Introducing complementary foods
What age should foods be introduced?
From around 6 months of age babies should be introduced to complementary foods alongside breastfeeding or formula feeding. At this age, complementary foods do not replace breast or formula milk, which continue to provide the majority of a baby’s nutritional requirements. Introduction of complementary foods should be based on developmental readiness: baby is able to sit up, hold head up and able to pick up food and put it into their mouth, able to swallow the food.
Baby-led or spoon feeding?
Introducing foods can be in the form of spoon feeding, baby-led feeding (where a baby is only given finger foods and feeds themselves from the start) or a combination of the two. There is no evidence at present to show one method is more effective than the other.
As with breast and bottle feeding, responsive feeding (i.e., listening to baby’s hunger and fullness cues) can help babies learn to self-regulate their food intake and can reduce over feeding.
Tips for introducing complementary foods responsively
Age-based guidance for introducing foods
Click on the drop-down boxes for guidance on introducing foods at each age.
- Foods should be offered once a day at first, with food offered first then milk (otherwise the milk will fill the baby up)
- Start with single fruits and vegetables. By offering foods singly any allergies are easier to identify. Baby rice can be offered too
- Offer foods from all food groups (see Eatwell guide section)
- Offer foods as pureed, mashed and soft cooked finger foods to help babies adapt to different textures
- Offer bitter vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, and spinach) to help babies get used to different flavours alongside sweeter ones (potatoes, sweet potato)
- Infants should be moving to 3 meals a day, from a variety of food groups to meet their national and vitamin requirements
- Foods should be lumpy and in the form of finger foods to help babies embrace new textures and to help develop hand eye co-ordination
- Babies still require milk feeds although this will start to reduce and a baby may drop a milk feed entirely. As a guide, babies will still need around 600mls/day with breastfed babies adapting their breastfeeds
- Small portions should be offered and foods that are rejected should be tried again, babies can be offered foods up to 10 times before they accept them
- Offering a variety of foods early lays good foundations for healthy eating
- Babies will be having 3 meals (breakfast, lunch, tea), food should be textured (lumpy, chunky) and tasty to encourage babies to eat a variety of foods and to enjoy them
- Milk is still important for an infant’s energy supply. Formula should be around 400mls /day, whilst breastfeed babies will continue to adapt the amount of milk they require in line with their food consumption
12 months +
- At 12 months, babies will be having 3 meals a day and can start to have 2 healthy snacks in order to meet their increased energy requirements
- Healthy snacks should be encouraged (fruit, vegetables, toast, cubes of cheese)
- Commercially produced snacks, particularly dried fruit snacks marketed as being equivalent to fruit, should be avoided, as they often contain free sugars (look out for added sugars on the list of ingredients such as glucose syrup, maltodextrin, sugar) which can lead to tooth decay and excess weight gain
Dairy products and non-dairy alternatives
Dairy products should be full fat and pasteurised to meet babies’ nutritional requirements (these have better vitamin A content than low fat products). They should also be unsweetened e.g., Plain yoghurt.
Breastmilk or cow’s milk can be used in cooking but cow’s milk should not be used as a drink until 12 months.
Non-dairy alternatives (e.g., Soya, Oat, Coconut) should not be given to children under 2 years, and should only be given to children under 5 years with special reasons such as milk allergy or intolerance. This is because most non-dairy milks are very low in protein and essential micronutrients.
Commercially produced baby foods in pouches
Where possible, it is better to use fresh, frozen and canned fruit and vegetables. If using commercially produced baby foods in pouches, there are concerns that due to removal or disruption of fibre from these foods this can lead to reduced infant and child satiety and can lead to overfeeding. They are also more likely to contain free sugars, which can lead babies to gain excess weight. In addition, as many of the pouches contain combinations of foods, infants are unable to recognise individual foods. Babies and infants should never feed directly from the pouch as this can lead to choking.
Foods to avoid
Certain foods should be avoided for infants under the age of 12 months, including sugar, salt and foods high in saturated fats. More specific foods should not be given e.g., honey, whole nuts. The NHS provides a list of foods to avoid giving babies and young children.
Snacks are not required until after 12 months. If babies are hungry milk can be offered instead.
By 6 months babies should be offered sips of tap water from a free-flowing valve free cup or open cup to prevent tooth decay. Juice, fizzy drinks, squash milk shakes should be avoided, they can lead to tooth decay and contain free sugars which can lead to weight gain and later obesity.
Babies under 12 months should not have cow’s milk as a drink (although it can be used in cooking). As noted above, children under 2 years should not drink non-dairy milk alternatives, and these should be avoided if possible under 5 years (unless there is a milk allergy or intolerance, in which case fortified versions can be given to 2-4 year olds).