Introducing solid foods
In 2001, the World Health Organization issued a global public health recommendation that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is normally physiologically possible except for a few medical conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk production (World Health Organization).
From the introduction of solid foods to eventual weaning can take weeks, months or even years, depending on what suits individual babies and women but ideally includes a gradual decrease in breastfeeding.
Many of the women we spoke to saw the introduction of solid foods as an exciting developmental milestone in their baby's growth. They said that it was fun to watch their baby exploring new tastes and textures while getting used to food in their mouth. Several also acknowledged that it indicated the “beginning of the end” of breastfeeding and marked the point at which their baby no longer needed just them (see 'Managing weaning, including thoughts and feelings').
It was fun to see her daughter gradually take on different foods but sad to think that it was...
No she didn't actually, she was, and she's okay. But it was really just trial and error, I'd tried her with all kinds of things and there were some she liked more than, she loved apple for a while, then she loved pear, she liked blueberries, she liked carrots, she like pumpkin and swede, and then she didn't, I mean there was some that she never ever, ever liked, and I've just got back into, there were some she liked and then grew out of, when she was sick with the flu, I didn't, I just gave her things I knew she'd like, like the fruit, she likes blueberries, I didn't bother with the whole carrots and peas and cabbage things, but after she had the cold she went off all those foods, I had to start again so I began looking around the different shops and supermarkets for different brands and I found that, another brand now that she's into at the moment so, she's started eating again properly which is great. It's trial and error because she's changing obviously and her tastes are changing but they do say that when you're feeding the baby you should try and maybe give them the same thing for two or three days just to get them used to the taste rather than chopping and changing and giving them one, a different thing this day and another thing a different days so.
I think part of that too is to see if they have any allergies or anything'
If you're chopping and changing you'll never know what it is.
Yes that's right yeah, yeah.
But if it's just one thing and they react'
'to it then you know that's what it is.
That's it, yes so, that's been fun actually, it's been fun to see her gradually take on different foods and, she's not that keen on finger foods at the moment, she tends to think they're toys so, that's not working very well but she likes fruit, and she likes water, and she's okay with vegetables but she's not that bothered, so yeah, it's been quite positive so far, in a way it's also sad because I know it's the beginning of the end for breastfeeding, I'm quite sad about that but I don't want to be one of these mums that breastfeeds until she's twelve.
Some women viewed the introduction of solids as additional to breastfeeding with their baby still getting most of their nourishment from breast milk (including readily absorbed vitamins and minerals). Others viewed it as a time to replace breast milk with other foods and to cut down on the frequency of breastfeeding. Either way, the women introduced solid foods to their baby gradually over a period of time.
Her baby was having just as much breastmilk as ever plus some solids. Her day became more...
Yes you can.
It's called, 'Bestfeeding' by Chloe Fisher well she's one of the authors there's several authors and this was a really comprehensive book with tons of really useful information, anyway so I got very interested in, in breastfeeding as a whole subject, and one of the things that I had read was that in fact they thought it was better to wait to introduce solids at six months which now has become the official guidelines and I think at the time I must have got it off the internet or something. So I did wait until she was fully six months and a bit more in the end, before I did.
How did you know she was ready for solids?
I hadn't felt she needed them beforehand was the main thing, there was no sign that this baby was desperate to eat food, but I felt, my own point of view, that once she could sit up on her own that was quite an important thing, I didn't want to be sort of feeding her in a bouncy chair, I felt that she should be able to sit up on her own and by seven months she could. Plus, I suppose, she just seemed that much older and able to sort of manipulate objects better and I felt that, you know, putting a spoon in her mouth she wouldn't just sort of poke it straight out like, she would have done as a very small baby when, because I tried having a, I tried using a dummy on occasion and it just come, got poked straight out and so they, they didn't, it's as if they didn't want anything in their mouth, and then by seven months everything was going in the mouth, they were exploring and, she was exploring and, I felt she was ready for that and I remember once I gave her a bit of papaya or something to lick and she seemed to be quite excited by this when she tasted this fruit that she hadn't tasted before and I thought, 'Oh maybe, maybe she would like some then'.
What sort of things did you give her?
Pureed pear, mashed banana, one of my friends suggested something of mixing avocado with banana which sounds absolutely disgusting but it's really, really nice and sort of creamy and really quite yummy, so she liked that, and I suppose pureed carrots.
So did you set up a pattern of feeding, did you breastfeed and then give her a solid feed, or did you give her solids and then breastfeed, or did you do them at separate times, how did you do that?
Initially breastfeeding was still very much her main source of food and I never felt really that I reduced that very much, maybe it was, very subtly reducing and I didn't realise but it felt as if she was having just as much milk as ever plus some solids. And we probably just started by having one meal as it were a day and then it was two and then eventually she would be having three. I mean I quite like the fact that it introduced more, a bit more of a pattern to the day, because I think before I'd very much fed on demand and there wasn't, I hadn't said, 'Right I'm going to feed on the clock at this time and that time' and so the, our days became a bit more structured after we introduced solids, but she was still feeding a lot and at that, actually at that point she was still waking at night for feeds as well.
About what age did you introduce solids and what did you start with?
At the time of having my daughter the guidelines were four and a half or, four to four and a half months so that was when I started with her, and I just started with pureed fruits and baby rice, baby rice made with breastmilk, baby cereal made with breastmilk, and then, different vegetables and eventually I added in some protein as she got older, and I started giving her water at about four months as well.
How did you give her the water?
Pre-boiled, cooled pre-boiled water, just in the Tommee Tippee cup, sometimes just out of a beaker with a lid as well, she could manage it.
What made you decide to give her the water?
Just that the health visitor's advice was always well, just when you're cutting down the milk you need to make sure that they're still getting enough liquids.
Zainab explains what she did to stop breastfeeding after bedtime.
The age at which the women we spoke to began giving their baby solid food varied considerably. It appeared to depend on their (both mother's and baby's) individual preferences. Because of the adoption in 2003 by the UK Departments of Health in England, Wales and Northern Ireland of recommendations for exclusive breastfeeding to six months, and the consequent change in the appropriate age to begin solids from four to six months, there was a little confusion for some women. Several with older children had followed advice to begin solids at four months and continued to do this with subsequent babies while others began earlier babies at four months and later babies at six months or even older. Several women talked about their baby wanting to breastfeed more frequently around this time and a few spoke of being confused between a growth spurt when their baby fed more frequently to build up their milk supply (see 'What daily life is like with a breastfed baby') and an indication of readiness for solid foods.
Her first baby had solids at four months but she waited for longer with the others and simply...
How did you know they were ready for solids?
Well, frequently breastfeeding more and maybe putting their fingers to the mouth was another point where you could see that maybe oh, you know, maybe they're hungry and again, you know, as I say wanting to breastfeed more that was another point.
And did they watch you eating and reach for your food?
No, no they wouldn't have, no they wouldn't have at this stage, no.
And so did you start the boys on baby rice as well?
No I didn't start with baby rice, again, I didn't buy any solid foods, I would've just introduced, first of all I would've maybe I started with mashed banana or yoghurts, really fruit. Again I didn't go out and buy jars of food or packets of food, I would've introduced my own food, whatever dinner I was cooking, vegetables, chicken, meat, mashed up with potato and gravy, and that's what I would've given my children, so it was.
So you made it easy'
Oh I did, yes.
'for the later children'
'just whatever you were having?
Just whatever, again, whatever we were having as a family I would've given it to the children to eat, I didn't buy any bottles or jars or anything like that, it was just really family meals whatever was being cooked they were just getting the part of it as well.
Some women introduced solids foods because of advice (or even pressure) from their health visitor once their baby attained the recommended age. Others were more relaxed and followed their baby's lead. There was a variety of behaviours that some women thought indicated that their baby was ready for solids while others said that these same behaviours were not a sign of readiness. One of these behaviours was the stage at which their baby watched them, began to reach out for things and put these into his/her mouth which most women interpreted as a clear sign of interest in food. However, one woman said that this was often misinterpreted as a desire for other foods. Another said that her baby wanted whatever she had and put it into her mouth, whether or not it was food.
She let her babies take the lead regarding solid foods and thinks that it is not a sign of...
How did you know when he was ready?
Well I, from I think from him being six, six and a half months old we used to sit him on my knee or he was sat in the high chair, so he was sitting for a start he would, I would wait and he would take things say he would take something off my plate or he would if I was trying to put something to my mouth he would take it off me which babies because that can be kind of misconstrued to thinking that, you know, if you're on the phone or you're, oh I don't know, you've got a pen, or you've got it in your mouth your baby might take it off you, a younger baby might do but that's because whatever you've got your baby wants and they want to try things in their mouths and I think he was doing that then, so everything we had he wanted and he did that for a while and he would put them in his mouth and he would, play with it and it would come out and it would be all over the floor and then one day, at around eight and a half months, he just started to, things started to go in you know, he would he would swallow things and he would eat things. I would say he was probably nearer to one before we actually had a plate of food with a fork and a spoon, I never fed him he used to just feed himself and he's a fantastic eater now he tries anything and he eats anything, so he eats really well.
And with the girls?
The girls I did the same, my eldest daughter was she was ten, ten and a half months really before she was really bothered she was, it's interesting because she's the third she's a very similar build to my son, my oldest son and she eats, she kind of used to just eat very small amounts but it was probably her from then to probably eighteen months before she really ate any great quantity.
So she was still breastfeeding'
'quite frequently at that stage?
Several women thought that waking at night, increased frequency of wanting to breastfeed, a slowing of weight gain or biting were signs of readiness for solids. For some women, introducing solid food at these times reversed the trends while for others, solid foods made no difference at all (see 'Monitoring baby's growth').
A wide variety of food was used as baby's introduction to solids including fruit (especially banana and apple), vegetables (especially carrot), cereals (especially baby rice and porridge mixed with either expressed breast milk or infant formula) and dairy products (such as yoghurt and cheese). While many women used baby rice, several were scathing about it, saying that it had fewer calories (“empty calories”) than breast milk (see 'Monitoring baby's growth'), was revolting, and looked and tasted disgusting. One woman called it wallpaper paste (see Interview 28 above)!
Most women introduced new foods gradually and one at a time so that they could identify what caused any allergic reaction that their baby might have. One woman said that it was a “trial and error” process to see what her daughter liked (see Interview 42 above). Some women bought proprietary baby foods, some prepared and pureed foods especially for their baby and others simply gave their baby bits and pieces of the family meal (see Interview 51 above) or finger foods.
The guidelines for introducing solids changed between her babies. She was more relaxed about...
Did she take to it all right at that stage?
She took to it fine.
What did you give her to start off with?
Baby rice just, and then we progressed on to pureed vegetables and stuck more with the vegetables rather than introducing fruit because I wanted her to get the savoury feel rather than the sweet feel. And she was nearly, fed different things a lot quicker than my son was, when I started to wean him, he got the pureed carrot and to make sure he didn't react to it, or that I knew that would be the only thing he would react to, he got fed pureed carrot for a few days before I changed him onto anything else and I fed, it was pureed carrot, then the next time say it was parsnip, then it was something else, and then whenever I knew he didn't react to any of those then they were mixed, whereas with the second one she seemed to progress a bit quicker on to the different things.
And did you make food especially for the babies or did you just give them'
'some of what you were having?
What we were having and just kept extra over and pureed it and she actually, with keeping her to the six months, she went on to the solid lumpy food very quickly. I had a hand blender and one of the times I was washing it was fine and then I turned it upside down and there was like brown water come out and I thought, I don't want that anywhere near her food, and I didn't get back in to get another hand blender so everything was just mashed and she took it no problem.
Just mash it with a fork?
Just mashed it with a fork and then she went quite, I say lumpy food very quickly and was able to deal with it. I had friends and they had, their oldest was the same age as my son roughly, and they also weaned their second at the sixteen weeks and whenever I was visiting I was passing my daughter a banana to hold and to eat, and their child, three months older was still on pureed food, but perhaps that was just the, they just seemed to choke, you know, and gag if there was any lumps in their food now maybe that was just that child I don't know.
But you think it might've been because they were started on solids quite early?
I'm just wondering if they were, you know, because if you start at four months you are pureeing things, and whether whenever you're at six months and you just tend to give that wee bit lumpier stuff in it quicker, maybe they are more ready for it, plus at six months you don't have to worry so much about what you are actually giving them, you know, between four and six months, there's wheat in this, what's in it? Can we give it? Whereas at six months you can nearly get, they can nearly get anything.
Did you have a routine of breastfeeding before or after a solid feed, or not breastfeeding at all when it was time for a meal, a solid meal, how did you kind
The women who held off introducing solids until the baby was older said that it was much easier and that there were a number of advantages such as:
- their baby was readier for solid food, able to sit upright and capable of coping with and enjoying finger foods
- their baby was less likely to develop allergies and could be given a wider range of foods without concerns about things like wheat
- and there was no need to prepare or purchase special foods because their baby could have some foods from the family meal.
Her health visitor suggested solids at four months but they distressed her and her daughter so...
Yeah, I, didn't think about introducing solids it was suggested to me by my health visitor, my daughter was sixteen weeks and I was asked if I'd considered this, which I hadn't. And, it was suggested that maybe I would like to start thinking about it and one of the good things to start with was baby rice. So I went out and bought some baby rice, I expressed breastmilk to mix with baby rice, I'd never expressed really, never had, never had the need to express because I just always fed when she wanted feeding. So that were a little bit tricky, I found that bit difficult, and I mixed up baby rice and expressed breastmilk and thought, 'This don't, this really don't look very appealing', we sat down, I put it in her mouth and she spat it out, and we did this for a week. And, it, weren't pleasant, it, she didn't want it, and I didn't want it, it, weren't, well neither of us were happy, you know, it just, it weren't working. So I thought, 'Maybe it's the baby rice I'll give her a carrot'. So I did all the carrot thing and mashed it up.
Yeah she became, she really weren't happy about it and she became quite, as soon as she realised what was going to happen she became distressed, so I became distressed. And we did it for a week, I kept trying, for a week, really to shove this food into her mouth and then at end of week I thought, 'I can't, I can't cope with the stress of this because she don't want it and it can't, surely she can't be hungry if she's so upset about it' so I stopped. But I never admitted to anybody that I'd stopped, I never told my health visitor, because I thought that people would think I were a bad mother because I weren't doing what I should be doing. But I just didn't bother, I'd, I went back to breastfeeding and then when she was nearly six months I tried her with something and she seemed to take it so much better, and it started very gradual, we didn't sort of start with, it had to be one meal a day, we sort of just took it quite, really relaxed about it and, if we had, we were at home and we had time to sit and try it we did, and if she took it that were great and if, we just built it up, so it weren't as if, one day she were fully breastfed, next day she had to have a meal regardless of whether she wanted it, and it, it worked like that for us, and I found that she moved on to foods much quicker than what they said that she'd, what they'd originally said that she would. So whereas it had been you have, you do this and you have to do that for a week and then you introduce something else and you do that for three, four days and then, I just sort of started doing little bits and putting them together because I think she were more open to different flavours as well, it didn't need to be as, as bland as what were said. So she, she ate loads of sort of different tastes to what I hear a lot of people say that their children are eating, and I mean, brussel sprouts, well it's one of her favourites for a little, a little baby, at and still [laughs] at three she likes brussel sprouts and she's got quite strong sort of tastes. So it were so much easier when I did it sort of later, it really were and we were both much more relaxed and it, it were a lot nicer.
A few women felt pressured (by health professionals and peers) to introduce solids even though their baby was not interested, was happy and was healthy. Some women who followed their health visitor's advice to introduce foods at a set age said that their baby wasn't ready or was even distressed so they waited until she/he was older but did not admit it. Others said that their health professionals were supportive of delaying solid foods until the baby was ready. One woman said that her daughter had taken solids without trouble as a baby but then refused most foods as a toddler.
Her one year old daughter was not very interested in solids. She ignored inappropriate advice...
And how old is she?
She's just gone a year old now.
And is she breastfed?
She's purely breastfed, she doesn't eat any solid food at all at the moment.
In fact, she won't even touch solid food.
Right, and I saw her she's a bonny baby.
She is. Full of beans.
Exclusively breastfed at the moment.
I tried weaning her at six months and followed all the advice about puree and then finger foods and she went from trying tiny bits to now if there's food on a plate she'll either push the plate away or tip it over, she doesn't like to be near food.
So she's just not interested in this at all?
She's not interested at all which, is quite worrying at times, but the more I've read about things the more I've, I look at her and I think she's just not ready, and she'll eat when she is ready, sometimes she'll look at other children eating and that makes her interested in food, and so I try to just let her see children eating as much as possible and I'm sure she'll eat one day.
Has anybody said anything to you about this?
Yeah I've had a lot of advice about this, that my health visitor is quite worried about it and Grace has been referred to a paediatrician. I've had lots of advice from them from giving her a bottle of formula feed to try and break the cycle of her enjoying breastmilk, and I don't agree with bottles of, because, I used to, but since I've been breastfeeding I've become, I've read more about breastfeeding and I've become more and more into breastfeeding, and the more you read about it, the more you find out, the more amazing you think it is. So I didn't want to give her a bottle, so I just said, 'Oh she won't take it' and they actually said, 'Put sugar in the bottle.' And so I thought about this and I spoke to my breastfeeding support group that I go to and everyone was horrified and said, 'She's got teeth, if you start giving her a sugary bottle there's no goodness in it that she's not getting from breastmilk it'll just have, give you a baby that's addicted to sugary bottles instead of breastmilk.' So I ignored that, then I was told to just stop breastfeeding her altogether and that she'd eat when she was hungry, but I decided to ignore that too, which completely goes against the grain. Before I had Grace, I would have followed to the letter, anything that a doctor said to me, because I wouldn't have even thought to question it. But, with a baby you just have this instinct of what's best and what, you know best for your baby, and so I thought about it and decided that. Once I was ill, I had food poisoning and I was really dehydrated, I just couldn't keep anything down and I knew I didn't have any milk, and Grace just sat beside me for a whole day on the bed, there's no one to take her so she just sat next to me and played and I think she knew that I was ill, and she didn't eat all day and my mum came and offered her food, but she wouldn't, she was wasn't interested, she wouldn't even take water, so I thought if I stop breastfeeding I'm just going to have a screaming child and not a screaming child that eats.
Her children were both big babies and her health visitors told her that her daughter was...
Yeah she was four months old and well she was so enthusiastic, she just couldn't wait to get her hands on other food, so anything you gave her it was, 'Oh yes I'll have that and I'll have some more' so was very, very keen, but I mean I've just, I'd given her vegetables that I'd mix, I'd put milk, I'd put some milk in them for her I'd expressed it so, because I thought I'm not going to mix things up with water or whatever, or cow's milk so, yeah I think it was familiar to a certain extent anyway and she just took to it, well like she had to breastfeeding really once she'd got going she just couldn't stop eating things, she just really wanted it all the time.
Did you have a set pattern or a routine that you would give her breastmilk and then solids, or solids and then breastmilk or anything like that?
I'm trying to remember now, I'd give her lunch about the same time as I did so I think, you know, I mean I always breastfed on demand so it was just a case of well now we're going to have lunch and if she happened to have a feed not long before so be it I wouldn't say, 'Oh eleven I'll give you breastmilk and then at half past eleven we'll have lunch', it would just depend on, you know, what she wanted, so.
So very flexible about it all?
Yeah. I don't go with routines really; I just sort of do what seems the easiest thing at the time, what suits them and suits me. I mean this young man he's completely opposite to his big sister, she would always want to have solid food and he's not really interested.
And how old is he now?
He's sixteen months.
And still not really interested in solids?
Not particularly I mean, he is but on his terms, when he wants something he will have it, but, you know, he might only eat four or five teaspoons in a day, and we've been through, I used to go and see the health visitor and I soon gave up on that idea when, because she was concerned so this health visitor and I don't really see eye-to-eye on pregnancy and birth and everything else and breastfeeding and so on, and my daughter is seven and is tall and thin as they come, now she would eat and eat and eat and apparently was going to be obese by the time she was six, well she has to have a belt to keep her trousers up because her trousers are so, not just thin, she's a beanpole, which is quite funny because when she was little she was overweight and well the health visitor's perception of her as a baby and when she two, well there were two different health visitors, was that she was overweight because she was very, you know, she'd tripled her birth weight by less than a year and so on. Anyway young man has done exactly the same thing and is, you know, generally put on a lot of weight, but he doesn't like solid food and the health visitor who was saying my daughter weighed too much is looking at this little boy who's nice and large and saying, 'Oh he's going to be malnourished, he's going to be underweight' and I just laughed, and then she says to me one day she said, 'Oh to encourage him to eat solid food stop breastfeeding him now, stop today', and I said, 'Well what about getting up, ending up with mastitis and everything else?' She said, 'Oh no, just stop feeding him today, and to encourage him to eat gives him desserts, give him chocolate desserts,' and I just said, 'You are joking?' and I said, 'Do you know what this does to breastfeeding? You know, do you know what it'll do to my milk supply and ev
She introduced solids without trouble at six months but later her daughter became fussy about...
So you began solids for her, doing all the baby stuff?
Yeah. About, from about the usual age from about six, seven months or when, probably from about four, five.
And she took it ok then but she's rejecting it now?
I'm pretty sure that she would eat fruit like pear, and apple, and banana, and, if you, you know, pureed a vegetable then she'd eat breadsticks and, it felt like she went through all the sort of normal thing, it was, you know, she could join the mainstream thing in terms of eating but now it doesn't feel like that at all. It doesn't feel like that at all and it, there came a point where me and my dad would just revert to eating what we usually eat, adult food, but she just wouldn't eat it.
What do you mean by adult food?
Like, well like veg curries, that's what he makes so that's what we live on, it's usually, cook up some vegetables and have them along with some rice. And so she gets to the point where she wouldn't try any vegetables but she'd eat the rice, so then we got this tofu, so she lived on tofu for a long time, so we just, she'd just eat chunks of tofu. And then again the whole, you don't know if it's, you know, but might be my dad, it's because I, you know, it seems to me that I'll get my dole money and I'll go to the shops, and Thursday and Friday we'll have a meal and then Saturday and Sunday, and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday it's like I'm trying to get myself to give her a meal every day when she comes home from nursery. But, a lot of the time she doesn't eat it and a lot of the time she's eats sweets and chocolate instead, like she expects some chocolate doughnuts as soon as she gets out of nursery.
Do they feed them in nursery?
The thing is right [sighs], God this is a right bummer right? She should be in the full, she would've been fed at nursery but I didn't accept a full time place, she could've had a full time place from now, but I didn't accept it because I know [nursery teacher] you see and [daughter] went to her nursery for a term, and that meant she lost her place, so now she's on a few hours a day instead of a full day, and so she doesn't get them, the dinner.
Last reviewed November 2018.
Last updated September 2015.