Introduction to Weaning

November 29, 2022

What is Weaning?

Weaning is the introduction of solid foods to a baby’s diet and is an important stage in their development. By the time a baby is six months old there are some nutrients, such as iron, which milk alone cannot provide. These nutrients will need to be obtained from weaning foods as well as from breast or formula milk.

It is important that babies start eating a healthy diet as soon as weaning begins, in order to ensure they get the best possible start in life. This may also help prevent obesity and related ill health later on in life as weaning is when many eating preferences and tastes are developed, these may then go on to be kept into adulthood.  Encouraging good eating habits from a young age is easier than trying to get toddlers and older children out of bad habits.

In your baby’s first year breast or formula milk is still required, which is why weaning is referred to as complementary feeding. When you start weaning they need to continue to drink around one pint (500ml/18fluid oz) of milk each day to gain additional nutrition, which is only found in breast and formula milk. They need to continue to take this amount until they are one year old, when full-fat cow’s milk may be introduced as a drink.

When to start?

Six months is the recommended age to start weaning. Recent research shows that feeding babies solid food before they are ready can increase their risk of tummy upsets and increase the risk of allergies. This is because your baby is developing on the inside as well as outside and it is now known that it takes around six months for a baby’s digestive system to work properly and be able to cope well with solid food. Additionally, their immune systems are stronger. Around six months your baby will need more than milk alone to provide all the essential nutrients that they require.

Signs your baby is ready to start?

It’s easy to mistake normal baby behaviour as a sign that they are ready to start on solid food, but just because a baby is taking an interest in food, feeding more regularly, or waking in the night, doesn’t mean that they are ready to be weaned.

There are three clear signs which, together, show it’s time to start introducing solid food alongside breast or formula milk (usually around 6 months).

Your baby is ready if they can:

  • Stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady.
  • Coordinate their eyes, hands and mouth and look at food, grab it and put it in their mouth all by themselves.
  • Swallow food – babies who are not ready will push their food back out, so they get more round their face than they do in their mouths.

However, if a baby is given a smooth puree it is difficult to spit this out once in the mouth, so people may mistake involuntary swallowing of these foods with the ability to swallow food by choice.

Signs that can be mistaken as ready:

  • Chewing fists.
  • Broken sleep – unfortunately weaning is not the miracle that many parents hope for. Babies wake through the night for many reasons:- whether it be learning a new skill, learning ‘how to sleep’ / sleep cycles or simply for a cuddle. It’s also unlikely that introducing solid foods to babies will improve their sleep and/or prevent them from waking at night.
  • Watching people around them when eating food. Babies are beginning to take an interest in most things, including watching you pee, but you are unlikely to start potty training.

Internal developmental rates are thought to be the same in children who reach full term, so having a big baby will not mean their gut or kidneys will be any more ready for food than those of a smaller baby. Parents of premature babies should consult their health visitor/advisor about when to start weaning.

Hope this helps – Feel free to message me for more information or to book on to one of my workshops.

Sophie, @Yorkshire Born and Fed


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