“I knew by breastfeeding I was giving Rachel a healthy start. Where to go next was a little more confusing. It was tricky at first, but gradually we settled into a healthy balance.”
Your Health Visitor or GP should be able to alert you if your baby is not gaining weight as expected or is displaying symptoms of food allergies, failure to thrive or gastro-enteritis.
For the first six months stick to either breast milk or formula (breast milk is preferable). After that, gradually introduce solids at your baby’s own pace. Aim for a healthy balance, including all main food groups. Provide a varied diet. Allow them to enjoy their food.
Don’t feel pressured if friends or relatives make comments about your baby’s eating habits. Every baby is different. Follow a varied, healthy diet and let your own child discover food in their own way.
Don’t add salt and sugar to your baby’s food and avoid choking hazards such as nuts or small, hard pieces of food. Honey is also to be avoided in the first year. Do not give nuts under the age of three years.
- Breast milk offers the most natural and healthy start for your baby
- There’s no rush to start your baby on solids before six months; milk can provide all the nourishment that your baby needs for the first six months of their life
- Take it gently, one step at a time. Don’t let mealtimes become stressful
- Making your own baby food is cheaper and ensures you control the ingredients
- Be careful when using microwaves as they can defrost and warm food unevenly causing “hot spots” that can burn your baby
- Make mealtimes fun. Let your baby play with their food - it’s all part of learning and speech development
- Having mealtimes together as a family encourages healthy eating habits
For infants under six months, breast milk provides exactly the right mix of healthy ingredients and it can help protect your baby from illness and allergies. However, if you do not breastfeed then you will need to use infant formula milk. Cows milk can be given to babies from six months e.g. on cereal or as cheese or yoghurts but should not be given as a main drink until one year. Babies under six months shouldn't need fluids other than milk unless advised by a health professional.
It is recommended that solid food should not be introduced before six months (26 weeks) as they are not sufficiently developed to cope with solid food before this time. Different babies adapt to solids at different speeds. Some are choosy, whilst others will eat almost anything. It’s vital to go at your baby’s own pace and not make mealtimes a stressful experience for both of you. Here are some useful tips to make introducing solids easier:
- Spoon out the amount you think your baby will eat and heat this.
- Babies should not be left unsupervised while eating or drinking.
- Encourage your baby to help with feeding; allow them to make a bit of a mess.
Making your own is a lot cheaper than buying baby food, plus you will know exactly what’s in it and it means your baby will get used to your normal family foods. You could simply mash up portions of your family food, but do not add any salt or sugar. Preparing larger quantities than you need and freezing small portions, for example in ice cube trays, for later can save time and effort. But beware: microwaves can heat food unevenly - one spoonful can be lukewarm, the next scalding hot. Always mix food thoroughly and test the temperature before feeding.
A balanced diet contains all the energy and nutrients children need to grow and develop. Meals should contain starchy carbohydrates, protein (from dairy products or meat, fish or vegetarian alternatives) and fruit and vegetables. Make sure you use full fat versions of foods and offer regular meals and snacks. Children need lots of energy to grow and be active, but often can only manage small amounts in one go. Make sure you include iron rich foods in the diet, especially if you are bringing up your child on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
For more information check the NHS Choices website.
If you have any queries or worries about your baby's diet, ask your Health Visitor or GP for advice, or use any of the contacts on the opposite page to get more information.