You are the best judge of when it’s time to start weaning, and you don’t have to set a deadline unless you and your child are ready to do so. However, the Department of Health now recommends exclusive breastfeeding or formula for the first six months (26 weeks). If you feel your baby needs to start solids before this, do talk to your health visitor.
Babies make the change from requiring milk alone to needing a top-up with solids due to the fact that their stomachs are full after a feed and cannot hold any more milk, yet they still need more calories. Milk is a complete food, but as babies grow they require more calories, so the all-important solids, which contain more calories than milk, are introduced to meet the needs of your baby.
When should I start weaning?
One of the first signs that your baby is starting to need more than just milk is when, at the end of a regular feed, she is still restless and unsatisfied. She may even demand an extra feed during the day or wake up in the night wanting a feed, when she would normally have slept through. She may also take a swipe at your food and start to watch you eating with special interest! There are some other signs to look out for too:
- Can your baby sit up and keep their head steady? This allows them to take an active part in eating.
- Do they still have their tongue-thrusting reflex? If they no longer automatically push food out of their mouth, they are more likely to be ready to try ‘solid’ food.
- Is their hand-eye co-ordination developed so that they are they able to see foot, pick it up and put it in their mouth?
If your little one doesn’t appear to be ready yet, don’t rush to start feeding your baby solids, and do not be anxious if friends’ babies have started on solids before yours has – every baby is different and no one knows a baby better than her mother. If your baby is happy and content with milk until around six months old, continue until the above signs are noticed. If you are in any doubt ask your health visitor or doctor’s advice.
What to feed?
The best foods to start weaning with are baby rice, home-cooked vegetables and fruits. Prepare the vegetables by chopping and cooking in a little water until soft and then puree.
- A good tip is to add a little breast or formula milk to give it a soft consistency and to make the taste similar to what your baby already knows and likes.
- Only make up very small amounts as, at first, she will only accept a teaspoon or two.
- Start with bland-tasting vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, cauliflower or broccoli, and never add any seasoning.
- Pureed fruits are also very good – try starting with banana, papaya, mango, stewed apple or pear, never add sugar (just select sweet fruit) and do not sweeten with honey until your baby is 12 months old. By sweetening foods you will give your baby a sweet tooth, which is not a good start.
- Start by offering tiny amounts of solids for your baby to get used to this new experience and taste.
- Never force solids upon a baby – it should be a gentle and enjoyable experience. If your baby refuses the food, forget trying to feed solids for a couple of days and then try again with another pureed food.
- Do not rush your baby as she is having to learn to accept these new tastes and, hardest of all, having to learn how to swallow – all she has done until now is suck.
- If you’re using a spoon, maybe give your baby one to hold too and try to wait until they open their mouth before offering the food.
How often and when?
Lunchtime is often the best time to try with solids as your baby will be alert and usually very hungry. However if you feel first thing in the morning, or last thing at night is when your baby will be most receptive – go for it! You know your baby best. Remember that milk is still a very important part of the diet so continue to give milk as usual along with the pureed foods.
Initially you’ll just give solid food once a day, but depending on how quickly your little one takes to it, you can gradually increase the solid meals. So for the first week, perhaps just at lunchtime, the second or third week, look at introducing a second meal at tea time, then by week four add breakfast in too. This will of course depend on your child, how hungry they are and how quickly they adjust to solid food.
As they become more used to their mealtimes, it’s great to introduce different types of foods and to reduce the amount of pureeing, so the texture becomes less smooth.