How to balance introducing solids with milk feeds

Once your baby is showing all of the signs that they’re ready to start solids, you might be wondering how you’re going to balance meals with milk feeds…and naps, and nappy changes, and everything else that needs to be squeezed into your baby’s day. 

Why does your baby need solids?

As your baby reaches about six months of age, he’ll need solid food to get the essential nutrients, including iron, for growth and development. Introducing solids is also important for helping your baby learn to eat, exposing him to new tastes and textures, and developing his mouth and jaw (which is important for speech development). 

How do I know if my baby is ready to start solids?

There’s no rush to start solids, so be guided by your baby. Here are six signs that your baby may be ready to take those little tastebuds to the next level:

  • Your baby is between 4-6 months old. The World Health Organisation recommends waiting until 6 months, so make sure you get the green light from your maternal and child health nurse.
  • Your baby has lost her tongue-thrust reflex. This is an instinct that helps your baby avoid choking by pushing food out of her mouth. Test it out with a small amount of food. She’s ready when she swallows the food. 
  • Your baby has good neck and head control when sitting (even if he needs a little propping in his highchair. Never feed a baby lying down).
  • Your baby is eyeing or reaching out for your food…or even takes a swipe at your spoon or fork. 
  • Your baby opens her mouth when a spoon is offered. If she clamps her mouth shut, she may not be ready yet, so wait another week or two before trying again.
  • Your baby is healthy and happy. There’s no point in attempting to start offering solids to a sick or tired baby. 

How much food and how much milk will my baby need?

Breastmilk or infant formula will remain your baby’s main source of nutrition for the first 12 months. 

When your baby is clearly ready to start solids, you can start with offering a small amount (usually only 1-2 teaspoons). Choose a time when both you and your baby are relaxed and happy. Lunchtime is a great time to start with. 

4-8 months: Always offer your baby’s regular milk feed first, and wait half an hour to one hour before offering a solid meal. Start offering one meal a day and gradually work up to 2-3 meals a day. Once your baby has reached six months, you can also start to introduce cooled, boiled water at mealtimes. 

8-9 months: Keep offering milk first before solid meals. Your baby can eat three solid meals a day around this stage (remember that every baby is different, and some babies take longer to build up to three meals)

9+ months: You can start to offer solids first now, and then milk. This way your baby can gradually transition to just having only solid meals from 12 months. 

How much milk and how much food does my baby need?

Your baby’s appetite can vary from day to day, and will be different to another baby’s. Follow your baby’s cues: if they turn their head or lose interest in their food, they may have had enough. You’ll start to learn when your baby is hungry, too tired to eat, bored, or full. 

If your baby has been eating plenty of solids, and isn’t finishing or is refusing milk feeds, he might be ready for less frequent but larger milk feeds. Alternatively, if your baby isn’t interested in solids, this might mean she’s too full from milk feeds.

It’s always best to chat to your paediatrician or maternal and child health nurse about how much milk your baby needs at different stages. If solid food replaces milk too quickly, your baby may miss out on important nutrition. 

You might also be interested in reading these articles about starting solids:

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