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Solids – when do we start?

Feeling pressured to start solids before 6 months?

Get the science behind official guidelines.

baby with spoon

Breastmilk alone provides your baby with all the nourishment they need for the first 6 months of life. From around 6 months of age, you can start introducing family foods. 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. 

Australian recommendations in the current (December 2012) Australian Infant Feeding Guidelines are to introduce solids at around 6 months of age. 

What are the signs that my baby is ready for solids?  

When babies are ready for food, they will: 

  • have lost the tongue-thrust reflex that pushes food back out of the mouth 

  • show good neck and head control 

  • be able to sit upright with little support  

  • show a great interest in what you are eating, perhaps try to grab your food - although it's common for babies to put everything in their mouths so this alone doesn't necessarily show readiness. 

These signs tend to occur at around 6 months of age, with some a little earlier and others a little later. Guidelines with ages can only ever be approximate as babies develop at different rates. 

Why not start earlier?

It’s common for new parents to come under pressure to begin solids earlier than 6 months. There are good reasons for waiting until your baby is about 6 months old before starting them on other foods.  Babies won’t benefit from starting solids or other fluids until their bodies are ready. However, it can be very hard to deal with well-meaning advice, especially if it comes from family and friends. 

  • A young baby’s gut cannot cope well with the fats and proteins that are in other milks, eggs, meat, fruit, vegetables and cereals. Your baby’s kidneys cannot easily handle the large amount of salt found in many processed foods. 

  • Solids won’t help your baby sleep through the night. This is a common belief but research shows that there are no differences in night-waking whether a baby under 6 months is having solids or only breastmilk. In fact, some babies become less able to sleep when solids are introduced too early.  

  • With allergies, there has been no good evidence to suggest that starting babies on solids earlier means less chance of allergy. Also, allergy is not the only consideration in timing of solids.

  • There are also nutritional issues, risk of illness, risk of the baby receiving too little breastmilk and developmental readiness. Many people think that risk of illness from formula-feeding or dirty solids is only a problem in poor countries. However, there are many studies showing that breastfeeding protects babies from illness in Western countries as well.   

This evidence supports keeping the timing for exclusive breastfeeding to around 6 months. 

 

© Australian Breastfeeding Association April 2022

References
  1. National Health and Medical Research Council. (2015). Infant feeding guidelines. Canberra, ACT: National Health and Medical Research Council. 

  1. Brown, A., & Harries, V. (2015). Infant sleep and night feeding patterns during later infancy: Association with breastfeeding frequency, daytime complementary food intake, and infant weight. Breastfeeding Medicine, 10(5), 246–252. 

  1. Anderson J, Malley K, Snell R 2009, Is 6 months still the best for exclusive breastfeeding and introduction of solids? A literature review with consideration to the risk of the development of allergies. Breastfeeding Review 17(2): 23–31. 

Read more about introducing solids

Breastfeeding: and family foods

Evidence-led info and practical tips from our Breastfeeding Information Series

Family foods booklet