Your baby’s first food will be baby milk (breast or formula), which provides enough nutrients to helps them grow and survive. As you baby grows they require a greater calorie intake and vitamins and minerals which food can provide. Weaning is the term given to the introduction of solid food in your baby’s diet. If you’re confused about when to start weaning your baby then this guide is for you.
When to Start Weaning
What are the current recommendations?
In the UK a baby should never start weaning before 17 weeks old (4 months). Since 2001 the government has recommended that babies start weaning at 6 months old. This is based on scientific research papers which discovered early weaning can:
- Upset babies immature digestive system
- Interfere with breastfeeding nutrients
- Does not offer health benefits to baby
- Increase babies’ chances of developing allergies, infections, digestive disorders and obesity.
So it may be damaging to your child’s future health by weaning early. Apart from health reasons it’s also much more convenient for both parents and babies to start weaning at 6 months including the following:
- Offering baby a greater range of foods
- Baby can feed themselves
- No hassle of making purées
- Baby can start with finger foods
Why do Parents Wean Early?
You may be wondering with the current guidelines why almost half of babies in the UK are weaning by 4 months old. Well it’s due to the conflicting advice most parents are given when it comes to weaning. Let’s take a look at the worst offenders.
Baby Food Companies
Look at any advertising by a baby food company and your see that most of their first products are suitable from 4 months. This confuses parents and makes them think that 4 month is the right time to start weaning their babies. Ultimately this is a ploy used by their marketing teams to make more money from new parents.
Before 2001 the advice was that babies should be weaned at 4 months. Many parents with older children still live by this mantra because it’s how they raised their child. Although it did not immediate harm to them by early weaning, you never know the long term damage it has cause to the body.
Health professionals need to provide advice for those who choose to wean early. Although not recommended, support needs to be in place to provide safety advice and nutritional guidelines for young babies.
Reasons for Early Weaning
A premature bay would begin weaning at around 5-7 months for their birth date (not corrected age). You should discuss this with your health care providers and take their recommendations on board as to decide what is right for your baby.
Sometimes early weaning is recommended by health professional particularly if baby suffers from severe reflux. Again discuss this this your baby’s health care providers for advice on your personal circumstances.
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Why you Shouldn’t Wean Early
Your baby may be ready to start weaning early after all every child is unique. We’ve made a list of reasons parents start early weaning, which should be weight up against the research findings before making your decision.
Everyone Else Is
You may have friends or family with similar age babies who are all early weaning. Your baby’s health is more important than keeping up with the Jones’. In fact going against the grain can help other mums to become empowered with their parenting choices and realise they don’t need to be pressured into following the crowd.
Research show there is no difference is fussiness between babies weaned at 4 months and those at 6 months. Some babies are just born to be picky eaters, or they may be fussy due to an undiagnosed intolerance to certain foods.
Starting weaning will not make your baby start sleeping right through the night. In fact it’s a normal protective function for baby to wake during the night for safety. If you are still breastfeeding, a night feed is still important at 4 months to keep your milk supply high.
Signs baby is Ready
Many people start weaning when their baby shows specific sign including:
- Being a certain weight
- Increased milk intake
- Waking in the night
- Watching you eat
None of these are a true reflection of how mature your babies gut is and if they will cope with early weaning. The only real sign of readiness are:
- Sitting unaided
- Reaching, grabbing and hand mouth coordination
- The loss of the tongue-thrust reflex
Without all of these signs you won’t have much success with weaning, and mealtimes can become a time of frustration rather than learning.
When a baby feeds all the time, it’s not because they are not being fulfilled by milk, but they are using it for extra energy to see them through a growth spurt. Milk (breast or formula) will provide much for nutrients and calories than half a teaspoon of vegetable purée.
The size of your baby is genetic and does not indicate how mature their digestive system is. The same is true if you are trying to make a small baby put on weight. Again, milk will provide more nutrition for baby than small volumes of solid food.
Approaches to Weaning
Introducing solid foods to baby is such a huge milestone for both parents and babies. If you decide to wean but they show no interest, give it a few days and try again. Never force your baby to eat, otherwise it can create a very bad atmosphere at mealtimes and lead to problems. There are two different ways to wean your baby onto solid food. No method is right or wrong, it comes to personal preference, just make sure your baby is ready to begin weaning.
Spoon Led Weaning
Starting around 4 months, you begin feeding baby puréed foods and slowly introduce a greater variety and texture of foods as they get older. If you make home-made food you’ll need cooking equipment to make smooth purées such as a blender. In the early stages your baby won’t be able to feed themselves, and you’ll need to ensure they can sit upright before placing them in a high chair. You will also need to sterilise all baby feeding equipment until they are 6 months old.
Typical Traditional Weaning Calendar
0-4 Months: Milk only (breast or formula)
4–6 Months: Few spoonfuls of baby cereal.
5–8 Months: Add puréed fruits and veggies, such as bananas, pears, apple sauce, peaches, avocado, cooked carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes
8–10 Months: Food should now be mashed rather than puréed. Finger foods such as pasta, toast and biscuits can be introduced. Small amount of soft protein can be added.
10–12 Months: Foods should now be in cubes or strips. Babies should start enjoying mini meals with food combinations.
12–18 Months: Switch to whole milk. All dairy products, fruits veggies, eggs and meat are now safe to use. Honey can be introduced to the diet.
18–24 Months: Most foods are suitable to use now, including nuts. Be vigilant for any signs of allergy or choking hazards, and monitor your baby at all mealtimes.
Advantages of Spoon Led Weaning
More control – It can be less messy as you (mostly) control how much food baby has access to.
Follow a plan – If you like to have a schedule then spoon led weaning id for you with the progression from purées to mash and then finger foods as baby grows.
Weaning under 6 months – This is the best method for early weaning as babies don’t have the motor skills to feed themselves.
Baby Led Weaning (BLW)
Starting around 6 months you offer baby small chunks of food which they can feed themselves. This method requires virtually no special equipment other than eating utensils. BLW gives baby more control and gives them the joy of discovering their food – and how messy it can be!
Start using finger foods for baby, such as strips of soft (or cooked) fruits, vegetables and carbs such as toast. Baby will probably play with their food for a long time before they start eating it. Don’t force anything into their mouth, be patient.
Advantages of Baby-led weaning
Encourages independence – If your baby likes to make mess and do things for themselves then BLW is right up their street. Rather than controlling the situation baby gets to discover taste and textures for themselves.
No need for purees – If you can’t be bothered making batches of baby purées, this is definitely the method for you. It also means you don’t have to buy specialist blending equipment to get the food super smooth.
You’re relaxed about weaning– If you’re happy for baby to take their time whilst eating and progressing through different foods. You’re happy for them to eat more at some mealtimes than others. ‘If they’re hungry they’ll eat’ will be your weaning motto.
Choking is the common concern of weaning parents, both spoon fed and baby led. Regardless of which weaning method you choose, a baby should always be supervised at mealtimes for safety reasons. Most of the time a baby will cough up the offending food. If you are worried the situation becomes more serious you can learn how to deal with a choking baby, or sign up for a ‘First aid for babies and children’ class with the British Red Cross, check for availability here.