When’s the safest time to introduce foods to your baby?

Introducing foods too soon could put your baby at risk of allergies, food poisoning and other health problems, so what can you safely give her and when?

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When it comes to introducing your baby to solid food, NHS guidelines state that you should aim to wait until six months. Before that point, your baby’s gut is still developing and she needs only breast or formula milk. Weaning too soon may increase the risk of infections and allergies – particularly if there’s a family history of allergies.

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Some babies seem ready for weaning sooner, but you should always seek advice from your health visitor or GP if you think she’s ready for solids before six months.

Beyond six months, most foods can be introduced safely, but nevertheless, you should introduce the foods that commonly cause allergies one at a time, so you can spot any reaction.

What to introduce and when

Cow’s milk should not be given to babies as a drink until they are 12 months old, as it doesn’t contain the right nutrients for young babies. However, you can give dairy products and use cow’s milk in cooking from six months.

Eggs can be given from six months but they must be thoroughly cooked to avoid the risk of food poisoning. Lightly cooked eggs, such as poached or soft boiled eggs, can be given after 12 months.

Wheat contains gluten, which may trigger allergies in young babies, so don’t give products containing wheat (such as bread, pasta and some cereals) until six months.

Citrus fruit may cause allergies in some children. If you’re concerned about allergies, you may want to wait until 12 months before introducing fruits such as oranges and grapefruit, and then introduce them gradually to monitor your child’s reaction.

Other fruits such as kiwi fruit and berries, including strawberries and raspberries, may cause allergic reactions, so avoid these until your baby is six months old.

Fish and shellfish can be introduced at six months, but watch your baby carefully as they may cause allergic reactions. Avoid giving swordfish, marlin and shark, because of the potentially toxic levels of mercury, and raw shellfish, which can cause food poisoning.

Seeds should be avoided until six months, particularly sesame seeds. If you give whole seeds to your baby or young child, such as pumpkin or sunflower seeds, always supervise her closely to avoid choking.

Peanuts can be introduced with caution at six months, monitoring closely for any reaction. If your baby has an allergy such as asthma or eczema, or if there’s a family history of allergies, there is a higher risk that she may be allergic to peanuts. For this reason, the Department of Health recommends that you may wish to avoid peanuts and peanut-containing foods to reduce the potential of a serious allergic reaction. Never give whole nuts to a child under five, due to the risk of choking.

Honey should not be given to children under one because in very rare cases it can cause infant botulism, a type of bacteria that can produce toxins in babies’ intestines.

Salt should not be added to your baby’s food because her kidneys cannot process it. Government guidelines suggest that babies under a year should have less than 1g salt (0.4g sodium) per day – most of which is found naturally in foods such as bread and cheese. Avoid giving salty foods like bacon and crisps to children under one.

Sugar should be avoided for babies and young children. Exposure to high amounts of sugary foods and drinks can lead to tooth decay when your baby’s teeth start to come through. Avoid sugary snacks like sweets and biscuits, don’t add sugar to foods (such as cereal or fruit) and dilute fruit juices with water.

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Low-fat, low-calorie and high-fibre foods are unsuitable for babies and young children, as they need a calorie-rich diet to fuel their growth. High-fibre foods, especially those with added bran, stop babies from absorbing important minerals such as calcium and iron, so it’s better not to give your baby brown rice, wholemeal pasta or bran-enriched breakfast cereals until she’s over five, although you can give her brown bread.

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