At around six months of age, babies start to require more - more energy, more nutrients, and more protein - than milk alone provides. Of course, this isn’t something that happens overnight, but instead their nutritional needs gradually increase over the course of their first year. So, the introduction of first foods begins to complement their milk intake and provide all the goodness they’ll need to power the massive amounts of energy they need to grow and develop in their first year.
Learn about the nutrients to supplement over the first year, how to create balanced meals and how much and often baby should be eating. And scroll to the end of the post for a download you can keep and print as a reference!
Baby’s nutritional needs at six months: Nutrients to keep an eye on
There are a few nutrients that you should be mindful of for growing babes: iron, vitamin A and vitamin D.
Why it's important: Iron is used to make haemoglobin, which moves oxygen through the blood to the cells. If you don’t have enough iron, you can develop anaemia, which means oxygen isn’t well transported to your body’s organs and muscles. Iron is critical in brain development for babies and children. Babies with iron deficiency will sometimes be less active, have less energy, and may develop more slowly.
How much iron does baby need? Babies are born with a reserve of iron, which they took from mum when in the womb. For healthy, full-term babies, this starts to dwindle sometime between 6 and 12 months. From 7-12 months, aim for 11mg of iron a day. The need then decreases slightly to 7mg iron a day for children 1-3 years. Check with your GP to confirm the requirements for your baby.
How to supplement baby iron intake: Great sources of iron include:
Meats, especially red meats like beef
Veg including squash, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, seaweed, greens, tomato
Fish including tuna, sardines, tinned salmon
Dried fruits including figs, apricots, prunes and raisins (do not feed whole to baby - instead mince and add to meals)
Grains including fortified oats, brown rice, cornmeal, bran, quinoa, amaranth, millet, cracked wheat
Beans and lentils
Food additives like brewer’s yeast and blackstrap molasses
Always couple non-meat iron-rich foods with vitamin C foods (fruits and veg!), to help baby absorb the iron. Great sources of vitamin C:
Fruits - berries, citrus, peaches, apples, bananas
Veg - spinach, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes
Why it's important: Vitamin A helps to grow cells and tissues in the body (especially hair, nails and skin), and is also important for growth of bones, infection prevention and vision.
How much vitamin A does my baby need? The UK National Health Service recommends a daily supplement of 233mg of vitamin A. From 1-3 years of age, vitamin A needed is at 300mcg or 1,000 IU. Check with your GP to confirm the requirements for your baby.
How to supplement Vitamin A intake: If you’re breastfeeding, the British Nutrition Foundation recommends giving baby a supplement of vitamin A from six months of age. If you're formula feeding at least 500ml/day, typically infant milks have this added to the ingredients, but do check.
Good sources of vitamin A in foods include:
Veg like carrots, sweet potato, squash, spinach, kale, broccoli, peas
Fruits like apricots, cantaloupe, mango, peaches
Grains like fortified oats
Why it's important: Vitamin D helps us to absorb phosphorous and calcium - both are important for strong and healthy bone development.
How much vitamin D does baby need? In the US, the AAP recommends that all children (birth through adolescence) receive 400 IU (10mcg) vitamin D per day. Canada has similar recommendations (with greater amounts recommended in winter for those in more northern regions). Vitamin D recommendations in European countries vary. (Source: KellyMom) Check with your GP to confirm the requirements for your baby.
How to supplement vitamin D intake: The best source of vitamin D is sun exposure. But because many live in countries without sufficient sun (the UK, for example!), and because it’s important to shield our babies from the heat and their skin from harmful rays, babies often don’t get enough vitamin D.
If you’re breastfeeding, the British Nutrition Foundation recommends giving baby a supplement of vitamin D from six months of age. If you're formula feeding at least 500ml/day, typically infant milks have this added to the ingredients, but do check.
Food sources from vitamin D are less helpful in the first year, as your baby won’t be regularly eating an amount consistent enough to keep a steady supply. But do add oily fish, eggs and fortified foods like oats to get your baby used to eating these great sources of vitamin D.
Complementary feeding means milk PLUS solids
Milk, however, continues to be hugely important throughout the second half of their first year! Remember that for 6-12 months, the focus should be on complementary feeding, which means any benefit from food is on top of what your baby receives from breastmilk (or formula). There will be times where baby is ravenous for solids, and other days where they seem completely uninterested. Just remember that this is normal, and your milk continues to be their primary nutrition!
How often should I offer food to baby?
Parents of six month olds may be overwhelmed by the idea of attempting three meals in a day with baby. And rightly so! Particularly at 6-9 months, eating will be firstly an exploration for your baby and it’s likely that they will still be learning to actually ingest it (you can see progress with their digestion by examining their nappies!).
Start slow: try one ‘meal’ a day, which may in fact be a single serving of one food type at first. It’s important not to overwhelm your child with too much food choice at first, so keep things simple and small. You might find they do a lot of smushing and some mouthing, but not necessarily swallowing.
As they get to grips with solids and begin truly eating and ingesting foods, you can introduce more balanced meals, for example a ‘main course’ like meat and veg, and a ‘second course’ like natural yoghurt with stewed fruit.
Your goal will be to work up to three meals a day, with small healthy snacks between, by the end of your baby’s first year. Thankfully, you’ll also find babies become a bit faster in terms of downing their meals - it’s not unknown for parents to spend up to two hours at the high chair at first!
How much food should I offer baby?
Just as you do with milk feeding on demand, feed as much solid food to baby as much as they will eat! Babies have just as much knowledge of their own appetite than their parents (in fact, some would say they are more attuned than we are!) and will give you clear signs:
- Leaning in, reaching out, and continuing to move food to the mouth - still eating!
- Leaning away, turning head, pushing food away, and otherwise fussing - I’m done.
Don’t plead or persuade or otherwise harass baby to eat more, even when they’ve barely touched what’s in front of them. Their appetites will be big on some days and next to nonexistent on others - and that is ok. Let baby lead the way.
If you are continuing to breastfeed as you introduce solids, and want to maintain your milk supply for baby, it’s best to always offer the breast before meal times. Try nursing an hour before offering solid foods. This way baby will be sure to get all the lovely nutrients that breastmilk provides, and also allows you to keep milk demand high to continue to supply all the breastmilk they need. KellyMom provides brilliant, research-backed resources for breastfeeding mothers through ages and stages, I highly recommend it!
How do I create a balanced meal for baby?
Although the term ‘meal’ may be a bit laughable when you first start weaning (does a lick of a peach slice count as a meal?!), you’ll soon find baby scoffing solids at every opportunity. Try to offer foods throughout the day that will meet all their nutritional needs. As they begin eating more, you’ll have even more opportunity as they move from one to three meals daily, and you can even begin introducing snacks.
Here’s what to include in your meals:
Starchy foods: one portion of grains, bread, potato, or other starchy food at every meal, as infants need carbs to fuel them!
Veg and fruit: five portions a day, with a good mix of colours to vary the nutrients
Protein: one or two portions a day of eggs, meat, fish, tofu, etc
Fats: Aim for some healthy fats every day - this might be butter, full-fat natural yoghurt, full-fat cheese, avocado, olive oil, etc.
Some days will see your baby eating a well-balanced meal three times a day; other days you won’t get anything in them other than some buttered toast! If you’re concerned about nutrient intake, try keeping a log of foods over the course of the week (rather than just one day) and I promise you’ll feel much better 😃
As with all things baby, check with your health professional or nutritionist if you have any concerns.
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