Stepping into the world of weaning can feel exciting and daunting, especially if you've only just managed to get into a routine with milk feeds. Registered dietitian and leading child nutritionist Frankie Phillips tell us how to recognise the signs that your baby is ready...
After getting through those first few, sleep-deprived weeks, you may have fallen confidently into a routine where your response to their need to feed becomes second nature. However, after a few months of milk feeds, it’s time to shake things up and reach a new, exciting milestone – enter the new adventure of the weaning window.
Recognising the signs
The weaning window opens around the age of six months. However, and as you’ve probably already realised, babies aren’t aware of the timeline. Being individuals, it’s a good idea to use a baby’s own development as a guide to whether he is ready, and steady enough, to start.
Little ones naturally develop the skills they need to move on to solid food, and there are three tell-tale signs that tend to appear together at around six months when they're weaning-ready.
- Baby can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady
- Baby can co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth, so they can look at food, pick it up and put it in their mouth
- Baby can swallow food. If they aren't ready, the food will be pushed back out with their tongue
There are many myths about how to recognise whether a baby is ready for weaning, but signs including chewing on fists, waking more in the night or wanting more milk feeds are not reliable signs of readiness.
The importance of starting solids
For the first few months, breast milk or formula milk can provide all of the nutrition a baby needs. As they approach six months, baby’s body stores of some nutrients, such as iron, begin to run low and so they need to start to be able to get some of the nutrients they need from the foods they eat. Introducing textures early on is also really important as biting and chewing help to develop the muscles in the mouth and tongue that are needed for speech development… and raspberry blowing!
Grandparents might be saying that the experts are always changing their minds and baby should be having solids by four months. Up until the 1970s babies were even being given solids as early as three weeks old, with rusk or cereal added to the bottle. However, the best evidence now points towards waiting until around six months to start weaning.
The World Health Organisation recommends that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health. The UK Department of Health and NHS Choices advise ‘around six months’ as the time to start ‘complementary feeding’, taking into account individual developmental stages, rather than a blanket recommendation. Complementary feeding is a useful term as it suggests that weaning isn’t just replacing baby’s milk feeds but complementing it as they master the skill of eating solid foods.
Weaning before six months
Some babies might be ready to start weaning before six months, and if they are showing all of the signs, then it’s fine to start; check with your health visitor just to be sure. However, the latest research shows that it’s best to wait until baby is at least 17 weeks old as before this time his digestive tract and kidneys might not be developed enough to cope with solids. Trust your instincts and your baby’s signals, ignore pressure from others and you’re ready to go!
Looking for inspiration? Try our stage one homemade purée recipes below:
Dr Frankie Phillips is a registered dietitian and public health nutritionist specialising in infant and toddler nutrition with over 20 years' experience.