What is weaning?
Weaning, or complementary feeding, is the process of introducing solid foods into your baby's diet. You can introduce solid foods over 3 stages roughly based on your baby’s age.
While milk alone is enough for babies up to 6 months, from this age onwards babies will require more nutrients to meet their growing needs. A baby’s tummy will also have developed enough to cope with solid food. At each stage of introducing solid food, the texture of the food will change. This may help to reduce their chances of becoming fussy eaters.
Some parents prefer baby-led weaning. This is where you give your baby only finger foods and let them feed themselves instead of you spooning it to them. This choice of weaning allows babies to explore taste, texture, colour and smell, encourages independence, helps them develop hand-eye coordination and chewing skills. Some parents may prefer a combination of both finger and pureed foods. There is no right or wrong way but it’s important that your baby is getting enough nutrients and a variety of tastes and textures.
It takes roughly 6 months before your baby’s stomach is able to cope with solid food and before they can feed themselves, which is why it is recommended to wait until around 6 months before introducing solids. However if your baby is between 4 and 6 months old or if your baby was born prematurely, speak to your health visitor or GP first if you’re considering starting them on solids.
The three stages of weaning
Stage 1 (from 6 months) – Introducing solid foods for the first time
Stage 2 (from 7 months) – Introducing more tastes and textures
Stage 3 (from 10 months) – More variety and eating with the family
Stage 1 of weaning: 6 months+
It takes roughly 6 months before your baby's stomach is able to cope with solid food and before they can feed themselves, which is why it is recommended to wait until around 6 months before introducing solids.
At this stage babies can usually:
- Sit upright in a supported chair
- Hold and bang a spoon
- Experiment with a cup (with plenty of spilling!).
When your little one starts eating solids, they'll be able to:
- Look at food, pick it up and put it in their mouth with their hands
- Stay sitting upright and hold their head steady
- Swallow food
Your baby can eat pureed or mashed foods with some soft lumps and soft finger foods like:1
- Fruit and vegetables
- Meat, fish, pulses and eggs
- Rice, pasta, potatoes, bread and cereals
- Yoghurt, custard and cheese
- Nuts as a smooth paste such as peanut butter, but speak to your health visitor or GP first, if there is a family history of allergies.
Don't worry about how much your baby is eating at this point - the main goal is to get them used to eating new foods before moving to the next stage.
Your baby will still consume mostly breast milk or formula during this time, which is where most of their nutrients and energy comes from. From around 6 months you can start introducing water with meals.
Stage 2 of weaning: 7 to 9 months
By stage 2 of weaning, your baby will have some experience eating solid foods. During this stage, you can introduce them to new tastes and textures that include:
- Soft lumps
- Mashed and minced consistency foods
- More finger foods
At this stage babies can usually:
- Reach for food
- Pick up food and put it in their mouth
- Bite and “munch” or chew on food
Watch and enjoy, as your baby learns to:
- Eat lumpy foods and soft finger Remember that it's ok for babies to get used to different textures at different rates
- Start feeding themselves with finger food
- Chew pieces of food
Stage 3 of weaning: From 10 months
At this point, your baby will be able to eat most foods that the rest of the family are eating, providing they are without added gravies, sauces, salt or sugar. By stage 3 of weaning, your baby:
- Should now be having 3 meals a day
- Enjoy a wide variety of tastes and textures
- May have about 3 milk feeds per day
- Should be able to feed themselves, move their tongue from side to side and chew some family foods
- Drink most drinks from a cup or baby cup (other than breast milk)
Remember that babies don’t need sugar or salt on their food. Try to limit foods that contain lots of salt like salty meat, cheese, or processed foods. Also avoid giving them sugary drinks, including undiluted fruit juices, as sugar can lead to tooth decay.
Don’t give children under the age of 5 years whole nuts as they may choke. It’s also not suitable for children under 12 months to have honey as it may contain harmful bacteria.
Your baby should now manage eating foods that are mashed or chopped and finger foods that they can hold to put in their mouth. Finger foods should be soft enough to break up in their mouth but avoid hard foods such as raw carrots and apples.
Here are some examples of finger foods that you can try:
- soft cooked vegetables, such as carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, parsnip, butternut squash
- fruit (soft, or cooked without adding sugar), such as apple, pear, peach, melon, banana
- cooked starchy foods, such as potato, sweet potato, cassava, pasta, noodles, chapatti, rice
- pulses, such as beans and lentils
- fish, chicken and lamb without bones
- hardboiled eggs
- sticks of pasteurised full-fat hard cheese (choose lower salt options)
if you are worried that your child is not managing solid food contact your health visitor or GP for advice.
Tips to encourage your baby to try new foods
This can be a tough stage for some babies and parents as your baby experiences new tastes, textures and smells throughout the three stages of weaning. Some babies may take more than 10 tries before eating a particular food. Keep mealtimes fun and be patient with each new step. Here are some tips that can help you get through the three stages of weaning:
- Cheer your baby on and praise them when they eat; It'll encourage them to do it again.
- Avoid distractions near your baby whilst feeding, such as a TV, phone or tablet.
- Feed your baby at a time of day that’s best for you both. You’ll need plenty of time so that you aren’t rushed, when they’re not tired or fussy and when they’re showing signs of hunger. This will make mealtimes far easier and less frustrating for you.
- Let them feed themselves if they want to so that they can feel and touch new food. This will help them accept new textures. It will get messy but resist the urge to wipe them until the meal is finished.
- They learn by watching you and your family. If they see you enjoying certain foods, they’re more likely to try them.
Remember to always keep an eye on your little ones when they’re eating and never leave them alone when they are feeding.
What to expect when you start weaning?
Eating is a new skill for your baby. Some babies may accept different foods or textures faster than others. Go at your baby’s pace. Let them show you when they’re hungry or full. Stop when they’ve had enough. They may close their mouth or turn their head away to show they’re full. Don’t force them to eat but rather wait for the next meal if they’re not interested. Most importantly, keep trying! If you are worried that your child is not managing solid food contact your health visitor or GP.
Try to stay patient and persevere through the different stages of weaning. Remember that it’s normal to feel a little frustrated, but there will also be moments of delight when you can see your baby truly enjoy what they’re eating, and there’s nothing cuter than their sounds of appreciation for something yummy.
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 GP or a Pharmacist.