Breastfeeding and family foods

Breastmilk alone provides a baby with all of the nourishment needed for the first 6 months of life. From around 6 months of age family foods may be introduced. Breastmilk, however, continues to be a baby’s main source of nutrition for the first 12 months. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months and then for breastfeeding to continue alongside complementary (family) foods for 2 years or beyond. Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for around the first 6 months and then for breastfeeding to continue alongside complementary foods for 1 year, or as long as mother and child desire.

Here are a few ideas to help at this new stage in your baby’s life. There is more detailed information and many more food suggestions in the Australian Breastfeeding Association booklet: Breastfeeding: and family foods, available for purchase from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

What are some of the signs that a baby is ready for solids?

A baby who still has the tongue-thrust reflex (when food put into the mouth gets pushed back out by the tongue) is not ready for solid food. Around the time your baby is 6 months of age, she will lose this reflex and may begin to show an interest in eating when you do. When she is around this age and she starts to reach for and grab food and then put it into her mouth, this is a time when you may choose to start introducing her to family food.

How to begin

Make sure your baby is sitting upright (eg in a highchair or on your lap). Try to have at least one other family member eat at the same time as your baby, even if it is only you. In our society, eating is a social occasion and your baby is learning about this. You may decide to offer your baby food from your own plate, until it seems worthwhile to serve her food on her own plate. To start with, she may feel that eating food from your plate is ‘safer’ and be more willing to try it. Respect your baby’s tastes. If she doesn’t seem to like some foods, leave them for a few days and then offer them again. Many babies like to be in control right from the start. You can offer finger foods until she is old enough to manage a spoon. Let her play with some suitable foods. She will try to copy you and will soon learn what to do with a spoon. Some babies are quite happy to be spoon-fed, although soon they will want to try a spoon of their own. Some parents begin with purees, but if your baby is about 6 months, these will only be needed for a very short time. Some babies want only finger foods. It is important for babies to begin to chew soft foods from about 7 months. However you start, be prepared for mess, at least for a while. It is easier to manage if you accept that mess is going to happen. This is all part of your baby learning a new skill.

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What food(s) should be introduced first?

In most cases, your own cooking is best, because it is your family diet that you want your baby to learn to enjoy and you know exactly what you’ve put into the food.

A word on allergies

Babies can be introduced to a variety of family foods from around 6 months of age; the type and order of family foods introduced are unimportant. Current research suggests that almost any foods (including egg, wheat, nut pastes, cows' milk and fish) can be introduced from around 6 months onwards. From an allergy perspective, it is now thought that providing a baby with small amounts of a variety of foods frequently from about 6 months of age helps to reduce the risk of allergies.

If your baby already shows signs of food allergy, seek advice from a health professional.

Some ideas for foods

The best food for your baby to have at a particular meal is what you are preparing for the rest of the family, adapted as needed.

Fruit: Grated apple or other fruit; piece of banana or ripe avocado; pieces of melon or pawpaw (without seeds); an orange quarter, minus peel and seeds; stone fruit with stone removed; peeled and cored apple or pear.

Meat or alternative: A small amount of meat on a safe bone, for example, chicken leg bone, lamb chop; fingers of grilled or baked liver or kidney; rissoles or slices of homemade meat loaf; firm tofu cooked in long thin slices.

Fish: Homemade fish fingers or fish cakes; flakes of cooked fish with every bone removed.

Vegetables: Cooked green stringless beans; cooked broccoli or cauliflower floret; fingers of cooked potato, carrot or other vegetable; grated raw carrot. If baby has teeth, try a piece of raw celery or other salad vegetables.

Bread: White ‘high-fibre’ or wholemeal; homemade rusks (bake thick slices or crusts in a very slow oven until they are quite crisp and dry); toast, plain, buttered, or sometimes use a spread thinly; sandwiches.

Pasta: Boiled, cooled, pasta shapes, with meat/vegetables from a casserole.

Eggs: Pieces of hard-boiled egg yolk or whole egg; strips of omelette.

Milk products: Fingers of cheese; grated cheese. Yoghurt, very soft cheeses and custard can be eaten by using other finger foods as dippers.

A word on iron and zinc

Between 6 and 12 months, a baby’s own iron and zinc stores from birth start to diminish. It is therefore suggested to offer foods that contain iron, such as red meat, as one of your baby’s first foods. Although a baby is unable to gnaw into a piece of meat, just by sucking the juices, he will obtain valuable iron and zinc.

How much solids?

Below is a general guide for daily amounts of different food groups for children aged 7–12 months. Babies will vary, so some may need a little more and others a little less. Throughout a child’s first year of life breastmilk (or infant formula for a formula-fed baby) remains their main source of nutrition.

Each category has a recommended amount that can be made up from just one of the foods or a mix of foods in that category. For example, half the amount of meat plus half the amount of nut butter equals the full amount for the first category.

Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, legumes/beans — 30 g/day

Each of these is about 30 g: 1–2 tablespoons cooked red meat/mince or chicken (about 50 g raw); 2–3 tablespoons fish (about 60 g raw); ½ cup cooked lentils or beans; 1 tablespoon nut butter; 1 egg.

Grain foods — 60 g/day

Each of these is about 60 g: 1½ slices bread; ¾ bread roll; 3 rice cakes; ¾ cup cooked pasta, rice, noodles or porridge. For those having baby cereals, they could have an extra 20 g of these per day.

Vegetables — 30–40 g/day

Each of these is about 30–40 g: 1/8 – ¼ cup of cooked vegetables or legumes (beans); ¼ – ½ cup salad vegetables; 1/8 – ¼ medium potato; ¼ – ½ medium tomato; 1 tablespoon of avocado.

Fruit — 10 g/day

Each of these is about 10 g: About 1/8 of a medium apple, banana, orange or pear; ¼ small apricot, kiwi fruit or plum; 1/8 cup of canned fruit (no added sugar); or 1 tablespoon of pureed fruit.

Dairy foods (in addition to at least 600 mL breastmilk or formula)

1/2 tablespoon yoghurt or 5 g cheese.

Fats and oils

Total of 1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon of one or combination of unsaturated spread, oil or nut/seed paste; 1 tablespoon avocado.

What about choking?

Always stay with your baby and ensure he is sitting upright while he is eating or chewing. Avoid offering your baby foods that pose a choking hazard (eg whole nuts should not be offered until a child is 5 years of age due to the risk of choking). Be aware of the risk of choking. All parents should learn what to do if this occurs, as well as other first-aid treatments.

Gagging is not the same as choking, is not dangerous and doesn’t seem to bother babies. If they gag on a piece of finger food, they simply spit it out and try again. It becomes more dangerous if an adult panics, as this may make the baby also panic and so increase the risk of her choking on the piece of food.

Drinks

Babies still having lots of breastfeeds will not need extra drinks for a while. However, when your baby starts to eat family foods, you may also want to begin to offer other drinks, in which case cooled boiled tap water is the best. You can experiment with different types of cups. Some parents find that their baby manages to drink from an open cup (with assistance of course) while other parents find that their baby manages a plastic feeder cup (the kind with a spout or a straw) better. Other mothers find that a small, narrow, transparent cup works well, as a baby can then see what he is drinking.

Cows' milk should not be given as a drink until a baby is over 12 months of age. However, from 6 months, dairy foods can be used in small quantities as part of the baby’s solids diet, for example yoghurt, cheese or milk mixed with other solid foods.

In summary

Breastmilk alone will provide all the nutrients your baby needs for about the first 6 months. Look for signs that your baby is ready for family foods and introduce them one at a time. Be relaxed and flexible in your approach to starting solids. Don’t aim to offer foods in a set order. Remember that he is being introduced to your family diet. Think of your baby as the youngest member of the family, who will gradually join in all family activities. This way you should not have any problems with his learning to share what the rest of the family eats. It is just a natural part of growing up!

Resources

Feel free to talk to an ABA counsellor on Helpline about introducing family foods to your baby.
We also offer email counselling to our members. See the full range of benefits you get with ABA membership

Group project - Introducing solids A4 tear-off pad

This excellent group project is an A4 pad of tear-off colour gloss sheets on introducing solids, including visual images of signs of readiness (consistent with latest NHMRC recommendations). The reverse side has detailed information on introducing solids, including signs of readiness, how to begin, allergies, risk of early solids introduction and ideas for first foods. 
A fabulous resource for breastfeeding counsellors, breastfeeding educators, lactation consultants and health professionals. 
Price: Pad of 50 $15 each plus postage
Orders to abasoutheasternsuburbs@gmail.com

The following are available for purchase from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

Some of the booklets:

Breastfeeding: expressing and storing breastmilk

Breastfeeding: and your supply

Breastfeeding: sleep

Breastfeeding: diet, exercise, sex and more

Breastfeeding: weaning

Other resources:

Breastfeeding … naturally, 3rd edn (Australian Breastfeeding Association)

Baby-led weaning: The essential guide. How to introduce solid foods and help your baby to grow up a happy and confident eater (2019). G. Rapley and T. Murkett.

Ready, Steady...Eat! A parent's guide to starting babies on solid food YouTube video

NMAA Cooks, Australian Breastfeeding Association

Breastfeeding and family foods

Breastfeeding: and family foods booklet

Breastfeeding and Family Foods helps parents outline the process of introducing family foods to a baby.

Add to cart

 

References

Dewey KG, Finley DA, Lonnerdal B, (1984). Breastmilk volume and composition during late lactation (7-20 months). J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 3(5):713-720.

Kent JC, Mitoulas L, Cox DB, Owens RA, Hartmann PE, (1999). Breast volume and milk production during extended lactation in women.  Exp Physiol 84(2):435-447.

National Health and Medical Research Council, (2013). Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.

National Health and Medical Research Council, (2013). Australian Dietary Guidelines Summary. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.

Neville MC, Keller R, Seacat J, Lutes V, Neifert M, Casey C, Allen J, Archer P, (1988). Studies in human lactation: milk volumes in lactating women during the onset of lactation and full lactation. Am J Clin Nutr  48(6):1375-1386.

The information on this website does not replace the advice of your health care provider.

© Australian Breastfeeding Association, July 2020

Last reviewed: 
Jul 2020