Spoon-feeding practices vary from one family to another. Boys may differ from girls and breastfed infants tend to start spoon-feeding later than those who are not breastfed. This leaflet offers some general guidance to help ensure that your baby gets the right food at the right time. Remember, babies have special First foods for your baby nutritional needs and what is healthy for adults (e.g. high fibre, low fat) is not suitable for infants and small
When to start
The Department of Health and Children recommend that weaning starts at 6 months for those babies who have been exclusively breast fed, or sometime between 4-6 months if your baby has been formula fed. It is not recommended to start solids before 17 weeks (4 months) or to delay past 26 weeks.
Before 4 months a baby's gut is not fully mature and easily digested breast milk or formula is all that is needed. You may notice, particularly around three and six weeks, that your baby becomes restless and seems to want to feed more often. At this time, increase the number of breast feeds or the amount of formula offered at each feed rather than introducing solid foods.
How to proceed?
It is best not to offer the first spoon-feed when the baby is very hungry. The small amount taken will not be enough to satisfy his/her hunger and he/she may become frustrated and upset. Breast feed or give some formula first and then offer food when the baby is more relaxed. Begin by giving a spoon-feed once a day, at a time when you too are relaxed and can enjoy the experience. At first, only a very small amount of food will be eaten. What is important is that the baby is beginning to learn to take food from a spoon. Introduce one food at a time so that the baby can get used to the different tastes and textures. If a particular food is refused, wait a few days and try again. If you suspect that your baby has reacted to a food by being unsettled or upset, avoid this food for a while and if the problem persists when you try the food again talk to your doctor, a nutritionist / dietitian or your public health nurse.
Step by step guide to weaning
Our month to month weaning guide helps to answer questions you have around weaning, and the first food to introduce to your baby. We have broken this guide into three keys stages, 4-6 months, 6-9 months and 9-12 months.
Guide for weaning at 4-6 months
Precisely which food you begin with is up to you. Whichever food you choose, initially it should be of a soft, runny consistency. Pureed fruits (banana, pear) or vegetables (carrot, green beans) are excellent choices as are gluten free cereals, e.g. baby rice. The range of foods used may be expanded gradually to include all fruits and vegetables, potatoes, eggs (begin with the yolk, cooked solid), meat or chicken, pulses (peas, beans, lentils, appropriately cooked) and gluten free cereals. Cereals may be mixed with water, expressed breast milk or formula.
Guide for weaning at 6-9 months
As your baby becomes used to swallowing solid food, a thicker consistency may be offered. Do not give hard or lumpy food until baby has enough teeth to chew it! Continue to use fruits, vegetables, meats, pulses and cereals which need not now be gluten free. After six months, cows milk may be used, but only to mix feeds or as an ingredient in foods (e.g. on breakfast cereals, as a sauce or in milk based desserts such as custard). Bread, or scones are useful between meal snacks. Try yoghurt for dessert.
Guide for weaning at 9-12 months
Baby will now be able to bite and chew and eat most family foods and snacks. Breast milk or formula should continue to be the main milk drink. Encourage your baby to develop a healthy and varied eating pattern by offering a wide range of foods ñ even those you may not choose yourself. Ensure that snacks are nourishing; for example, offer finger foods such as toast, chopped fruit, cooked carrot sticks or a slice of fruit loaf (brack). If meals are not eaten, try to include the food at another time. Make a sandwich with chopped meat or chicken or melt some cheese on wholemeal toast. By their first birthday, babies should be able to eat most family foods and join in family meals. It is still essential to supervise your baby during mealtimes, never leave him/her alone while drinking or eating.
Other practical points to remember
- Breast milk or formula should be the main milk drink to 12 months.
- Cows milk should not be used as the main milk drink for the first year. It may be used to mix foods or as a food ingredient after six months.
- Solid foods should not be introduced before four months.
- Feed solid food from a spoon; do not add food to a bottle feed. Chewing is important for speech development and the muscles used for chewing are also used in speaking.
- Use gluten-free cereals to six months.
- Red meat is the best source of iron and may be introduced between four and six months.
- Sugar may be used in moderation, e.g. to sweeten stewed fruit.
- Salt should not be added to baby's food.
- Do not use high salt or high fibre products for babies.
- Hot or spicy foods are not suitable first foods.
- Never give chopped or whole nuts to small babies or young children.
- Keep all utensils used for feeding babies scrupulously clean.