About feeding babies in the first year
Health Canada recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months with the gradual introduction of solid foods around six months of age, and continued breastfeeding until two years and beyond, or for as long as the mother and child desire.
Health Canada also recommends offering iron-rich nutritious foods as part of a baby's first foods. Foods can be introduced in any order, as long as iron-rich foods are included and the food textures are suitable and safe for the infant’s age and stage of development.
When to start solid foods
Getting started and what to consider
When your baby is about six months old, they might be ready for you to introduce solid foods. At six months of age, babies have greater head and neck control and are able to communicate better. Be aware of their cues and ensure that they show most of the signs of readiness (see below) before you begin.
Growth spurts are very normal for babies during the first year. When babies are going through a growth spurt, they might seem hungry more often and want to breastfeed a lot more. It does not mean that the baby needs to start solids sooner…. breastfeeding more often is baby’s way of telling mom to make more milk - I am growing!
Signs of readiness
My baby might be ready for solids when he/she:
- Is six months old
- Holds his/her head up
- Sits up in a high chair
- Opens mouth wide when you offer food on a spoon
- Turns face away from food if not interested
- Closes lips over the spoon
- Keeps food in mouth and swallows food
Teeth not required
Does your baby need teeth to eat solid foods? The answer is "no!"
Babies have strong gums and jaws. They can easily mash and crush many soft ripened foods with few or no teeth. Be sure to offer various food textures and/or appropriate sized food pieces that meet your baby’s stage of development.
For example, start with grated cheese and progress to small cheese cubes that a baby can gum and chew.
First foods to feed my baby
Healthy full-term babies are born with iron stores that start to run out around 6 months of age. Iron is important for your baby’s growth and development, and it is important to include iron-containing foods as part of baby’s first foods. As solids foods are being introduced, the goal is to offer iron-rich foods two or more times each day.
Offer iron-rich foods two or more times per day such as:
- Iron-fortified infant cereals
- Whole cooked egg
- well-cooked legumes (beans, lentils or chickpeas)
When feeding infant cereal to your baby:
- Start with an iron-fortified, single grain infant cereal, such as rice. Gradually try other single grain cereals, such as oats, barley and wheat.
- Use mixed grain cereals only after your baby has tried each of the single grain cereals.
- Mix dry infant cereal with breastmilk or water. At first make the cereal thin. As your baby becomes better at eating, add less breastmilk to make the cereal thicker.
- Always feed cereal from a spoon. Never add cereal to a bottle.
For safe meats and alternatives:
- Keep meats and alternatives moist so they are easy to swallow. Add breastmilk, water or low sodium broth to moisten meats and cooked beans. Use silken (soft) tofu.
- A cooked whole egg is safe to give baby starting at 6 months of age.
- Do not give your baby deli meats such as ham, wieners, bologna, salami or sausages, as they are high in fat and salt.
- Fish selections can include:
- White fish
- Light, canned tuna
- Do not give your baby these fish more than once a month as they are often high in mercury:
- Fresh or frozen tuna steak
- Canned albacore tuna
- Orange roughy
Fruits and vegetables – sources of Vitamin C
You can introduce fruits and vegetables in any order when introducing iron-rich foods. It doesn’t matter what types of fruits or vegetables you choose as long as the texture is suitable for your baby’s stage of development. Many fruits and vegetables are good sources of Vitamin C, which helps your baby’s body to absorb the iron from the iron-rich foods they eat.
Eating foods from all food groups
There is no right or wrong way to introduce foods from various food groups, as long as you include iron-rich food choices every day along with a variety of vegetables, fruits, dairy (cheese, yogurt, kefir, etc.) and grain products; and the texture is suitable for your baby’s stage of development. The types of first fruits, vegetables, dairy or grains your baby eats can differ from another baby’s first foods…and that is okay. Choose to offer foods that are familiar foods in your family; and modify them to the appropriate texture and portion size for your infant
- There is no need to wait between offering low allergenic foods. However, parent/caregiver should remain aware of the signs of an allergic reaction.
- Avoid adding salt, honey or sugar to complementary foods.
- Herbs and spices can be incorporated into infant foods, as related to cooking practices.
Check out these sample meal plans for feeding your baby (external link).
How to introduce first foods
A healthy start to feeding
Developing healthy eating habits for life starts now. Trust your baby to tell you when they are hungry or full. Establish an eating environment that is fun, relaxed, and has limited distractions.
Watch this video for tips on feeding your baby (external link).
Follow your baby's feeding cues
|Signs of hunger
||Signs of fullness
|Excited to sit in high chair
||Closes mouth – refuses to take food from spoon
|Opens mouth when offered spoon
||Spits food out
|Grabs at spoon or food
||Turns head away
|Is excited or smacks lips
||Fusses or cries
|Is engaged and leans forward
Trust your baby to:
- Decide how much to eat
- Know how fast or slow to eat
- Know whether they want to eat it at that moment
If your infant does not accept a new food one day, do not pressure them to eat it. Try again another day. It might take over 10 tries before an infant accepts a food. Offer a variety of healthy foods to promote healthy eating patterns to carry into later childhood.
Offer textures and finger foods
Changing food textures
The texture of your baby’s food will change as your baby grows and develops. It is important to offer your baby different food textures to help them learn to eat. Every infant is different and some will progress faster or slower. Try to match your baby’s developmental skills and appetite cues to the progression of various textures.
Tips for changing food textures:
- Encourage and support self feeding from 6 months on with a variety of soft food textures.
- Encourage and support babies to eat a variety of soft food textures such as: lumpy, mashed, pureed, ground, minced, tender-cooked and chopped
- Do not delay the progression of food textures as this can be associated with feeding difficulties in older children
- Offer the same foods in various textures (i.e. cooked apple pieces, applesauce, grated apple), as well as different foods with different textures from all food groups.
- Offer pieces of soft cooked fruit and vegetables, soft ripe fruits (i.e. banana, avocado), finely minced or ground cooked meat/poultry, soft fish, grated cheese, apple/pear/carrot, etc.
- Babies might gag or spit up food when learning to eat. This is normal. Remain calm and always actively supervise feedings.
- Babies don’t need to have teeth to eat a variety of food textures.
- From six months on, encourage and support self-feeding when your baby shows interest.
- At about 9 -10 months, your baby will be able to pick things up with their thumb and forefinger. This would be a good time to offer small pieces of table food or “finger foods” for snacks or during meals.
- Let babies feed themselves with their hands or a small utensils . Ensure that their hands are clean before eating.
- Expect a mess, as this is a normal part of learning how to eat!
- By one year of age, your baby should be eating a variety of foods from each food group and be able to drink liquids from a cup.
Tips for finger foods:
- Start with foods that are large enough to grab and hold.
- Choose foods that become soft in the mouth and can be chewed or gummed easily.
- Provide family foods cut up in small bite-sized pieces so that your infant can be part of family meals.
Healthy foods become finger foods…cut food into bite-sized pieces:
- Dry whole wheat toast strips
- Cooked pasta, rice or couscous
- Cut up casserole dishes
- O-shaped cereal such as Cheerios® or Nutrios®
- Soft ripe peeled banana, peach, kiwi, mango, papaya, melon or avocado
- Unsweetened canned or cooked, soft and peeled, apple or pear
- Cooked carrot, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, potato or squash
- Grated or cubed cheese such as mozzarella, cheddar, marble or Swiss
- Cooked ground beef, chicken, pork or turkey
- Cooked pieces of meat or poultry
- Cooked or canned flaked fish
- Cooked or canned beans or lentils
- Cooked whole egg
- Tofu cubes
Do not give babies foods that are small, hard and round. Cut foods lengthwise to reduce risk of choking and always supervise your baby when eating.
Some content has been adapted from: Best Start: Ontario's Maternal, Newborn and Early Child Development Resource Centre (external link).
Drinks for babies
An open cup will encourage your baby to develop their drinking skills. From 6 months on give your baby an open cup when offering fluids such as breastmilk or water at meals or snacks. At first, your baby will need help with the cup.
Children under one year old do not need juice.
Choking and food allergies
Safety must always be top of mind as your baby learns to chew and swallow foods. Keeping foods safe, reducing risk of choking and knowing signs of food allergies are important in helping to keep your baby well.
Reduce the risk of choking
Keeping foods safe is important to ensuring your baby’s foods are healthy and nutritious. Offer food in a safe way (i.e., dice or cut lengthwise carrots, peppers, strips of meat/poultry). How we store, handle and prepare our foods all contribute to keeping our foods safe. Babies and young children are at an increased risk of complications from food poisoning because their immune systems are still developing. Visit Canada's food safety website (external link) for more tips.
Infant food allergies
Food allergies are a common concern for parents when introducing foods to baby. However, there is no evidence that delaying the introduction of solid foods beyond six months of age reduces the risk of food allergies.
There is no need to delay offering common allergenic foods – these can be offered from 6 months on, once your baby has started foods. It is encouraged that families offer culturally appropriate family foods to baby even if those first foods are common food allergens. Offer a new food when baby is well and at home.
When introducing highly allergenic foods, offer in small quantities (10 mL) for 1-2 days. Wait a minimum of two days or 48 hours before introducing another new allergenic food to allow time to monitor for symptoms.
Highly allergenic foods include:
- Tree nuts
It is important once a food allergen has been successfully introduced and tolerated, to continue to offer that food on a regular basis to build tolerance.
What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?
- Flushed face, hives, rash, red/itchy skin
- Stomach pain, cramping, vomit and/or diarrhea
- Swelling of eyes, face lips, throat and tongue
What should I do if my baby shows symptoms of an allergic reaction?
- Stop feeding your baby the food you think caused the reaction
- If able, make a note of day, time, food eaten, and symptoms observed
- Call to make an appointment with your baby’s health care provider
Signs of a severe and sudden allergic reaction include:
- Trouble breathing
- Unable to swallow
- Swelling of the tongue, mouth and/or throat
- Loss of consciousness
If your child requires immediate medical assistance, call 911.
Making your own baby food
Making your own baby food can be a rewarding experience. It is an easy and convenient way to provide a variety of different foods to meet your baby’s changing needs. All you have to do is set aside a few sticks of carrots, a couple of pears or some pieces of chicken to steam, stew or boil while preparing your own meal.
If you are interested in making your own baby food visit the Eat Right Ontario website (external link) and watch this video on making your own baby food (external link).
Avoid adding sugar, salt or honey to any home-made food.
Formula: Safe preparation and feeding
If you are feeding your baby infant formula, take the time to learn about it. It’s important to know how to: