When your baby shows the first signs of readiness to eat solid food, it is time to start. Most babies show these signs around six months of age which is when they need more food for growth and development.

Introducing solids: why your baby needs them

Your baby needs solid food to get iron and other essential nutrients for growth and development.

In the first six months of life, your baby only uses iron stored up in the body during time in the womb. Iron is also taken from breastmilk or infant formula. But this store of iron depletes over time and new growth stages require more iron than can be found in breastmilk or formula. This is where solid foods become necessary for the right levels of nutritional requirements. Also, solid food starts the experience of new tastes and textures, to develop teeth and jaw, and build other skills essential for language development.

Solid food does not replace breastfeeding or infant formula. Your baby needs breastmilk or infant formula along with solid food until at least 12 months old. If solid food replaces breastmilk or infant formula too quickly, your baby can miss out on important nutrition.

Signs that it is time for introducing solids

Signs your baby is ready for solid food:

  • has good head and neck control and can sit upright when supported

  • shows an interest in food by looking at what is on your plate

  • reaches for your food

  • opens mouth when you offer food on a spoon

Most babies start to display these signs at 4-6 months but this remains a guide. Your baby’s individual development and behaviour are the best prompts to you when you are trying to figure out when to start on solid food.

At around 6 months,
not before 4 months, you can introduce solid food especially iron-rich ones. If your baby is nearing 7 months of age and has not started solids, you might like to get some advice from your paediatrician or General Practitioner (GP).

How to introduce solids: food timing

When you are first introducing solids, it is a good idea to offer solids when you and your baby are both happy and relaxed.

Your baby is also more likely to try solids after a feed of breastmilk or formula. This is because when babies are really hungry, they just want the breastmilk or formula that they know satisfies their hunger. They will still have room to try new foods after they have had a feed of breastmilk or formula.

As time passes, you will learn when your baby is hungry or full, not interested or tired.

Signs of baby being hungry include:

  • getting excited when seeing you prepare food

  • leaning towards you while seated in the baby highchair

  • opening mouth as about to be fed

Signs of baby no longer interested in food include:

  • turning head away from food

  • losing interest or getting distracted

  • pushing spoon away

  • clamping mouth shut

When you are introducing solids, how much food should you give your baby? Try 1-2 teaspoons of food to start with, and increase according to your baby’s appetite. By 12 months, your baby should be eating around three small meals a day.

How to introduce solids: food texture

Your baby should have pureed food when you start introducing solids. He can quickly go on to mashed foods, then minced and chopped foods. Your baby can usually manage finger food like pieces of cooked vegetables, soft fruit and soft bread crusts or toast when 8 months old.

Between 6-8 months it is important for your baby to go from smooth to lumpy textures and on to finger foods. This helps her learn how to chew, and chewing helps with your baby’s speech development. It also helps to encourage self-feeding and prevent feeding difficulties as she develops.

By the time your baby is 12 months old, he can start eating food with the same texture as the food the rest of the family is eating.

Always supervise babies and young children when they’re eating solid food. Take care with hard foods like nuts and meat with small bones, because these are choking hazards. Sitting with your baby while she’s eating not only helps to
prevent choking. It also encourages social interaction and helps your baby learn about eating.

How to introduce solids: food types

All new foods are exciting for your baby – there’s no need to cook ‘special’ foods.

You can also introduce solids in any order, as long as you include iron-rich foods and the food is the right texture.

For example, you could try iron-fortified infant rice cereal, soft cooked vegetables and stewed or mashed fruit. Then you can try mashed foods like eggs, grains like wheat, cooked fish, pureed or minced meat, and more fruits and vegetables. You can also try tofu, beans, lentils, smooth nut pastes and so on.

You can mix first foods together – there is no need to introduce just one food at a time. But if you have a family history of food allergies, you can introduce one new food at a time. This can help with identifying allergic reactions.

Try to offer home-cooked meals and a variety of foods, including:

  • vegetables – for example, cooked potato, carrot or beans

  • fruit – for example, banana, apple, melon or avocado

  • wheat, oats, bread, rice and pasta

  • dairy foods like yoghurt and full-fat cheese

  • meat, fish, pork, legumes and cooked egg, but not raw or runny egg

Keep breastfeeding or using infant formula until at least 12 months, as well as introducing solids.  After 12 months, your baby can have pasteurised full-fat cow’s milk from a cup.
There are some foods you should avoid giving your baby until he’s a certain age. Avoid:

  • honey until he’s 12 months old

  • cow’s milk, goat’s milk and soy milk until he’s 12 months old

  • reduced-fat dairy until he’s two years old

  • whole nuts and similar hard foods until he’s three years old – these are choking hazards

  • unpasteurised milk, fruit juice, tea, coffee or sugar-sweetened drinks at all ages.

It takes time and patience for your baby to learn to eat and enjoy different foods. If your baby doesn’t like something, try it again some other time. You might have to try lots of times before your baby accepts a new taste or texture.

Introducing water

Once your baby has reached six months, you can supplement breastmilk or infant formula with small amounts of cooled, boiled water. It’s best to offer your baby water in a cup.

Food allergy and introducing solids

Babies with eczema or a family history of allergies are more likely to develop a food allergy or intolerance. But children with no history of allergy can also develop food allergies.

Feeding your baby solids too early – for example, before four months – or too late increases her risk of developing food allergy.

It is a good idea to get advice from your GP, dietitian, paediatrician or allergist if:

  • your baby already has a food allergy

  • your family has a history of food allergy

  • you’re worried about reactions to foods.

Practical tips for introducing solids

When you are thinking about introducing solids, the main thing is to puree iron-rich food to start with, and then increase the texture to mashed or soft pieces over the next couple of weeks. Offer finger foods by around eight months.

Here are more practical tips to get you and your baby started.

Mealtime tips

  • Choose a time when you and your baby are calm and relaxed.

  • Sit your baby in a highchair, or somewhere safe, and feed with a spoon. Or offer small morsels with your fingers.

  • Look for signs your baby is not hungry anymore.

Tips to get your baby interested in food

  • Offer foods your baby is interested in – that is, foods your baby is reaching for or looking at.

  • Give your baby a spoon to practise.

  • Describe the foods – what it is, its colour, taste, where it grows, and how you cooked it.

  • Offer your baby tastes of what you are eating to introduce the flavours of your home-cooked meals. This is also a good time for you to think about the foods you eat and enjoy healthy foods together as a family.

  • Follow your baby’s interest and appetite levels. These might not be the same from day to day and will grow over time. Build up to offering three meals a day plus snacks.

Your baby does not need added salt or sugar. Processed or packaged foods with high levels of fat, sugar and/or salt – for example, cakes, biscuits, chips and fried foods – are not good for babies. 

Mealtime mess and play

You can expect your baby’s eating to be very messy and slow because eating is a skill to learn and there is there is exploration of the textures and shapes of solid food.

It is a good idea to keep your baby exploring the solid food because it builds areas like fine motor control and thinking.

Meals are a shared family time. If you are patient with your baby and the mess created, your baby gets to enjoy mealtimes and grow.

To make clean up after meals easier, place newspaper or a plastic sheet under your baby's highchair and have a washcloth handy.

But introducing solids is about much more than just food! It is also a great time to talk, listen and bond with each other.

© raisingchildren.net.au, translated and adapted with permission

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