Why do we introduce solids?

Starting your little one on solids is a big (and exciting) milestone in their development. It can be exciting to watch them try and experience new flavours and forge some independence as they show you what they like…

But why is it important to introduce solids at a suitable age? What are the key nutrients we should ensure are included in our wee one’s diet before one and beyond? And how does baby’s milk fit into their diet together with solids?

Introducing solids at a suitable age has as much to do with your wee one’s physical abilities as it does their nutritional needs. Unless your little one is born premature or with another complication, they will naturally have good iron and zinc stores and will get all the nutrients they need from their milk (either breast or formula) until around 6 months of age. After this time, they need additional nutrients and energy that milk alone can’t cater for to help support their continued growth and development. Around six months of age (not before four months and not after seven months, when they are demonstrating most of the physical readiness indicators) is the recommended time to slowly start introducing solid food to complement and add to the nutritional benefits of their milk.

Iron and zinc are often the two key nutrients focussed on in the first year because they are so important for your wee one’s growth and development. Between birth and two years, the human brain grows to an astounding 80% of its adult size… iron is deposited in the brain and is hence an essential nutrient for brain development. And, at around seven months of age, your wee one’s iron requirements are more than their dad’s!

Where is iron and zinc found? 

Puréed meat, fish and chicken are considered good sources of well absorbed iron and zinc and are also excellent first food options for your wee one. Iron and zinc can also be found in dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, lentils, chickpeas and peas, however the type of iron is less bioavailable, meaning it isn’t absorbed as easily as the iron found in meat; eating a range of these foods is important and offering them together (suitably prepared for your baby’s age and stage) with fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C to help the absorption of non-haem iron which is found in plant based foods. 

What about other nutrients?

There are a wide range of nutrients your baby will require from their foods as they grow but the good news is that as they progress on their food journey, offering them a variety of foods from the four main food groups (vegetables and fruits, breads and cereals (grains), milk and milk products, lean meat and meat alternatives) will generally mean the other nutrients will generally take care of themselves, helping your wee one to grow and thrive.

How does baby’s milk fit into their diet together with solids?

In the first year of life, baby’s milk remains as the most important nutrient source, and complementary foods introduced around six months should be offered after, and not greatly reduce, their milk intake. A few months after introducing solids (when your wee one is around eight months old), you can begin to offer solids before their milk feed, keeping in mind it still remains a prominent part of their diet until their first birthday. 

So what’s our advice?

As parents and caregivers, it can be easy to get caught up in the specifics when it comes to caring for our wee ones and it is no different when it comes to their nutrition. We want to ensure we are giving them the best start; because, after all, these first few years are a period of huge significance as they undergo substantial development in terms of their brain growth, nervous system development and overall growth in general. However, providing a healthy diet for your little one doesn’t need to be complicated; measuring and trying to balance every single meal can be overwhelming and to be honest, not sustainable. It can cause more worry and stress than it’s worth, especially as it is common for little ones to have periods where they are more or less hungry and in some cases, go off their food altogether. Remember, it can take time to accept new foods and flavours, so just because they don’t eat a food one day, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer it again… and again. In fact, it can take up to 10-15 times before your baby or toddler will get used to some foods; it is worth persevering so they are accustomed to a wide range of nutritious foods in the long term. 

When it comes to initially starting your wee one on solids; have a plan. Research the best first foods; understand the important and ongoing role of their milk – when to offer and how much and how this changes as they become more established on solids; offer one new food every few days and follow your baby’s cues, gradually increasing how much you are offering until they are well established on solids, and working up to three meals a day at around 8-10 months old.

Once well established, consider your little one’s diet as a whole – what are they eating over the course of a day or week, rather than focusing on single meals. Ensure you offer a wide variety of suitably prepared whole foods from each of the four food groups each day; vegetables and fruits, breads and cereals (grains), milk and milk products, and lean meat and meat alternatives.

If you’re looking for help or support during this exciting time in your baby’s development, you may wish to have a look at our nutritionally reviewed guide to solids (click here). It includes everything you need to know, including a comprehensive list of suitable foods for your baby’s age and stage, a 30 day step-by-step starting solids food plan, how and when to continue to offer their milk feeds, and LOTS more to help set you and your baby up on a path of healthy eating and good nutrition.