There are so many questions and myths around weaning.
Paediatric dietician, Judy More, answers your essential questions on when and how to introduce your baby to solids.
At a glance
- At six months your baby needs more nutrients and extra calories to grow
- Baby rice or mashed vegetables or fruit are great to start weaning with
- Once your baby is eating solids at least 3 times a day you can drop a feed
When is the best age to start weaning my baby onto food?
Begin when you think your baby is ready anytime between four and six months.
Why can’t I wean my baby before 4-6 months?
Babies only need milk until they are at least four months of age. No harm will come to you baby if you begin earlier but babies weaned before four months of age are more likely to become overweight or obese during childhood.
My baby is four months old, has started waking through the night, and seems hungrier – aren’t these signs he’s ready for solids?
It’s very normal for babies aged four to five months to start waking during the night as they may be in a very light sleep and wake easily. If you think your baby is hungry you can try offering larger milk feeds during the day but if this doesn’t satisfy him then you can begin weaning.
What signs are there that they're ready for solids at six months?
If your baby can sit with support, puts toys and other objects in his mouth, watches with interest when you or others are eating and if you think he is wanting his feeds earlier than usual during the day because he is hungry even though you have offered larger feeds then, he’s ready for solids. Larger babies may be ready earlier than smaller babies who are more likely to be happy with just milk feeds until they are six months old.
How do I go about introducing solid foods to my baby?
Start by making sure your baby is sitting up in a highchair or reclining chair with back support. Then offer a small teaspoon (make the spoon plastic, not metal) of smooth puréed or mashed food mixed with baby’s usual milk, and do this either after a milk/breast feed, or in the middle of a feed when they are not too hungry. Still not sure where to start?
Begin with one meal a day. If your baby rejects your attempts, try again the next day but make sure you try when your baby isn’t starving. Also remember at this point food is just for learning a new skill and learning about taste and texture - not yet for nutrition. Once your baby learns to manage solid food in their mouth and swallows it competently, you can increase the quantity and consistency, so food starts to fill him up.
What kind of foods should I give my baby?
Go with baby cereal or mashed or pureed vegetables or fruit to begin with. Once your baby is eating these foods, introduce a more varied diet that the rest of your family eats. Bear in mind that savoury tastes may need to be introduced a number of times before a baby will learn to like it.
Do I reduce milk feeds once I start weaning?
Your baby will reduce the amount of milk they drink as they eat more food. Once your baby is eating solids three times a day you may find they begin drinking less of their feeds. When you start offering two courses at his main meals you may find he is not interested in a milk feed after the meal and you can drop this feed. Your baby still needs at least 500 -600mls of formula feed a day until he is 12 months old. If you’re breastfeeding, on the other hand, you can keep feeding on demand.
What foods should I avoid?
If there is a history of allergies in the family, you should consult a healthcare professional before introducing nuts to your child’s diet – and don’t give whole nuts until he is five years old.
Also avoid adding salt or sugar to any foods, and do not give honey until your baby is one year old – it can contain a type of bacteria that can cause illness.
From around 9 months your baby will be ready to handle hard raw foods like raw carrot sticks, apple pieces but they could still choke on them. It also pays to be careful about soft round foods such as grapes and cherry tomatoes and pieces of sausage – cut them in half so they are no longer round. Remove the skin from foods like fruit and sausages and remove bones from fish and meat.
What is baby-led weaning?
This is a method where you don’t mash or purée food, but let your baby explore foods for themselves by offering them a selection of finger foods, such as cooked carrots, banana and breadsticks. Advocates say it stops babies becoming fussy eaters, but this has not been proven. It can also be hard to work out how much food is actually being eaten. The NHS recommendation is to offer soft finger foods alongside mashed or pureed foods from the beginning of weaning. This will help your baby get used to both eating solids from a spoon, and feeding themselves finger foods.
"Personally, I waited until six months, but there are lots of conflicting stories about the “right” age. My friends whose children are now 10 or 11 were advised to wean at four months, so guidelines have changed. Six months worked for both my children but again I think some children will be ready earlier. Just watch out for the signs.” - Jane, mum of 2
“My son was hungry and wanted to breastfeed all the time. I knew it was time to wean because he was draining me dry at every feed – I was worried I couldn't pump enough milk for him at work. I was able to keep up breast feeding longer with my daughter, mostly by getting a better breast pump!” - Felice, mum of 2
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