What is weaning?
At around 6 months old, your baby needs more than breast milk or infant formula to meet their growing needs. That’s when they need solid food alongside their usual breast milk or infant formula, which is the reason why it’s also called complementary feeding.
Baby-led weaning is one of the ways to approach the introduction of solid foods to your baby. It means that you only offer your baby finger foods and let them feed themselves from the start without feeding them pureed or mashed food on a spoon. You may want to try a combination of finger foods and spoon feeding. There’s no more risk of choking with finger foods than with spoon feeding, if the food is cut into pieces that are big enough for your baby to easily hold. Pieces about the size of your finger work well using food that breaks up easily when chewed. Avoid hard food like nuts, carrots, or apples.
When you’re feeding your baby solids, encourage them to have fun touching, holding and exploring foods. Finger foods work well for this and allows your baby to feed themselves when they want, which also improves their hand-eye co-ordination.
When should I start weaning?
It’s recommended that parent’s wait until their baby is around 6 months old to start solids. Until then, babies are able to get the energy and nutrients that they need from breast milk or infant formula and it gives them time to develop, so that they can cope with solid foods. At 6 months your baby will also be better at moving food around in their mouth, chewing and swallowing, which will help them progress faster to a range of different tastes and textures.
3 clear signs that your baby is ready for solid foods:
- If they can stay in a seated position and hold their head steady
- If they're able to coordinate their hands, eyes and mouth to pick up the food and put it in their mouth
- They can swallow food instead of spitting it back out
Chewing their fists, wanting milk feeds more often and waking up more than usual at night, aren't signs that they aren't necessarily ready for weaning.
How do I start weaning?
Weaning can be playful and fun, while your baby explores food textures, tastes and colours! To start with, your baby only needs a small amount of food before their usual milk feed. The quantity is not as important as getting them used to the tastes, textures and how to move the food around in their mouth.
Here are some tips to help you get off to a good start when weaning your baby:
- It’s important to know that your baby is still getting most of their energy and nutrients from breastfeeding or infant formula when you start weaning, so there is no need to stop these liquid feeds.
- Babies become used to different tastes and textures at different stages. Be patient and keep trying, whilst giving your baby lots of encouragement and praise. Keep offering a variety of foods, even the ones that they refuse.
- Did you know, that it can take 10 or more tries to get your baby used to a new food? They may eat more on one day and less the next. This is perfectly normal.
- Let your baby set the pace. Stop when your baby has had enough – they may firmly close their mouth or turn their head away to show you they’re full. If you’re using a spoon to feed, wait until your baby opens their mouth before offering the food. Don’t force them.
- Touch, explore and play with foods! Let your baby hold the food and try to feed themselves, using their fingers. If they try to hold the spoon, let them, or give them another spoon to hold while you’re feeding them.
- Distractions like a TV, phone or tablet should be avoided if possible. In fact, if you can feed your baby at the same time as you or other members of the family, your baby will learn by copying others.
What do I need, when starting weaning?
There are some things you may want to get, to make weaning easier. If you’re a first-time parent, you could borrow these items from friends or family members who have already had children:
- A high chair – feeding your baby strapped into a high chair will help keep them sitting upright whilst feeding
- First cup or Sippy cup – an open or free-flow cup for sipping water with their meal (instead of a bottle) will help your baby learn to sip and it is better for their teeth.
- Soft weaning spoons – a spoon made of rubber or plastic is gentler on your baby’s gums
- A plastic bowl – expect bowls to end up on the floor, so try to get one that has a suction base to keep it anchored to the table or high chair.
- Bibs – something to cover your baby’s front to avoid mess on their clothes. A pelican bib which has a scooped bottom and are useful to stop food ending up all over your baby!
- Messy mat or newspaper – used to cover your floor before feeding time so that your baby can explore and play freely.
Foods for your baby from six months
Start with a small amount of solid food once a day, at a time that suits you and your baby.
You could start with single fruits and vegetables, either blended, mashed or soft-cooked sticks such as parsnip, broccoli, potato, carrot, apple or pear. Make sure that cooked food is cooled before giving it to your baby.
Some other things to remember when introducing solids to your 6-month-old baby:
- Include vegetables that aren’t sweet, such as broccoli or cauliflower, so that your baby gets used to different flavours, not just the sweet ones.
- Avoid adding sugar or salt to your baby’s food, including in cooking water. Sugar causes tooth decay and salt is bad for their kidneys.
- Slowly increase the number of foods from the each of the food groups, which include:
- Vegetables, such as carrots, avocado and butternut squash.
- Fruits, such as bananas, apples, pears or oranges.
- Starchy foods, such as potato, sweet potato, baby rice, pasta, oats, toast or bread.
- Proteins, such as eggs, beans, chickpeas, chicken, beef, lamb or pork. Fish must be without bones.
- Dairy, such as pasteurised full-fat yoghurt or cheese, pasteurized cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk can be used in cooking or mixed in food but not as a drink.
Move from blended or pureed foods to mashed and finger foods as soon as they’re ready, to help them get used to different textures and learn to chew.
Keep giving your baby breast milk or infant formula but remember to offer this after a meal of solids, since their small tummy fills up quickly.
Foods for your baby from seven months
Your baby will gradually start eating three meals a day from 7 months onwards, along with their milk feeds. As your baby eats more solid foods, they may want less milk feeds and may eventually not need a milk feed at all.
Continue to increase the amount and variety of the foods you offer and try to include food that contains iron, such as meat, fish or fortified cereals, dark green vegetables and beans. It’s also a good idea to give your baby a Vitamin D supplement, unless they are having more than 500ml of infant formula a day, because it’s important for bone, teeth and muscle health. Eating together a family as your baby gets older, will encourage them to follow good eating habits.
What challenges should I look out for when weaning?
There are some parts to weaning that you might find worrying, but if you’re prepared and well informed, it’s sure to go smoothly. Here are some possible things to be aware of as you start weaning your little one:
- To prevent your baby from choking, avoid hard foods like whole nuts, or raw carrot or apple. Cut small, round foods like grapes or cherry tomatoes into small pieces. Remove pips or stones from fruit and bones from meat or fish. Always stay with your baby when they start eating solid food.
- Choking is different from gagging. Your baby may gag when you introduce solid food, because they are still learning how much food they can put in their mouth, to chew and then swallow. You’ll know your baby is gagging if their eyes water, put their tongue out of their mouth or retch to bring the food forward in their mouth. They might also vomit.
- Check the temperature of foods. Allow heated foods to cool, before giving it to your little one.
- Watch out for allergic reactions. Introduce foods that can trigger allergies, one at a time and in small amounts so that you can spot any reaction.
- Foods that may cause allergies in some babies are:
- cow’s milk
- foods with gluten (e.g., wheat, rye),
- nuts and peanuts,
- seeds and soya
- shellfish and fish
- Signs of an allergic reaction include:
- runny or blocked nose
- red, itchy watery eyes
- wheezing and coughing
- a red itchy rash
- worsening asthma
If you think your baby is having an allergic reaction, seek immediate medical help.
Many babies start teething at 6 months, right about the time that they might be ready for solid foods. In many ways it can be a good thing, because it means you can give your teething baby healthy foods to chew on, such as raw fruit and vegetables or soft fruit like melon to soothe their gums. If your baby has a temperature or teething pain, you can also give them children's ibuprofen such as Nurofen for Children from 3 Months and weighing over 5 kg or children’s paracetamol to help relieve teething symptoms.
The fun of feeding your baby new things can begin as soon as they’re ready. It might get messy, it will take time, but seeing your baby enjoying new foods is an exciting part of parenting.
All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health matters for further information or medical advice, please speak to your doctor or pharmacist.