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Introducing complementary foods

Babies need only breastmilk until around six months of age, and a combination of breastmilk and other foods until at least 12 months and beyond. It is recommended that complementary foods are introduced from around six months to meet the baby’s increasing nutritional and developmental needs, in particular for iron.

The most common reason mothers stop breastfeeding is because they think they don't have enough milk. Sometimes this is because of well-meaning but incorrect advice or new parents' lack of confidence. Advise mothers to seek assistance from a health professional or support group such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) before deciding to stop breastfeeding.

Feeding from around six months

Around six months of age, babies will begin showing signs that they are ready to start complementary foods. If parents and families have identified these signs, this is an ideal time to start introducing complementary foods to their baby. Breastmilk continues to be a valuable source of nutrition during this time and parents should be encouraged to continue breastfeeding their baby up to 12 months or beyond, for as long as mother and baby desire.

Early or late introduction to complementary foods

Introducing complementary foods too early or too late can have consequences for the baby’s growth and development. This should be discussed with parents and families when introducing complementary foods.

Too early

  • The baby may reject food as mouth and jaw development is not ready. Parents may misinterpret this as the baby disliking the food
  • Increased risk of gastrointestinal infection due to potential exposure to pathogens
  • The mother’s milk supply may decline due to less frequent feeding.

Too late

  • The baby can become deficient in iron and zinc as body stores will be used up around six months of age and breastmilk is not a source of these nutrients
  • Slow growth and delayed development of chewing skills
  • Increased risk of developing food allergies.

How to wean

Health workers have a responsibility to promote, encourage and support breastfeeding. However, a mother’s informed decision to discontinue breastfeeding should be respected and supported by all health professionals. Ideally, babies should be weaned slowly. Breastmilk supply will gradually decrease as milk is removed from the breast less often.

More information

National guidelines

Other guidelines

Last updated: 12 July 2016

Resources for parents, families and carers

Professional development