooth or blended foods on a spoon at first.

Just keep offering them lumpy textures and they'll eventually get used to it.

Safety and hygiene

When introducing your baby to solid foods, it's important to take extra care to not put them at risk.

Key food safety and hygiene advice:

  • always wash your hands before preparing food and keep surfaces clean
  • cool hot food and test it before giving it to your baby
  • wash and peel fruit and raw vegetables
  • avoid hard foods like whole nuts, or raw carrot or apple
  • remove hard pips and stones from fruits, and bones from meat or fish
  • cut small, round foods, like grapes and cherry tomatoes, into small pieces
  • eggs produced under the British Lion Code of Practice (stamped with the red lion) are considered very low risk for salmonella and safe for babies to eat partially cooked

Always stay with your baby when they're eating in case they start to choke.

Choking is different from gagging. Your baby may gag when you introduce solid foods.

This is because they're learning how to deal with solid foods and regulate the amount of food they can manage to chew and swallow at one time.

If your baby is gagging:

  • their eyes may water
  • they might push their tongue forward (or out of their mouth)
  • they might retch to bring the food forward in their mouth or vomit

Equipment checklist

  • High chair. Your baby needs to be sitting safely in an upright position (so they can swallow properly). Always use a securely fitted safety harness in a high chair. Never leave babies unattended on raised surfaces.
  • Plastic or pelican bibs. It's going to be messy at first!
  • Soft weaning spoons are gentler on your baby's gums.
  • Small plastic bowl. You may find it useful to get a special weaning bowl with a suction base to keep the bowl in place.
  • First cup. Introduce a cup from around 6 months and offer sips of water with meals. Using an open cup or a free-flow cup without a valve will help your baby learn to sip and is better for their teeth.
  • A messy mat or newspaper sheets under the high chair to catch most of the mess.
  • Plastic containers and ice cube trays can be helpful for batch cooking and freezing small portions.