As a new parent, it can be tricky to know when you should start to introduce solid foods into your baby's diet. It doesn’t help that there is so much confusing and conflicting advice out there. Here we will reveal the signs that your baby is ready for weaning, as well as how to help them transition onto solid foods during this period.
When should your baby start weaning?
In general, you should wait until your baby is 6 months of age before you transition them onto solid foods. Until this time, your breastmilk (or formula if you choose to go that route) provides your baby with all the nutrients they need for energy, immune function, and general development.
During this initial 6-month period, your baby makes huge physical developments - and their body is preparing them to cope with solid foods later on. This is why it's important to wait for the 6-month mark before introducing solid food - as they are not physically ready to digest these foods until this point.
As well as developing their abilities to digest during this time, babies will also improve their capacity to chew, swallow, and use their hands to self-feed. All of these elements need to be in place before safe weanings can occur.
Signs your baby may be ready for weaning
Whilst every baby develops at a slightly different rate - there are usually some clear indications that they are becoming ready to wean.
The first indication that your baby may be ready for weaning is that they are able to swallow food instead of instantly spitting it back out again. This demonstrates they are able to swallow well, and reduces the risk they will choke on food they are given. If they continue to spit food out, it’s usually an indication that they need to develop their swallowing strength before safe weaning can occur.
The second key sign that your baby may soon be able to wean is when they become capable of staying in an upright sitting position with their head steady. Again, this shows that they have developed some of the physical attributes necessary to sit and feed independently.
And thirdly, you should be looking out for signs that they have sufficient hand, eye, and mouth coordination to pick up food and lift it to their mouth in a controlled way. This means they will be able to safely transport food to their mouth - and therefore they are more in control of the quantity and types of food they choose to eat.
Whilst these signs are usually pretty clear - it is easy to mistake other behaviors as signs that they are ready to wean. So don’t be too quick to assume they are ready to wean if you notice your baby:
- Chewing their fists and fingers (this can be due to teething, boredom, or stress)
- Wanting extra milk (this can be due to them growing and needing more nutrients, but still in milk form)
- Waking up in the night more than normal (this can be due to a wide range of factors that occur as a baby develops)
And it’s important to say that if your baby was born early (prematurely) then they might be on a slightly different schedule to a baby born at full term. So, it’s a good idea to get some guidance from your healthcare provider about the best time to start weaning them.
How much should I feed my baby?
When your baby has been showing clear signs that they are ready to wean around the 6-month mark, you might be wondering how much solid food they will get through. The best approach here is to be governed by your baby and their appetite.
Instead of insisting your baby eats a certain amount, it’s better to put them in charge. This means they will eat to fullness, based on their own requirements. Offering them a range of appropriate foods can help them to choose from a variety of nutritious foods - rather than filling up on just one item.
Feeding your baby solid foods is likely to be easier when both they and you are not too tired, as this can reduce any fussiness they have, and can encourage them to eat the right amount for their needs. Similarly, if you are feeling relaxed and unrushed this can promote a stress-free eating environment which is likely to be better for your baby's eating habits too.
Remember that whilst some babies adapt to weaning incredibly well, others may struggle initially, and there are likely to be ups and downs. So being realistic about your expectations can help to keep you calmer and may take the pressure off during mealtimes too.
What should I feed my baby?
Remember that initially, your baby will only consume a small amount of appropriate foods, just once a day - alongside their milk feeds. It’s usual to start with blended foods - so for example perhaps a puree of sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips.
Although babies are drawn to these sweeter vegetables, it's also beneficial to include less sweet veg such as broccoli or cauliflower to get them used to a full range of tastes. This can help to reduce fussiness later on. You could also sweeten some of these blends with a little apple or pear for added vitamins too. This is a much better option than using baby foods as shop-bought baby purees tend to be high in added salts and sugars and can get them hooked on overly sweet foods.
You can also blend these vegetable and fruit mixtures with some baby rice and a little of their regular milk to keep things interesting and introduce them to new textures and flavors.
Of course, it’s very important that any mixtures have been left to cool before feeding them to your baby.
Once your baby has gotten used to these small amounts of blended foods, you can start to progress onto more varied baby-led weaning recipes that incorporate a wider range of food groups. And during this time, you can slowly and safely introduce certain foods to try and reduce their risk of allergies. But this needs to be done carefully, and in a controlled way to keep your baby safe.
You’ll also want to develop their tastes by including a range of textures so that they are comfortable eating foods that aren't smooth and pureed. Ideally, you want to move them onto more varied textures once they have become confident and comfortable with purees and blended foods.
How to make weaning easier
Being prepared with the right equipment is a good starting point. For example, it's a good idea to arrange an adjustable highchair near to your dining area to allow your baby to sit upright and still. This is important for safe swallowing and can make weaning a little bit easier.
When thinking about the type of cutlery and crockery to use for weaning - there are a few key tips to follow. Using spoons that are designed for weaning can really help. This is because they tend to be made of materials such as rubber or plastic, which are less likely to irritate your baby's delicate gums than other options.
Similarly, plastic bowls are definitely more baby-friendly than your best crockery set. Ideally, aim to find bowls or plates with suction bases for increased stability during mealtimes.
When it comes to drinking - there are some easy ways to promote development and independence without encouraging spills. This can include using (breakproof) cups they can sip from. Using their bottle won’t promote these essential skills, whereas choosing open cups without a valve will promote their sipping abilities.
Bibs are an absolute must to save your sanity, and there are now many silicone versions that are easy to clean too. An additional method of reducing the time it takes you to clean up post feeds is to use a messy mat. These can be placed on the high chair table and save you from having to deep clean the surface after every use. Some people opt for using newspapers instead, but you can end up getting through a lot with regular feeds.
And finally, you can start to experiment with using ice cube trays to freeze appropriate-sized portions of baby-safe, batch-cooked favorites. This enables you to cook multiple meals at once, and you can relax knowing you always have a nutritious option ready at a moment's notice.
So, hopefully, now you are feeling more equipped to recognise the signs that your baby is ready to begin weaning. If you have any doubts or concerns about your baby's development then make sure you consult a healthcare professional.