Introducing solid foods to your baby
Introducing solid foods to your little one can be an exciting time! You might also have questions about when to start, what foods to give and how to feed them in a way that is safe and supports healthy development. We hope this article will help.
This article will tell you more about:
This is based on the latest research and guidance from the UK government and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Is there a difference between ‘weaning’ and ‘complementary feeding’?
You may have noticed that ‘weaning’ is often called 'complementary feeding'. Both are words used when you introduce your baby to solid foods.
Experts like to use complementary feeding because it describes how babies can be introduced to a varied diet, alongside their usual breast milk.
10 key things to remember when introducing solid foods to your baby
|Exclusively breastfeed, ideally for around the first 6 months|
Exclusively breastfeeding is when you feed your baby only breast milk, not any other foods or liquids (including infant formula or water), except for medications or vitamin and mineral supplements.
- Breast milk provides the energy, nutrients, and fluids that your baby needs to grow and develop healthily during the first 6 months of life*.
- Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first 6 months because of the many benefits for both you and your baby.
- If you are unable or choose not to breastfeed, infant formula is the only suitable alternative to breast milk. This should be an infant formula based on cows' or goats' milk unless your baby’s GP or health visitor tells you to use a different type of infant formula.
*A vitamin D supplement of 8.5 to 10µg (micrograms) of vitamin D per day is recommended for breastfed infants up to 12 months. You should only give a vitamin D supplement to infants who are formula-fed if they are having less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day.
Learn more by reading our pages on breastfeeding.
Not too early, not too late!
|Introduce solid foods at around 6 months, alongside continued breastfeeding for at least the first year.|
Every baby is different but giving your baby foods other than breast milk before around 6 months may increase their risk of infections. Leaving complementary feeding too late (longer than 6 months) may mean your baby does not get enough nutrients to grow and develop well.
If your baby was born prematurely, speak to your health visitor or GP for advice about when to start complementary feeding. Premature babies can have different needs.
What are the signs my baby is ready for solid foods?
Most babies are ready for solid foods by around 6 months. Babies develop at different paces. Some may show signs of being ready for solid foods before others.
There are three clear signs that your baby is ready for their first solid foods. These tend to appear together at around 6 months of age. They will be able to:
- stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady
- coordinate their eyes, hands and mouth being able to pick up food and put it in their mouth, and
- swallow food (rather than spit it back out).
Other normal behaviours such as waking up in the night more than usual, chewing fists and wanting to feed more do not mean your baby is ready for solid foods.
If your baby is younger than 6 months and seems hungrier than usual, try breastfeeding more often, or offering more milk at each bottle-feed, rather than moving to food too early.
Babies need time to learn about food and develop chewing skills as well as become familiar with the flavours of food.
Complementary feeding helps introduce your baby to a wide range of new tastes and textures gradually. It can be thought of as a journey, with different tastes and textures gradually introduced over time, so that by the age of 12 months your baby is enjoying a varied and healthy diet.
How much food should I offer?
|Offer small amounts of food and gradually increase the amount, so by 9-12 months your baby is eating 3 healthy meals a day, plus 2 healthy snacks if needed.|
Offer a small amount of solid food once a day. To begin with, most nutrients will come from milk (breast or formula). Babies do not need three meals a day.
Increase the amount your baby eats slowly so that solid foods start to replace some of their milk. From 12 months, aim to have your baby eat 3 healthy meals a day. Your baby may also need 2 healthy snacks.
It is normal for your baby to be less interested in food on some days than others. Try not to worry about how much they are eating at the start.
Breast or formula milk should be your baby’s main drink up to the age of 12 months (see What drinks can I give my baby?). You can continue to breastfeed your baby after 12 months for as long as you both wish.
Should I offer pureed, lumpy or finger foods?
|Move from smooth purees and mashed foods to lumpier foods as soon as your baby is ready. Soft finger foods can be given from the start of complementary feeding.|
Introduce your baby to a wide variety of tastes and textures gradually. Smooth purees and mashed foods are good to start with. You should soon move to lumpier foods to help your baby get used to different textures.
Finger foods should be big enough so that when your baby grasps them, some of the food remains sticking out from their fist. Finger foods should also be soft enough for your baby to chew up easily (such as well-cooked carrot sticks).
Never give your baby small pieces of food that could cause choking. Always make sure to stay with your baby while they are eating (see How can I make sure my baby is safe during complementary feeding?).
Your baby should be eating the sorts of foods the rest of family eats by 12 months.
What types of foods should I offer?
|Offer appropriate complementary foods from 6 months such as vegetables and fruit, starchy foods, protein foods and dairy products.|
First foods (from around 6 months):
- Pureed or mashed single vegetables and fruit are great first foods; you might also want to offer these as finger foods (make sure to cook them if they are hard).
- Offer a wide variety of vegetables and fruit, and try offering those with a savoury flavour first, such as courgette, green beans and broccoli. This can help your baby learn to accept vegetables and fruit and can increase the likelihood that they will eat these foods during later years. It may take 10 tries or more to get your baby used to new foods, flavours, and textures! So try to be patient.
- You can also offer small amounts of protein foods (such as meat, fish, lentils, and eggs), starchy foods (such as porridge and rice) and dairy products (such as unsweetened yogurt).
Next foods (from 6+ months):
- When your baby is ready, you can try a wider range of foods and dishes. Continue to offer vegetables and fruit, starchy foods, protein foods and dairy products, to make sure your baby gets all the nutrients and energy they need and to familiarise them with foods that are part of a healthy, balanced diet.
It is important to offer iron-rich foods from the beginning of complementary feeding.
Good sources of iron include
- red meat, such as pork, beef, or lamb
- pulses, such as beans and lentils
- green leafy vegetables
- nuts (ground or smooth no-added sugar and salt nut butter, do not give whole)
Iron from non-meat sources is less well absorbed. Vitamin C from vegetables and fruit can help your baby to absorb iron from non-meat sources so it is a good idea to give vegetables and fruit at mealtimes. This is particularly important for babies eating a vegan or vegetarian diet.
What foods should I avoid?
|Do not add sugar and salt to complementary foods. Avoid foods that contain these ingredients.|
Sugary foods and drinks can lead to tooth decay. Avoid adding sugar to your baby's food or giving your baby food with added sugar such as biscuits, cakes and sweetened drinks.
Babies under 12 months should have less than 1g (less than ¼ tsp) of salt per day. This is because their kidneys cannot cope with very much salt.
Do not add salt to foods you prepare at home for your baby. While most baby foods do not have salt added, other processed foods like crisps, bacon, gravy and ready meals do. Check the label and avoid giving your baby foods high in salt.
Avoid giving the following foods to your baby during complementary feeding.
- Do not give honey to babies under 12 months. Honey can contain bacteria that can cause a serious illness called infant botulism.
- You should not give shark, marlin, and swordfish to your baby. These types of fish contain high levels of mercury that can affect your baby’s developing nervous system.
- Do not give raw shellfish to your baby as it can increase the risk of food poisoning.
- Avoid soft cheeses like brie, camembert, chevre goats’ cheese, roquefort and unpasteurised cheeses. These types of cheese can contain a bacteria called listeria.
- Avoid giving fresh pate made from meat, fish or vegetables to your baby. Fresh pate may have higher levels of the bacteria listeria than other foods, which can cause food poisoning.
- Do not give whole nuts and peanuts to children under 5 years because of the risk of choking. You can give crushed or finely ground nuts, and peanut or other nut butters, from 6 months.
What about soft-boiled eggs?
Eggs with a red lion stamped on their shell are produced under the British Lion Code of Practice. These eggs are at very low risk of carrying salmonella and can be safely eaten lightly cooked (or raw) by babies and young children.
Should I be concerned about food allergies?
A food allergy results from the immune system overreacting to a food. The reaction can be:
- immediate (within 30 minutes of eating) or delayed (hours to days after eating)
- mild-to-moderate (including digestive issues such as loose stools and vomiting) or severe (such as anaphylaxis, which includes breathing difficulties and can be life-threatening)
There are some foods that may trigger an allergic reaction. These foods can be introduced from around 6 months as part of your baby's diet, just like any other foods. From around 6 months, introduce these foods gradually. Start with very small amounts (like half a teaspoon) and introduce one at a time, so that you can spot any reactions that may develop.
- cows’ milk
- wheat and other foods containing gluten such as rye, barley and oats
- nuts and peanuts (serve them crushed or ground)
- seeds (serve them crushed or ground)
- fish and shellfish (do not serve raw or lightly cooked)
Research shows that babies who have not eaten peanuts or eggs after 6–12 months of age are more likely to develop an allergy to the food. So, it’s a good idea to introduce these foods from 6 months and to regularly include these foods in your baby’s usual diet once they have first been introduced to them and can tolerate them.
Which babies are at higher risk of food allergy?
If your baby has other allergies such as a diagnosed food allergy, or if you have a family history in a close family member like a parent or sibling of food allergies, eczema, asthma or hay fever, you may need to be particularly careful when introducing foods. Your baby will be at higher risk of food allergy, and it is a good idea to speak to your GP or health visitor before you start introducing your baby to foods.
If you think your baby does have a reaction to a food, do not continue to feed the food to your baby. Speak to your GP or health visitor. If the reaction is severe, immediately call 999.
|Breast milk (or infant formula) should be your baby’s main drink until 12 months of age|
Breast milk (or infant formula) should be your baby’s main drink up to 12 months of age.
If you feed your baby infant formula, you can introduce follow-on formula after 6 months of age if you want to. But this is not necessary as research shows that it offers no added health benefits over first infant formula. Use soya-based formula only under the instruction of a GP. You can introduce soya-based drinks after 12 months.
There are some types of milk you should avoid giving to your baby before 12 months.
- cow’s milk as a drink (but you can use it in cooking)
- goat’s or sheep’s milk as a drink (but you can use it in cooking if pasteurised)
- condensed or evaporated milk
- dairy alternatives like rice, oat, or almond drinks. These types of drinks are not energy or nutrient-rich enough for babies.
Water is the best alternative to milk as a drink. From 6 months you can give your baby fresh tap water.
Avoid bottled water as the mineral content can be too high.
Unsweetened fruit juice contains natural sugars and is acidic. If you give unsweetened fruit juice too frequently it can cause tooth decay.
You can give your baby unsweetened fruit juice after 6 months but always dilute it well, serve in an open cup and restrict it to mealtimes to reduce the impact on teeth.
Drinks to avoid
Drinks with added sugars, such as fizzy drinks and milkshakes, are not suitable for your baby. Diet drinks are also not suitable for your baby. These drinks can be damaging to your baby's teeth and may contain ingredients (such as caffeine) that are unsuitable for babies. They can also fill your baby up meaning they can miss out on important nutrients from food.
Do not give tea and coffee to babies. The drinks have caffeine in them. They can also reduce how much iron and other nutrients your baby absorbs from their food, especially if you give them at mealtimes.
Bottles and cups
From 6 months of age, you should encourage your baby to drink from a free-flow (open) cup.
For bottle-fed babies, aim to have stopped using bottles by the time they are 12 months old. This is to help protect your baby’s teeth.
Can my baby be given only vegetarian or vegan complementary foods?
With proper care, a varied vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients your baby needs for growth and development. The advice on introducing complementary foods from around 6 months is the same for vegetarian as for non-vegetarian babies. A vegetarian complementary diet may provide less energy and be lower in some important nutrients, such as iron, compared to a non-vegetarian complementary diet. So, it is important that you give your baby other sources of nutrients that would be provided by meat or fish.
If you give your baby a more restricted diet, for example a vegan diet without dairy or eggs, it is important to give suitable calcium-fortified dairy alternatives. You should also include vitamin B12-fortified foods or give your baby a vitamin B12 supplement. Speak to your baby's GP or health visitor for advice.
There are some nutrients to pay particular attention to if you give your baby a vegetarian or vegan diet.
For protein give your baby
- pulses such as beans, lentils and chickpeas
- meat alternatives such as tofu and dairy foods
- eggs, if eaten.
For iron, give your baby
- iron-fortified lower sugar breakfast cereals (check labels) and other wholegrains
- pulses such as beans, lentils and chickpeas
- green leafy vegetables such as spinach and watercress
- dried fruit
For calcium, give your baby
- dairy products or calcium-fortified soya products such as soya yogurts
- sesame seed paste (tahini)
- smooth almond butter
- some green vegetables like kale
Foods that contain omega-3 fats include
- flaxseed and rapeseed oils
- walnuts (do not give whole as they are a choking hazard)
- eggs enriched with omega-3 fats
For vitamin B12, give your baby
- cheese and milk
- fortified foods such as fortified unsweetened dairy alternatives
- some breakfast cereals.
There is a limited number of vegan foods that contain vitamin B12. You may need to give your baby a vitamin B12 supplement if you give a vegan diet. Speak to your baby's GP or health visitor for advice.
Does my baby need supplements?
|Give your baby a daily supplement containing vitamins A, C and D if they have less than 500ml of infant formula a day|
The government recommends that you give your child a daily supplement containing vitamin A (233µg) and vitamin C (20mg) from 6 months to 5 years.
It is also recommended that from birth to 12 months, you should give your baby a daily supplement of vitamin D (8.5-10µg).
If you are giving your baby at least 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula per day, you do not need to give a vitamin supplement. This is because vitamins A, C and D are already added to infant formula. If your baby is having smaller amounts of formula milk, it would be a good idea to give them a supplement of vitamins A, C and D.
Babies receiving a vegan complementary diet may need other supplements, including vitamin B12. Speak to your baby's GP or health visitor for advice.
I’ve heard about ‘responsive feeding’ and ‘baby-led weaning’, but what are they?
Experts have become more interested in not only what we are feeding babies but in how we are doing this.
The idea with responsive feeding is that you look out for and respond to, your baby’s signs of hunger and fullness. Responsive feeding is also about feeding in a way that is warm, patient and encouraging, and without pressurising your baby to eat. Feeding in this way can encourage babies to eat the right amounts of food and it supports healthy growth.
Some signs of hunger and fullness you might want to look out for in your baby:
|Age||Hunger signs||Full signs|
Baby-led weaning shares some of the features of responsive feeding such as not pressurising babies to eat. But with baby-led weaning, the emphasis is on your baby feeding themselves with finger-sized pieces of family foods from the start of complementary feeding. This means you do not need to spoon-feed them pureed or mashed foods.
Research on baby-led weaning is limited. But the evidence on baby-led weaning suggests that this approach may reduce fussy eating and increase the enjoyment of food without reducing the quality of your baby's diet or growth.
How can I encourage my baby to like healthy foods?
|Keep offering offer your baby a wide variety of foods that are part of a healthy, balanced diet. This will help them accept and gradually learn to like these foods.|
You might need to offer your baby a food several times before they are willing to taste it. Do not give up if they reject it the first time. Once they have tried it, keep offering it as this will help them gradually learn to like the food.
Here are some ideas about how to help your baby learn to like foods that are part of a healthy, balanced diet:
- Give your baby plenty of opportunities to explore new foods. You may find that by letting them touch, smell and lick foods, they will be more willing to eat them.
- Offer a wide variety of tastes and textures helps your baby learn about foods. This may mean they are less likely to reject unfamiliar foods.
- Try to make mealtimes as relaxed and enjoyable as possible, and do not pressure your baby to eat.
- Babies learn about eating from watching those around them, so try to be a healthy eating role model. Eat with your baby and eat the foods and drinks that you would like them to eat and show a positive attitude.
How can I help protect my baby’s teeth?
Your baby's teeth usually begin to appear around the time of the start of complementary feeding (from 6 months). Here are some ways you can help protect them from decay:
- As soon as your baby’s first tooth appears, start brushing at least twice a day with a small smear of fluoride toothpaste (with at least 1000ppm fluoride).
- Encourage your baby to drink from a free-flow (open) cup from 6 months of age. For bottle-fed babies, aim to have stopped using bottles by the time they are 12 months old.
- Do not add sugar to complementary foods and drinks and avoid those with added sugar.
|To reduce the risk of choking, always stay with your baby while they are eating and never offer small round foods.|
Always stay with your baby when they are eating. Keep your baby sitting in an upright position, well supported (such as in a highchair) and facing forwards when feeding. This will help to reduce the risk of choking.
There is a difference between choking and gagging. Gagging is very normal as your baby learns how to chew and swallow solid foods. Gagging is normally loud as your baby might make a retching sound. Your baby’s cheeks may also look red, and their eyes may water. But choking is quieter, and your baby may start to look blue in the face or inside their lips, their gums or their fingernails.
Reduce the risk of your baby coming to any harm during complementary feeding:
- Cut food into narrow batons, avoid round shapes or small chunks.
- Grate or cook firm fruit and vegetables, such as raw apple and raw carrot, before cutting them into slices or narrow batons and offering them as finger foods.
- Cut small round foods, such as grapes, berries and cherry tomatoes, into quarters (4 small pieces) rather than giving whole.
- Avoid giving whole raisins or dried fruits like dried apricots to your baby. Always cut them into small pieces.
- Foods with skin (like sausages) or bones (like fish) can also be a choking hazard.
- Take care to remove any stones, pips, skin and bones before feeding foods with these things to your baby.
Can I freeze foods for my baby?
Yes, but remember to defrost frozen food in the fridge or in a microwave on the defrost setting, and do not refreeze.
Heat your baby's food until it is piping hot all the way through. Let it cool down and make sure you check the temperature before giving it to your baby. Do not reheat food more than once.
For more tips on safe weaning see advice from the NHS.
For more information on the sources used in this text please contact us.
Last reviewed May 2023. Next review due May 2026.
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