how to wean a baby:
a guide to weaning
Weaning is a really important step in your baby’s development. It can be great fun to explore new flavours and textures together and to begin with, how much your baby takes is less important than getting them used to the idea of eating as they will still be getting most of their nutrition from breast milk or infant formula.
Research shows babies can get all the nutrients they need from breast milk or infant formula until they are around six months old. Waiting until then gives their digestive system time to develop fully so it can cope with solid foods (this includes solid foods made into purées and cereals added to milk) .
when to start weaning your baby
- they can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady
- they can co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can see the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth, all by themselves
- they can swallow food - babies who are not ready for solids will push their food back out with their tongue, and get more round their face than they do in their mouths
what you need to start weaning
weaning from 6 months
Breast or formula milk provides all of your baby’s needs from birth to six months but when your baby is ready, you can begin to introduce mashed or soft cooked fruit and vegetables and baby rice.
Your baby is learning to take food from a spoon rather than the breast or bottle so start once a day with one to a few teaspoons - let your baby's interest and appetite guide you. Keep feeding your baby breast milk or infant formula, too (you may find they want less milk after solids), but don't give them whole cows' milk as a drink until they are one year old.
Your baby's first foods can include mashed or soft cooked fruit and vegetables like parsnip, potato, yam, sweet potato, carrot, apple or pear, all cooled before eating.
Soft fruits like peach or melon, or baby rice or baby cereal mixed with your baby's usual milk, are good as well.
Introduce finger foods to teach your baby how to chew. Food that is cut up into pieces big enough for your baby to hold in their fist with a bit sticking out, about the size of your own finger work well. Your baby learns to chew this way. Try grabbable bits of soft, ripe banana or avocado.
weaning from 7 months
Gradually widen the range of foods you offer e.g. puréed meat, fish, chicken, pulses, whole fat yoghurt and custard and increase the number of meals to two then three a day as your baby gets used to food from a spoon and after 6 months you can use cow’s milk to mix food. Your baby will close their mouth or turn their head away when they have had enough.
weaning from 8 to 9 months
Your baby should now be having three meals a day - including a range of sweet and savoury foods. Your baby will probably be managing 1/2-1 small bowl of food at each meal.
Iron rich foods such as meat and fortified cereals are particularly important because the stores your baby was born with will now be used up. You will be giving about 4-6 breast/bottle feeds per day. You can offer water or well-diluted juice at mealtimes from a lidded cup if desired.
At around 9 months start mashing food rather than puréeing and introduce more finger foods such as fruit, cooked vegetables and bread sticks.
weaning from 9 to 12 months
Encourage self-feeding - with fingers and a spoon. Start chopping food rather than mashing at around 10 months. You may be giving about 3-4 breast/bottle feeds per day.
weaning from 12 to 15 months
Your baby should be eating the same food as the rest of the family - chopped into small pieces to make it easier to manage. Your baby may also need 2-3 small snacks each day, for example fruit, toast, yoghurt, breadsticks, rice cakes or plain biscuits.
As little ones reach this age, parents often ask “When can babies have cow’s milk?” Well, you can now start to give about 500mls (1 pint) of full cream cow's milk - or you can continue breastfeeding. Try to give all drinks from a cup rather than a bottle. You can give up to 3-4 small cups of water per day - any more may put your baby off their food.
useful weaning tips for parents
- never leave your baby alone when eating or drinking
- allow plenty of time for feeding
- try to choose a time of day when your baby is relaxed and talk to your baby quietly - to help encourage eating
- try to relax yourself and don't worry if your baby is not interested at first - simply try again later or on the next day
- if you have been breastfeeding, introduce a beaker or cup rather than a bottle
- water is the best alternative to milk
- let your baby touch his or her food, this natural curiosity will help your child to enjoy food
- try to eat as a family with your baby – babies love to copy so will be more encouraged to eat if they see you all eating together
- if you're using a spoon, wait for your baby to open their mouth before you offer the food, your baby may like to hold a spoon too
- cool hot food and test it before giving it to your baby
- if your baby doesn't want lumpy food, try increasing the lumps very gradually
foods to avoid when weaning
- salt and sugar
- honey until over 1 year old
- nuts - not until your child is over 6 years old due to the high risk of choking - if allergies run in the family avoid all nut products
- low fat foods - not suitable for those under 2 years old
- cow's milk until over 1 years old unless cooking with it
- soft unpasteurised cheeses
- citrus and fruit juices