Once your baby gets close to about six months old, you will probably start thinking about weaning, or introducing solid food.
The idea of weaning is to add new foods slowly and carefully, starting with simple foods such as baby rice and cereal, and pureed fruit and vegetables, and then moving on to more complex meals until your baby is eating the same foods as the rest of the family, albeit in small quantities.
The process of weaning can be taken fairly gently, and will probably last around 6 months in total.
Most babies will continue to get most of their nutrients from milk for some months after weaning has started.
This page provides some advice for managing the process.
When to Wean
Generally, most babies do not need anything except milk for the first six months. This means that they will not be ready for weaning until about six months old.
In the UK the NHS suggests that there are three key signs that your baby is ready for weaning:
- They can sit up and hold their head straight, an essential part of sitting in a high chair to eat;
- They can look at food, pick it up, and move it to their mouths by themselves; and
- They can swallow food (which means that they can use their tongues to push food to the back of their mouths).
Some people suggest that babies should be weaned if, having started to sleep through the night, they start to wake again, hungry, in the early hours.
This is not a reliable sign of needing weaning, only of being hungry. Extra milk feeds should be sufficient if your baby is not showing the other signs of being ready.
Many child health clinics and health visitors offer classes and training groups on weaning. It is a good idea to attend as it will give you the most up-to-date advice, and also help you to make contact with other parents in the area.
Stages of Weaning
There are generally reckoned to be several distinct stages of weaning.
The first foods to introduce should be mashed or pureed cooked fruit and vegetables, including apple, pear, carrot, sweet potato, butternut squash, parsnip and potato. You can also mash up soft fruit like bananas and avocados. Baby rice and baby cereal made up with the baby’s usual milk are also good.
Note: introduce each food individually, to ensure that you can identify any that cause an allergic reaction or which are unpopular.
You should also introduce foods in small quantities. Start with just a few teaspoons or mouthfuls, at just one meal, continuing with milk at all other feed times.
Over time, increase the number of meals involving solid food, and the amount of food, and also offer water to drink with meals. The advice is to use an open cup as this teaches babies how to sip, but it can be a bit messy and you may prefer a sippy cup at first. If so, look for one without a valve as this is easier for your child to manage.
Home-Cooked or Jars?
The vexed question of whether you cook your own purees and baby meals, or buy jars, is one that only you can resolve.
If you are the type of person who likes cooking, and who always cooks your own meals, then you’ll probably enjoy cooking up purees for your baby. If, on the other hand, you don’t, then it is fine to buy. It won’t harm your child in any way, although it will be considerably more expensive and may make it harder to introduce new textures and tastes later.
If you use jars, it is probably a good idea to make sure that you introduce a good range of finger foods early on.
If you want to cook, but you are not sure what, Annabel Karmel is generally reckoned to be the authority on cooking for children. The Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner is a good starting point.
DO NOT add salt to anything that you cook for your baby, including vegetables. This is important until they are at least a year old. If you are giving your baby the same food as the rest of the family, then everyone else will have to add salt later.
Try to let your baby hold and handle food themselves, as soon as they show an interest, even though this can be extremely messy.
ALWAYS stay with your baby while they eat, to avoid any risk of choking.
Over this period, you will start to move towards feeding your baby three meals a day.
Foods should include mixtures of soft finger food and pureed or chopped foods. Some babies seem to be ready to move on from smooth food earlier, so don’t panic if you need to continue to puree for what seems like a very long time.
Suitable finger foods include, for example, cooked carrot sticks and soft biscuits.
Just as you need a balanced diet, you should be feeding your baby some of each of:
- Fruit and vegetables;
- Starchy foods such as rice, pasta, potatoes and bread;
- Protein such as meat, fish and eggs; and
- Milk and dairy products, including fromage frais and yoghurt.
Some babies are very keen to feed themselves. Finger food may be sufficient to meet this need.
Other babies want to hold the spoon and feed themselves. This can be very slow and messy. You may therefore want to give them their own spoon to hold and dip into the food, while you continue to spoon food into your baby’s mouth.
From 12 months
By this stage, your baby should be eating three solid meals a day, chopped or roughly mashed if necessary.
You can start to give cows’ milk as a drink, and drop the formula if you were using it. You can, of course, carry on breast-feeding as long as you and your baby want. Snacks may include fruit and vegetables, and bread sticks.
Milk and Fat
Most of are so programmed to believe that fat is bad that it is hard to adjust the thinking.
But babies need fat to grow.
They should be given full-fat milk and other dairy products until the age of two. It can be hard to find full fat yoghurts and similar, but Greek yoghurt is a good option. Skimmed (0%) milk should not be given until age five at the earliest, although you can use semi-skimmed (2%) milk from age two if you wish.
At this stage, your baby is likely to be eating three or four servings a day of starchy foods, and fruit and vegetables, plus two servings of meat, fish, eggs or other protein.
Basically, by about 12 months, your baby will be eating more or less the same food as the rest of the family, albeit probably chopped up smaller and in much smaller portions.
Milk and Solid Food
As the amount of solid food increases, so the amount of milk needed will decrease. Let your baby lead this process, offering milk feeds, but allowing them to stop when they have had enough each time until you and they are ready to drop the feed altogether.
No Fixed Timetable
It is important to remember than weaning is a developmental stage.
Like other developmental stages, babies are ready in their own time, and take as long as they take to go through it. The best thing that you can do is go with the flow and wait for your baby to be ready for each new stage.