Complementary feeding

Complementary feeding or 'weaning' means introducing your baby to their first solid foods – you can start doing this when your baby is about six months old. It's a big step in their development and it’s fun exploring new flavours and textures together.

Your baby gets all the fluid, nutrients and energy they need from breast milk or formula – this is why it's best to hold off introducing solids until they are around six months old. If your baby was born prematurely, ask your Health Visitor or GP for advice on when the best time is to start.

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When your baby is ready, start by offering small amounts of vegetables, fruit, starchy foods, protein and pasteurised dairy. Remember - never add salt or sugar – they don't need it.

How to start your baby on solids

Babies don't need three meals a day at first, so you can start by offering them a small amount, at a time that suits you both.

Some babies need a while to get used to new textures, so start with smooth or blended foods on a spoon at first. To help your baby progress to a range of textures and tastes quickly, try to move onto mashed foods as soon as your baby is ready.

Gradually, you'll be able to increase the amount and variety of food your baby eats. By 10-12 months, your baby should be having three meals a day and enjoying a wide range of tastes and textures. As your baby grows, eating together as a family encourages them to develop good eating habits.

Finger foods

Start off with finger foods that break up easily in their mouth (like soft vegetables and fruit) and are long enough for them to grip (about the size of your index finger). Then as your baby gets more confident, try toast, pitta bread and strips of meat or fish.

Always stay with your baby when they're eating in case they choke. Avoid giving them whole grapes, hard chunks of foods such as raw apple or carrot, and small hard foods such as nuts and popcorn. Remove any pips, stones or tough skin.

Drinks and cups

The best drink for your baby is plain water. But avoid bottled water as it can contain too much salt (sodium) or sulphate.

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If your baby is less than six months old and you've started weaning, make sure you sterilise the water by boiling it first – let it cool right down before you give it to them. You can stop doing this once your baby gets to six months.

From six months onwards, encourage your baby to drink from a cup, instead of a bottle. By the time your baby is a year old, they should have stopped using bottles with teats altogether.

Start off with a cup, or beaker, with a free-flow lid (without a non-spill valve). Then move onto an open cup (with no lid) – this will help them learn to sip rather than suck drinks (which is better for their teeth).

First foods

Try to include two or three of these food groups for each meal:

Vegetables: Cook to soften them, then mash or puree the veggies to a suitable texture for your baby, or give them as finger foods. Offer a variety of vegetables, including ones with bitter flavours. This could include:

  • Broccoli
  • Parsnips
  • Peppers
  • Peas
  • Cauliflower
  • Swede
  • Spinach
  • Green beans
  • Courgette
  • Asparagus
  • Kale
  • Carrots
  • Avocado
  • Butternut squash
  • Cabbage

Fruit: Mash or puree soft, ripe fruits to a suitable texture for your baby, or give them as finger foods. Harder fruits will need to be cooked to soften them. Wash and remove any pips, stones and hard skin. This could include:

  • Banana
  • Blueberries
  • Kiwi
  • Oranges
  • Apple
  • Raspberries
  • Mango
  • Nectarine
  • Pear
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Papaya
  • Melon
  • Peach
  • Plum

Starchy food: These can be cooked and mashed or pureed to a suitable texture for your baby, or offered as finger foods. Cereals can be mixed with breast milk or first infant formula - or with pasteurised whole (full-fat) cows' milk (or goats' or sheep's milk) if your baby is over six months old. This could include:

  • Potato
  • Sweet potato
  • Rice
  • Baby rice
  • Pasta
  • Porridge
  • Oats
  • Oatmeal
  • Cornmeal
  • Maize
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Toast
  • Breads
  • Chapatti
  • Pitta bread

Protein foods: This food group includes meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses and is suitable from about six months.

As well as giving your baby protein, these foods contain other useful nutrients, such as iron and zinc, which are important for babies.

Eggs produced under the British Lion Code of Practice (stamped with the red lion) are considered very low risk for salmonella, and safe for babies and toddlers to eat raw or partially cooked. This could include:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Fish (no bones
  • Egg
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Tofu
  • Pulses such as chickpeas

Dairy: Pasteurised dairy foods such as pasteurised full-fat yoghurt and cheese are suitable foods for your baby from six months.

Full-fat, unsweetened or plain yoghurts are a good choice because they don't contain added sugars.

Whole pasteurised (full- fat) cows' milk, or goats' or sheep's milk, can be used in cooking or mixed with food from six months old, but not as a drink until your baby is 12 months.

Simple, healthy recipes

Homemade food is always better than shop bought (although ready-made baby food can sometimes be handy). Eventually your baby should be eating the same healthy family meals as you – they just need a blended, chopped or mashed version (remember not to add salt or sugar). Any leftovers can be stored in ice cube trays and frozen for another time.

If you do buy ready-made baby food, check the label and choose foods with no added sugar or salt. Also, you don't need to buy the more expensive foods – they aren't necessarily any healthier than the cheaper versions.

Here are some delicious weaning recipes to get your baby started on solids:

Healthy snacks

Healthy snacks include: soft, ripe, fresh fruit (cut up into small pieces); pasteurised plain unsweetened full-fat yoghurt; toast, pitta or chapatti fingers; small cubes of cheese.

Try to avoid things like rusks, baby biscuits and biscotti as they contain lots of sugar. Also, dried fruit like raisins and apricots, and baked or pressed fruit snacks contain a lot of sugar. While they can be given as part of a meal, avoid giving them as snacks in between. Salty foods like crisps and crackers should also be avoided.

Do you have a fussy eater?!

It may take a few times (or more) for your baby to get used to new flavours. There'll be days when your baby eats more, some when they eat less, and then days they reject everything you've made! If this happens, don't be discouraged – it's perfectly normal, if frustrating.

Just keep offering a variety of foods, even the ones they don't seem to like, and let your baby get used to these flavours and textures in their own time. Have a look at these helpful tips for fussy eaters.

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Mealtime tips

  • Allow your baby to have fun touching, holding and exploring food. Let them feed themselves when they want to – it helps them to develop fine motor skills (picking up small pieces of food).
  • Mealtimes are messy! If you're worried about the floor, stick a newspaper or mat underneath them to contain most of the mess – this makes tidying up easier.
  • Let your baby decide how much food they need. Never force them to eat, they'll eat when they're hungry!
  • Encourage your baby to try new foods – offer small amounts and let them get used to new flavours gradually.

First foods plan

Our first foods plan shows the different sorts of foods to give your baby at different ages.

0-6 months

Breast milk is the best food your baby can have – it's free, always the perfect temperature, provides all the right nutrients and is basically tailor-made! You don't need to give your baby anything other than breastmilk for the first six months.

Baby vitamins: If you are exclusively breastfeeding, your baby needs a daily vitamin D supplement (8.5 to 10mcg).

If your baby is having infant formula, they don't need a vitamin D supplement until they're having less than 500ml (about a pint) a day.

From 6 months

In the beginning, you only need to feed them once a day, at a time that suits you both. Start by offering your baby small amounts of:

  • Vegetables

  • Fruits

  • Starchy foods (such as potato, rice, pasta, and bread)

  • Protein (such as meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses)

  • Pasteurised dairy foods (such as yoghurt and cheese)

Eggs produced under the British Lion Code of Practice (stamped with the red lion) are considered very low risk for salmonella, and safe for babies and toddlers to eat raw or partially cooked. Read about the healthy way to eat eggs.

Breast milk or first infant formula is still important and your baby needs as much as they had before, even though you are offering solid foods as well.

Baby vitamins: From six months to five years, it's recommended that all babies and children are given daily vitamin drops containing vitamins A, C and D, unless they're having 500ml (about a pint) or more of first infant formula a day.

Read more about the vitamins your baby needs.

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From 7 months

Your baby may be able to manage mashed foods with some small soft lumps in it. Finger foods can also help them learn how to bite and chew their food.

Gradually increase the amount and variety of food your baby eats. Aim to offer three meals a day, as well as their usual amount of breast milk or first infant formula.

From 10 months

By now, your baby will be able to enjoy bigger chunks of soft food. They should also be able to manage a wider range of finger foods.

By the time your baby is about 12 months old, they should be eating the same healthy food as the rest of the family (just in smaller portions).

Remember, breast milk or first infant formula still gives your baby energy and nutrients, so keep offering the usual milk feeds alongside solid foods.

From 12 months

Your baby should now be eating three meals a day, containing a variety of different healthy and nutritious foods. They may also need two snacks in between meals – stick to things like fruit, vegetable sticks, toast, bread or plain yoghurt.

You can keep breastfeeding for as long as it suits you both, but your baby needs less breast milk so they can make room for more food. There's no need to offer toddler milks, growing-up milks or goodnight milks.

For the main milk drink, you can offer pasteurised whole (full-fat) cows' milk, or goats' or sheep's milk. From two years, if your toddler is a good eater and growing well, they can have semi-skimmed milk. From five years old, you can give 1% fat or skimmed milk.

Baby vitamins: Keep giving your baby daily vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D until they are five years old. If you feed your baby first infant formula, they don't need vitamin drops as long as they're having 500ml (about a pint) or more of formula a day.

Food allergies

If you have a family history of food allergies, eczema, hay fever or asthma, try to breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first six months, as this will help lower their risk of developing allergies.

There are certain foods that can trigger allergic reactions, so you need to be cautious with when you first introduce them. It's best to introduce them in small amounts, one at a time, and watch carefully for any signs of allergic reaction. And if you do decide to start weaning before six months, don't give your baby any of these foods:

  • Wheat
  • Gluten
  • Nuts (including peanuts)
  • Seeds
  • Eggs
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Soy-based formula (unless recommended by your GP)
  • Cow's milk and other dairy products

Eggs produced under the British Lion Code of Practice (stamped with the red lion) are considered very low risk for salmonella, and safe for babies and toddlers to eat raw or partially cooked.

Signs of a food allergy

Watch out for any signs of allergic reaction, these can include:

  • diarrhoea or vomiting
  • a cough
  • wheezing and shortness of breath
  • itchy throat and tongue
  • itchy skin or rash
  • swollen lips and throat
  • runny or blocked nose
  • sore, red and itchy eyes

If you think your child is having a severe allergic food reaction (anaphylaxis), call 999 and get medical help immediately.

Foods to avoid

  • Shark, swordfish or marlin – high levels of mercury in these fish can affect your baby's growing nervous system.
  • Raw shellfish – this can increase the risk of food poisoning.
  • Honey – avoid honey until your baby is 12 months old. It contains bacteria that can lead to infant botulism, a serious illness that can make your baby very unwell.
  • Nuts – don't give your baby or toddler nuts until they are five years old, as they can cause choking.
  • Raw jelly cubes – they can be a choking hazard.
  • Sugar and salt – your baby doesn't need it. Too much salt is bad for their kidneys and sugar can cause tooth decay.

Drinks to avoid

  • Cow's, goat's or sheep's milk – before your baby is 12 months.
  • Rice drinks – as they may contain unsafe levels of arsenic - until your child is five years old.
  • Soya drinks – before your baby is 12 months.
  • Fruit juice or smoothies – babies younger than 12 months old don't need fruit juices or smoothies. But if you do choose to offer them, dilute with water (one part juice to 10 parts water) and make sure they’re with a meal.
  • Squash, fizzy drinks, flavoured milk – these all contain lots of sugar and can cause tooth decay, even when they're diluted.