Baby weaning can be fun and exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. When should you start?
Whether you’re puree weaning or trying baby-led weaning, this need-to-know baby weaning guide will get you ready for anything your baby throws at you (probably from their high chair!). This guide includes tips on when and how to feed your baby safely and top tips from parents who’ve done it before.
When should I start baby weaning?
The Department of Health recommends that whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, you should only feed your baby milk for the first six months. Never start weaning before your baby is 17 weeks old.
It’s safe to start weaning when your baby reaches six months old. Their digestive system is then ready to cope with solid foods and they’ll begin to need the extra nutrients and iron that milk alone can’t provide. However, some parents start weaning as early as four or five months old, following health professionals’ advice. Your baby may start grabbing at your food and try to eat it themselves, which is a clear sign that they’re ready. Babies with older siblings often start weaning earlier as they see the family eating together and want to join in.
When is my baby ready for solids?
Every baby is different. However Charlotte Stirling-Reed, Jo Wicks’ trusted Wean in 15 nutritionist and author of How to Wean Your Baby, advises that there are a few telltale signs. Your baby is ready for solids if they:
- Sit and hold their head and neck steady
- See food, pick it up and bring it towards their mouth. This demonstrates hand-eye coordination
- Swallow more food than they spit out.
“You want to see all three signs happening at the same time on multiple occasions,” says Charlotte. “Not just a one off.”
You shouldn’t assume that a hungrier-than-usual baby means it’s time to wean. If you’re worried about slow weight gain or think your baby seems ready for solids earlier than six months, discuss this with your health visitor or GP before you begin. This is especially important if your baby was born prematurely.
What are the risks of starting baby weaning too early?
Weaning your baby too early can risk choking and lead to constipation or digestion problems. If your baby isn’t ready or interested in food, it may also become a struggle to feed them and make the weaning process more stressful than it needs to be.
“You don’t want to offer food when baby isn’t quite ready and end up displacing your baby’s milk, which is very important for them especially at a younger age,” advises weaning expert, Charlotte Stirling-Reed. “Their digestive and immune system also need to be ready. That’s not something you can necessarily tell as a parent. That’s why it’s ideal to wait until around six months and to look out for those signs of readiness.”
Babies do not develop enough of the enzyme salivary amylase, which enables their body to convert starch to sugar and access the food’s energy, until their fix or six months old. If babies are weaned too early they cannot absorb enough nutrients. This could lead to digestive disturbances like diarrhoea or stomach cramps which keep them awake at night.
It’s important to not give babies too much food too quickly. “Some parents get very excited when they start weaning,” advises The Parent & Baby Coach, Heidi Skudder. “This can sometimes mean the baby’s digestive system becomes overloaded very quickly. Which in turn can lead to a grumpy constipated baby who ends up waking up more than they did before starting weaning. I always advise clients to take it slowly, one new food every few days. I also recommend keeping a food diary to track if your baby has any reactions at all.”
What are the three stages of weaning?
Three stages of weaning correspond to three developmental stages from six to 12 months. Weaning expert Charlotte Stirling-Reed shares her advice for these three important stages:
Stage 1: about 6 months
“Try and think about weaning as a journey for you both. There is no right and wrong so try to approach it with excitement and exploration, rather than being nervous or taking it too seriously.”
Stage 2: 6 to 9 months
“Eat with your baby at the start of weaning, and ideally throughout. They will learn so much about how and what to eat from watching you.”
Stage 3: 9 to 12 months
“If you remember one thing about weaning and feeding children in general, remember that their appetites are always up and down. This is normal. Try not to analyse each meal, and look at what your little one eats over a week instead.”
How should I start baby weaning?
Early solids should be introduced alongside your baby’s usual milk feeds. The first few weeks of solids aren’t really about filling them up, it’s about getting your baby used to different tastes, textures and a new routine. It’s more fun than food.
Weaning is a new experience for your baby and they need time to get used to it. So when you decide to try out solids for the first time, start off slowly. Try a tiny amount of baby rice or a single fruit or veg puree on your finger or on a soft-tip weaning spoon and give your baby a little taster every few days.
You can then build up slowly over the next few weeks, offering your baby a few spoonfuls of combined fruit and veg purees once a day, then twice a day and then up to three times a day when your baby is ready. Do this in addition to your baby’s usual milk feeds until they’re established on three meals a day.
After seven or eight months they’ll need 500-600ml or a pint of milk in addition to solids until their first birthday.
What time of day should I start weaning?
“There is no right or wrong time of day to start weaning,” says The Parent & Baby Coach, Heidi Skudder. “But I tend to find most babies are receptive to foods late morning, after their milk feed. But before they go down for another nap.”
Start your first weaning whenever you have time to prepare food and then sit with your baby. This may be breakfast, or busy families might prefer lunchtime when other children are out at school. Start with one regular meal time and then build up your weaning slowly as your baby’s hunger and interest increases naturally.
What equipment do I need to start weaning?
Don’t feel under pressure to kit out your kitchen when you start weaning. However, there are a few essentials to make life easier (and less messy):
- A high chair. Find a stable and easy to clean high chair that fits under your table. This Hauk highchair looks stylish and has an adjustable foot rest so they can sit at the table when they’re older too.
- All-over bib. Cover your baby’s arms and body when you start weaning, as food gets everywhere. These Bumkins bibs are easy to clean and quick drying, or try a full-coverage Bibado bid to stop bits falling down the gaps.
- Baby weaning spoon. This should have a soft tip to not damage their gums like these Munchkin spoons. It should also have a flat base, so food doesn’t get stuck in the dip like a normal spoon.
- A sippy cup. One with a soft edge and 360 degrees sipping action is easier than cups with a teat.
- Suction bowl. Not essential, but these clever suction bowls stick to the table and keep food off the floor.
- Large ice cube trays. These Annabel Karmel trays are particularly useful in the first few months as you can portion out purees of food and freeze it. Push the cubes out and store in a labelled plastic bag. Once you’ve finished weaning, they also make excellent oversized ice cube trays for a gin and tonic!
- Reusable wipes. Avoid filling your bin with wet wipes and try reusable wet wipes to clean up messy face and hands.
- Floor mat. Find an old, wipe-clean tablecloth or buy a cheap one to protect your floor under and around the highchair.
Do’s and don’ts for starting baby weaning:
- Enjoy it. Find a time when you and your baby are both relaxed to make the process of starting weaning easier.
- Sit comfortably. Sit facing your baby without leaning forward to protect your lower back.
- Plan ahead. Use our baby weaning meal plans and stock your freezer up. Keep basics like tomato sauce, stews, curries or purees in the freezer so you can prepare dinner quickly.
- Put a small amount on the spoon to start with so your baby can easily fit it in their mouth.
- Keep it varied. Try a variety of vegetables (cooked and raw) to keep the meal colourful, interesting and nutritious.
- Keep it simple. Don’t spend hours preparing dinner every day. You’ll only get disheartened if most of it ends up on the floor. Babies can also get overwhelmed if there’s too much variety in front of them. So aim for three to five flavours maximum when starting to wean your baby.
- Let them eat what you eat. When you’re cooking your own dinner, syphon off a portion for the baby (without any salt or sugar). It’s more convenient, and it means they’ll be used to your cooking as they get older.
- Be creative. Most babies will happily eat herbs and spices (within moderation!) so introduce interesting flavours early on. A drizzle of olive oil, chopped herbs, roasted spices, or a squish of lemon juice make vegetables taste much better.
- Eat with your baby. Babies will enjoy mealtimes more if they feel like they’re part of something. Try to eat at least one meal with your baby so they can watch and learn.
- Give them encouragement. Smile, laugh and congratulate your baby when they put food in their mouths or take the puree. Children enjoy positive reinforcement and it makes them more likely to do it again.
Here are a few things to avoid
- Don’t force your baby to eat if they turn their head away or keep their mouth shut. Don’t take their refusal personally.
- Never put food in the baby’s mouth when they are laughing or yawning. They won’t be ready for it and they could choke.
- Don’t take all day over it. Allow 20 minutes to half an hour for feeding time when you get started with baby weaning. Your baby will learn that is sufficient time to eat their meals.
- Don’t worry. When you first start weaning your baby will be drinking milk for all their nutrients. Consequently, both you and your baby have time to learn how to feed and eat together without worrying about eating enough to begin with.
Top weaning tips from real parents
‘My best tip is to freeze everything! I have a drawer in our freezer especially for Finlay’s food so it’s easy to see what I have, ready for his lunches and tea.’
Glenda, 32, mum of Finlay aged 8 and a half months old
‘Sam loved bananas but after I fed him them for the first time, his stools were filled with what looked like little black worms. Don’t worry if this happens to you – they’re just banana fibres. Phew!
Jenny Bounsall, mum of Sam aged 10 months old
‘When I started weaning my baby, I found that steamed fruit and veg, rather than boiled, made the tastiest meals. I loved the baby food mill for turning Sam’s meals into textured purees which weren’t too smooth or too lumpy.’
Jenny Bounsall, mum of Sam aged 10 months old
‘I found Baby-led Weaning much easier than pureeing. I went straight into sharing our meals with both of my babies.’
Sarah Graham posted this top tip on Facebook
‘Sam would get restless and upset at meal times. When I gave him a spoon to play with or finger foods while I fed him, he was happy as Larry.’
Jenny Bounsall, mum of Sam aged 10 months old
‘I was really worried about feeding my baby healthily on a budget when we started weaning. Until I realised I qualified for Healthy Start vouchers for fruit, veg and milk too.’
Angie, mum of Harry aged 11 months old