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Baby & child.

12 July 2021

How to wean your baby

Moving your baby from milk to solids can feel daunting, so here are some pointers to help you
Martha Roberts

What is weaning?

Newborn babies only need breast milk or infant formula milk, but at around six months their nutritional requirements change. This is the point at which weaning – also known as complementary feeding – comes in.

The British Dietetic Association (BDA), describes weaning as ‘the introduction of solid foods into the diet of a baby who is drinking breast or formula milk. It is a gradual process but, by the time they are one year old, most children will be eating chopped, mashed family food.’

Why do babies need to be weaned?

Weaning enables children to get all the nutrients they need as they continue to grow and develop. 

When they are a newborn, they obtain sufficient levels of some nutrients such as iron from the mother, or via breast or bottlefeeding. But from around six months these start to run out so need to be introduced in the form of a varied diet.

Not only that but biting and chewing help to develop muscles needed for speech development.

When should you start weaning?

The NHS says you should wait until your baby is around six months old before you start weaning. This gives them time to develop properly so they can manage solid food.

As well as being able to start to feed themselves, at this age they’ll also be better at moving food around their mouth, chewing and swallowing, whether it’s smooth, mashed, lumpy or finger foods.

The other reason you should wait until six months is that up until then they should be getting all the nutrients they need from either breast milk or formula milk.

Signs your baby is ready for weaning

The NHS says: ‘There are three clear signs which, when they appear together from around six months of age, show that your baby is ready for their first solid foods, alongside breast milk or first infant formula.’ 

They should be able to:

  • stay in an upright sitting position and hold their head steady
  • coordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at food, pick it up and put it in their mouth
  • swallow food, rather than spit it out.

There are some signs you might mistake for them being ready for solids, but this is normal behaviour for a baby:

  • Chewing their fists This happens from around two months old when they discover their hands and pretty much everything goes into the mouth. They might also be chewing to comfort themselves when teething.
  • Teeth coming through Just because they’re developing teeth it doesn’t mean they’re ready for weaning. Equally, they may be ready before they cut their teeth.
  • Wanting extra milk feeds They may need a bit more milk but this isn’t proof that they’re ready for weaning, especially if they’re under six months old.
  • Waking up in the night more than usual Starting on solid foods isn’t going to make your baby any more likely to sleep through the night.

The BDA says that some parents might want to introduce solid food earlier. If this is the case, four months (17 weeks) is the earliest age this can be started. 

However, six months is the ideal age for starting. If you've had a premature baby, solid food should be introduced according to their individual needs, but if you're unsure ask your medical team or a dietitian for advice. 

Items you need for weaning

There are several baby feeding products and gadgets you can use to help the weaning process go as smoothly as possible.

High chair

Your baby needs to be sitting up safely and strapped in upright rather than slouching. Sitting up to eat in a high chair will help them to swallow properly and also safely stop them wriggling away – especially useful if you have a reluctant eater. Find out more about how to buy the best high chair or take a look at some of our high chair reviews.

Unbreakable bowls

Choose one made from plastic or silicone that has high sides and a ‘lip’ or gripper on the edge for you to hold.

A bowl with a suction base can also help to guard against curious hands upending the bowl and flinging its contents on the floor.

Trainer cup

There are many different types of baby drinking cups (sometimes called sippy cups), including trainer cups, leak-proof cups and open cups, many of which have handles to grip. Although it may be tempting to use a cup with a valve, using an open cup or a valveless free-flow cup will help your baby learn to sip, will aid speech development and is better for their teeth.

Spoons

Weaning spoons are made from rubber or plastic so they’re softer on your baby’s gums. 

They also tend to be shallower than standard spoons to allow for babies to get a good mouthful of food, and they often have ergonomic grips and handles so babies can hold them more easily.

Blender

Whether you choose a freestanding blender or a hand blender, this piece of kit can help you to quickly whizz meals into a baby-friendly portion, whether it’s a smooth purée or something more textured and lumpy.

There are also specific baby food food processors which steam, cook, blend, defrost and reheat your baby’s food in one device.

Equally, you may find a potato ricer – which can be used with all sorts of fruit and vegetables – does the job just as well.

BDA spokesperson Bahee Van de Boor recommends that you 'use what you already have as the purée stage only lasts one or two months, depending on when the baby starts solids'. 

Ice cube trays

Conventional ice cube trays or specific baby food freezing trays – often in materials such as non-stick silicone – are a great way of batch freezing home-cooked weaning foods.

Bibs

An easy-clean plastic or silicone pelican bib (a bib with a trough to catch food) is ideal for weaning because of the inevitable mess. A messy mat (also known as a splash mat) is also worth buying.

Feeding your baby: 0 to 6 months

Your baby should only be on milk at this stage, whether it's breast milk or first infant formula ('follow-on' formula is only suitable after six months of age). 

If you're bottle-feeding, don't put sugar or cereals in the bottle. It should only contain breast milk or infant formula.

Babies under six months don't need any foods – not even baby rice. However, Bahee Van de Bor says: 'Some children with a food allergy may be advised by their medical team to start solids early. However, this would be personalised advice directly from a doctor or paediatric dietitian.'

Babies starting solids under six months of age should always be offered smooth purée only.

Feeding your baby: around 6 months

By this time your baby is likely to be showing signs that they are ready to start weaning, moving on to solids.

First foods

You can start weaning with single vegetables or fruits that you've blended or mashed, or have given your baby as soft, cooked sticks. For example:

  • Parsnip
  • Potato
  • Broccoli
  • Yam
  • Sweet potato
  • Carrot
  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Banana

Another option is baby rice mixed up with your baby's usual milk. Don't forget to make sure cooked food has cooled down before giving it to your little one. 

First finger foods

As well as being able to manage food fed from a spoon, your baby should be encouraged to explore food by holding and touching it. After all, food isn't just about nutrition – it's about developing hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills too.

Cut finger food into pieces that the baby can hold in their fist with a bit sticking out to munch on. Do this at every mealtime to encourage self-feeding, and start out with foods that are long enough for them to grip but soft enough to break up easily in their mouth. 

If you're feeding them small food, such as cherry tomatoes, grapes and blueberries, cut it into quarters to prevent them choking on it.

Don't worry if they get in a mess – it's all part of the learning experience. 

Here are some examples of what you can give them:

  • Soft cooked vegetables Butternut squash, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, parsnip.
  • Fruit (soft, or cooked without sugar) Apple, pear, peach, melon, banana. Also, bits of avocado.
  • Cooked starchy foods Potato, sweet potato, cassava, pasta, noodles, chapatti, rice, pitta bread, pulses (eg beans and lentils).
  • Fish (boneless)
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Meat (boneless) Chicken, beef and lamb.
  • Cheese Full-fat hard cheese such as cheddar (choose lower salt options).
  • Finger foods to avoid Hard food such as whole nuts, raw carrots and raw apples, as these can pose a choking risk.

Weaning hints and tips

When you and your baby are beginning the weaning journey, it's worth bearing the following in mind:

  • A few teaspoons of food once a day should do. Babies don't need three meals a day when they're first having solid foods.
  • There's no 'right' or 'wrong' time in the day to offer them food. Pick a time that suits you both, which generally means when they're not too tired and you're not in a rush.
  • Offer them food before their milk feed as you're more likely to pique their interest then but, equally, don't wait until they're too hungry.
  • Allow your baby to go at their own pace.
  • Don't be disheartened if your baby rejects a food. It can take 10 or more tries before they'll accept a new flavour or texture, particularly as they get older.
  • Keep offering different foods, even those they've already rejected.
  • Don't worry about them not eating enough – milk (whether it's breast milk or formula) should still be their main form of nutrition during the first year.

Feeding your baby: 7 to 9 months

Your baby will be progressing to three meals a day by now – breakfast, lunch and an evening meal – in addition to their usual milk feeds. The amount of milk they want might also be reducing to possibly around four feeds a day (for example, morning, lunchtime, early evening and bedtime) and you may even find they drop a milk feed altogether.

Breastfed babies will adapt their feeds themselves according to how much food they're consuming and, according to the NHS, formula-fed babies may need around just 600ml per day (equivalent to around two large or four small baby bottles).

By this stage, your baby's diet should incorporate:

  • Fruit and vegetables, including bitter ones such as broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and cabbage.
  • Starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, yams, rice, bread, pitta bread, chapatti and pasta.
  • Pasteurised full-fat dairy such as plain yoghurt and cheese.
  • Mashed and lumpy foods rather than puréed.
  • Finger foods to encourage them to feed themselves and to learn how to bite pieces off.

Feeding your baby: 10 to 12 months

Your baby should really be mastering solids by now and tucking into three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and an evening meal. 

They will also be having their usual milk feeds, which may have dropped to three a day (eg after breakfast, after lunch and at bedtime), totalling around 400ml a day. If your baby is being breastfed, you’ll find they adapt their milk needs as their food requirements increase.

By now your baby should:

  • enjoy a wide variety of textures and tastes
  • manage a bigger variety of finger foods
  • be able to pick up small food pieces and get them into their mouth
  • use a cup confidently (either an open cup or a beaker with a free-flow lid)
  • have mealtimes that mimic those of children over one – in other words, with a main course and a fruit or unsweetened dairy-based dessert
  • be eating with you – eating together, whether that’s with you and/or other children, encourages good eating habits.

Baby-led weaning

The principle behind baby-led weaning is that you give your baby a greater degree of control over how they move towards eating solid foods.

The idea is that you spoon-feed your baby very little – maybe just a bit of yoghurt or porridge so they can learn to mimic and start to use the spoon themselves.

Instead you largely let them feed themselves with food they can hold, suck and chew on, giving them the choice to reject or accept certain foods for themselves.

Exponents of baby-led weaning believe it promotes healthy eating and prevents babies from putting on too much weight, although there isn’t enough research to suggest it’s better than any other form of weaning.

Drinks for weaning babies

Shefalee Loth, Which? nutritionist, says: 'Babies who are exclusively breastfed won't need additional water until they start weaning. For formula-fed babies the same should apply apart from in very hot weather when boiled and cooled tap water can be given.'

Although breast milk or infant formula milk should be your baby's main drink during their first year, once they start weaning they should also be encouraged to drink sips of water with their meals from a cup or free-flow beaker (rather than a valved one) from six months of age.

Babies over six months can have water straight from the mains tap and it doesn't have to boiled and cooled.

However, they can only have bottled water if the sodium (also written as Na) level is less than 200mg per litre and the sulphate (also written as SO or SO4) content isn't higher than 250mg per litre. If it isn't clear to you then it is best avoided. 

Shefalee says: 'Babies don't need juice, squash or other sweetened drinks (even those with artificial sweeteners) and these drinks can cause damage to young, developing teeth. It could also mean they get used to sweet drinks and refuse water.

'Don't worry too much about how little water your baby is drinking. Remember, they'll also get fluid from their food, especially fruit and veg, and their milk.' 

Milk

Pasteurised whole cow's milk can be used in cooking or mixed in with your baby’s weaning food from when they’re about six months old. 

However, they can’t cow's drink milk as their main drink until they are 12 months old because it doesn’t contain enough iron to meet their needs. The same applies to goat and sheep milk.

Plant 'milks'

Babies shouldn't be given soya drinks and other milk alternatives until they are 12 months old, and even then they should only be the unsweetened, calcium-fortified variety. 

Not only that but they shouldn't be given rice drinks until they are five because these contain too much arsenic. However, your baby can still eat rice. 

If your baby has an allergy or an intolerance to milk or you don't want them to have cow's milk or another animal milk, you should talk to your GP or health visitor about alternatives.

Weaning foods to avoid or limit

Although you may end up giving your baby a smaller portion of your own meals, it's worth bearing in mind that there are certain foods that need to be limited – or avoided altogether. If you are giving your baby food from your own meal, you should only add additional flavourings such as salt, pepper or chilli once it's on your own plate, and not during the cooking process.

Salt

Up to seven months of age, a baby's salt intake should be less than 1g per day (contained in the right amount in either breast milk or infant formula) and a maximum of 1g per day between seven months and a year. Salt shouldn't be added to their foods and you should limit the amount of bacon, cheese and some processed foods, which can be particularly salty. 

Sugar

You should avoid adding any sugar to foods and drinks you give to babies.

Honey

This contains bacteria that could produce toxins in your baby's intestines and lead to infant botulism – a very serious illness. You should wait until your child is over one year old to give them honey. Remember, although honey is natural it's also a sugar so avoiding it will also help to prevent tooth decay.

Unpasteurised milk cheese

There's a high risk that mould-ripened soft cheeses (such as brie or camembert), ripened goat's milk cheese and soft blue-veined cheese (such as roquefort) may contain a bacteria called listeria, so babies shouldn't eat them raw. However, these cheeses can be used as part of a cooked recipe as listeria is killed by cooking – for example, baked brie. 

Raw shellfish

It's best not to give babies raw or lightly cooked shellfish, such as mussels, clams and oysters, because these can increase the risk of food poisoning. 

Weaning foods you don't need to avoid

Gluten

The NHS says there is no need to avoid gluten, which can be found in a range of grains including barley, rye, oats and wheat.

Eggs

These can be given to your baby from around six months old, but use eggs with a red lion stamped on them or the words 'British Lion Quality' on the box if you're giving them raw in uncooked cake mixture, homemade ice creams or homemade mayonnaise.

Eggs that don't have this certification should be cooked until both the white and the yolk are solid. The same applies to duck, goose or quail eggs. 

Cheese made from pasteurised milk

Babies can eat pasteurised full-fat cheese from the age of six months, including cheddar cheese, cottage cheese and cream cheese. Check labels to make sure they're made from pasteurised milk.

Nuts

As long as they are finely ground, nuts are fine to give to babies from around six months old. Whole nuts should be avoided up until five years old because they carry a risk of choking and inhalation. They can also have peanut or nut butter, as long as it is smooth rather than crunchy. 

Fish

Bahee Van de Bor says: There is no need to avoid fish, except for shark, swordfish and marlin.' These fish contain mercury, which can affect your baby's developing nervous system, which is why they should be avoided altogether.

Apart from these, fish such as salmon, cod and haddock are all healthy sources of nutrients such as protein and omega-3, and they play an important part in your baby's weaning journey.

Allergies and weaning

There are a number of foods that can trigger allergic reactions, including cow's milk, eggs, foods containing gluten (including wheat, barley and rye), nuts and peanuts, soya, shellfish and fish.

You can start to introduce these foods into your baby's diet from around six months old along with other foods. 

However, introduce them one at a time so you're able to spot if they cause a reaction.

Allergy UK says that almost one in 12 young children have a food allergy and they tend to be much more common in children who come from families where other members have an allergy. 

Not only that but babies who suffer from eczema are at a higher risk of having food allergies and the more severe their eczema and the earlier the onset, the more likely it is they'll develop a food allergy, too. 

Shop-bought baby food for weaning

There is a wide range of different pre-prepared baby foods in a range of different containers – from frozen servings through to jars, tins and soft pouches.

The BDA says it's often more fun for children to be introduced to foods that the family eat. 

It adds: 'Children who only eat commercial baby foods, such as those bought in a jar/packet/pouch may not like family foods once they are offered.' However, shop-bought baby foods can often be convenient, especially for busy grown-ups or for when you're on the go.'

These commercial baby foods are not only convenient, babies enjoy them, too. In our Which? survey of best baby food brands, there were plenty that made babies happy – and grown-ups as well. 

However, Shefalee says: 'Commercial foods are great for when you're on the go but shouldn't be used for all meals. They can sometimes be heavy on fruit but not on protein and their texture can be quite smooth so they're not great at getting older babies to move through their weaning journey.'

You may occasionally see weaning referred to in 'stages' from 1 to 3, but Bahee Van de Bor says there is now more focus on what textures baby should progress to next rather than focusing on stage numbers.

Do weaning babies need vitamin supplements?

Vitamins A and C

The Department of Health recommends all babies aged six months upwards should be given a supplement containing vitamins A and C.

However, if they are drinking 500ml of infant formula a day they don't need a supplement as it has vitamins added to it.

Vitamin D

It's also recommended that babies under one are given a daily supplement containing 8.5-10mcg of vitamin D, again unless they are drinking 500ml of infant formula a day.

Breastfed babies should also be given a vitamin D supplement from birth, regardless of whether you are taking one yourself.

Find out more about vitamin D and children, including the best baby and child vitamin D supplement.

Weaning a vegetarian or vegan baby

The NHS says that the advice on introducing solids from around six months is the same for vegetarian and vegan babies as it is for non-vegetarian babies.

It says: ‘Babies and young children on a vegetarian or vegan diet can get the energy and most of the nutrients they need to grow and develop from a well-planned, varied and balanced diet.’ 

However, you should speak to your GP or a dietitian to ensure you don’t cut out important nutrients from your child’s diet when you cut out cow's milk and dairy. They can advise you on suitable alternatives.