Weaning is an important milestone in your baby’s physical, mental and social development. Your baby should be introduced to a varied diet including solid foods, – not as a replacement, but alongside their usual breast milk or infant formula when they are approximately 6 months old.
Weaning teaches your baby how to move solid food around their mouth, chew and swallow solid foods.
Solid food tastes and feels very different to milk so your baby will likely tend to start spitting out the food to begin with. This doesn’t mean they don’t like it, it just means they are getting used to these new tastes and textures, the experience of having a spoon in their mouth and learning how to swallow.
When to Start
6 months is considered the furthest and safest point that a baby can grow and develop appropriately on milk alone. You don’t want to start earlier than 17 weeks as baby’s digestive systems are not yet developed enough to cope with solid foods. You should also start no later than 27 weeks because baby’s energy needs can no longer be met by either breast milk or formula milk alone and from 6 months the stores of Iron that we were born with start depleting. Iron is very important for healthy blood and brain development in babies. For this reason Iron rich foods (red meats, lentils, green veg) should be introduced as milk is not naturally a good source of iron.
So the best time to start is between 17 & 27 weeks. Remember all children are different and there are varying factors which will play a role in when your baby starts eating solids so never compare your journey with another’s. As always if you have an concerns or questions you should always speak to a GP or public health nurse.
Starting solids is different for premature babies. If your baby was born early (i.e. before 37 weeks) you should begin weaning sometime between the ‘corrected age’ of 4 and 6 months. Corrected age, or adjusted age, is your baby’s age minus the number of weeks or months they were born early.
Signs Baby is Ready for Solids
Here are some signs baby is ready, your baby should show more than one of these signs before you start with solids:
- Able to sit up with support and can control their head movements.
- Co-ordination between their eyes, hands and mouth – they can look at food, pick it up and put it in their mouth by themselves.
- Can swallow food instead of spitting it back out.
- shows more interest in food, may begin reaching out for foods & watches with interest when others are eating food.
Some Signs Mistaken for a Baby Being Ready for Solid Foods
- Chewing fists.
- Waking in the night when they have previously slept through.
- Wanting extra milk feeds now and then.
There are 3 stages to weaning.
- Stage 1: at about 6 months, not before 4 months – introduction to smooth/pureed foods
- Stage 2: between 6 to 9 months – moving from mashed foods to foods with soft lumps
- Stage 3: between 9 to 12 months – chopped foods and harder/crunchier finger foods.
- A chair that your baby can sit in that supports their head and feet- your baby needs to be sitting safely and strapped in, in an upright position (so they can swallow properly)
- Cup – encourage your baby to sip water from a cup with their meals (instead of a bottle). Open cups or free-flow cups (without a valve) help your baby learn to sip and is better for their teeth
- Blender, liquidiser or a sieve – to blend the food and make as smooth as possible for starting off.
- Small bowl – ideally the ones with a suction base as otherwise they’re likely to end up on the floor!
- Small feeding spoon – soft weaning spoons, usually made of rubber or plastic, are easier on your baby’s gums
- Steriliser for bowls and spoons.
How to Introduce Solid Foods
The best time to start is whenever it suits both you and baby, when you don’t feel rushed or distracted and your baby is not too tired. Eating is a whole new skill for your child, they may jump right in or for some it may take longer. Allow plenty of time and patience, go at your baby’s pace and stop when they show signs that they’ve had enough.
How much your baby eats depends on their appetite, so let your baby guide you on how much food they need and never force them to eat. There will be days when they eat more, some when they eat less, and then days when they reject everything. This is perfectly normal. They may reject a certain food a number of times, If they do, don’t force them, offer another food that they are familiar with and wait 5-7 days before offering the refused food again. Let them get used to it in their own time.
Don’t forget, that little look of disgust is normally because it’s a new taste – not because they don’t like it.”
- To start with, your baby only needs a small amount of solid food, once a day. Start with 1 teaspoon of food at a time when your baby is most content and gradually increase the amount over a couple of days.
- Introduce each food on its own for 2 days before introducing another food, and allow your baby to get used to the taste and texture. For example baby rice, then pureed carrot.
- Offer the solid food first and then follow with breast or formula milk.
- Do not worry about quantities/ portion sizes of food in the first 2 weeks as a lot will likely end up on the floor or on their face!
- Once your baby is taking about 6 teaspoons of food at 1 meal, introduce a second meal and work your way up to 3 meals a day.
6-12 months is considered the ‘feeding window’, where you can develop your baby’s taste buds to like different foods, tastes and flavours. Having baby established on different textures by 9/10 months is vital in preventing oral aversion to lumps and helping to prevent fussy eating.
It’s important to introduce foods that can trigger allergic reactions one at a time, in very small amounts, so that you can spot any reaction.
Start with a small amount, a quarter to half a teaspoon, and increase slowly over a few days. Always introduce the new allergen early in the day. Breakfast time or mid-morning is ideal or lunchtime at the latest. This will ensure you’ve got several hours during the day to monitor your baby for any reaction.
Here are a list of some possible allergens:
- cows’ milk (in cooking or mixed with food)
- eggs (eggs without a red lion stamp should not be eaten raw or lightly cooked)
- foods that contain gluten, including wheat, barley and rye
- nuts and peanuts (serve them crushed or ground)
- seeds (serve them crushed or ground)
- Tree nuts
- shellfish (don’t serve raw or lightly cooked)
Once introduced and if tolerated, keep offering those foods as part of your baby’s usual diet (to minimise the risk of allergy).
Always speak to a GP if you have any concerns relating to this matter and ensure you know the signs of an allergic reaction. These can be :
- a runny or blocked nose
- red, itchy, watery eyes
- wheezing and coughing
- a red, itchy rash
- worsening of asthma or eczema symptoms
Baby-led weaning is when you allow your baby to choose what they eat. This relaxed and unstructured approach is based on your baby being offered solid foods and feeding him or herself, with no help from you or another adult. The food would usually be soft pieces held in the hand. They then feed themselves solid foods instead of spoon feeding.
To do this, your baby needs to be able to sit upright, pick up and hold food, and bring food to their mouth. Some parents try a combination of baby-led weaning and spoon feeds. This can work well, particularly if your baby is less independent in their eating. It can ensure that they eat well and get all the nutrients they need.
Do your research and choose what’s right for you and for your baby. No one’s journey is the same!
And remember, starting your baby on solids can be messy – The mess is essential! it encourages a sensory experience see, touch, taste, smell. It says it’s ok to explore and have fun and encourages a safe & relaxed atmosphere – all essential elements in helping your child enjoy their food!