How to wean your baby

Simple steps to a weaned child

When to start weaning?

The time for starting weaning varies from baby to baby. However, current recommendations are that babies only require breastmilk or infant formula until 6 months old (26 weeks). After this age, babies begin to need solid food to supplement their milk.

Why wait until 6 months?

In recent years advice about when to start babies on solid foods has changed. Previously parents were encouraged to wean children earlier, but we now know more about when babies are ready for starting solid foods and the effects of giving solid foods too early. If you want to introduce solid foods before six months, make sure you check with your health visitor or GP first. And do not give any solid foods to your baby before they are four months old (17 weeks). 

By six months, babies are physically ready to begin eating solids. At about six months old, babies can sit up with support, control their heads and move food around their mouth. Their digestive and immune systems have also had time to develop so are stronger. Babies are often interested in your food and want to chew.

Here are some ideas to make the migration to solid foods easier and safer:

  • Progress at your baby's pace. Allow plenty of time for feeding, especially in the beginning. Your baby has to learn to move solids from the front of the tongue to the back and to swallow it. The food is going to taste different and have an unfamiliar texture.
  • Only heat the amount you think your baby will eat. You will need to throw away any remaining heated food that your baby doesn't eat, as it's not safe to reheat previously warmed food. Always heat food thoroughly and allow it to cool, stir well and test, before offering it to your baby. (Touching food to your top lip gives a better indication of temperature than using a finger as your lip is more sensitive to heat)
  • Do not refreeze any food that's been warmed or previously frozen. Remember to ensure that everything you use to feed your baby is really clean.
  • Never leave your child unattended when eating to ensure that they do not choke.
  • Do not try to rush or force feed your baby. Most know when they've eaten enough. Don't spend a lot of time persuading your baby to take food - they soon learn that refusing food is a good way of getting attention.
  • Try to choose a time of day when both you and your baby are relaxed.
  • Encourage your baby to help with feeding. When your baby shows an interest in feeding him or herself, this is a good sign. So encourage this by giving your baby the spoon, while you try to spoon in most of the meal with another spoon. It is messy at first!
  • Offer a wide variety of foods that you and your family usually eat. Avoid giving your baby any eggs, salty, sugary or processed foods that haven't been specifically designed for babies.
  • Use mashed-up family food if you can. You will know what the ingredients are and you'll be getting your baby used to eating what you eat.

Starting off weaning

Obviously children cannot go straight from milk to solid adult foods without being carefully introduced to simple, easy to eat foods first. Weaning is a staged process during which babies are gradually introduced to food.

Step 1 - Just tempting baby

Initially purees and baby rice can be offered to your child. These are both smooth and easy to eat and digest. There is less chance of choking and the texture of the food is not such a major difference from milk.

Mix a teaspoon of the following to your baby's usual milk (breast or formula)

  • Cereal (not wheat-based) e.g. baby rice, sago cornmeal,maize or millet.
  • Fruit purée e.g. banana, stewed apple (cooked), pear or mango
  • smooth vegetable purée e.g. carrot, parsnip, potato or sweet potato.

Try offering the food either before, during or after one of your regular milk feeds. If the food is hot, make sure you stir it thoroughly to distribute the heat before allowing it to cool. Test it for temperature before giving it to you baby.

Patience and a tolerance of mess is required as you begin weaning. Your baby has to learn to eat from a spoon and often babies cry between spoonfuls at first as food which usually arrives in a continuous stream (milk), arrives with frustrating pauses.

Do not force food on your baby. If food is rejected,stop and wait until the next feed. You are trying to get you child used to eating off a spoon and they will still get the nourishment they require from their breast or formula milk.

Step 2 - increase number of feeds and variety

At this point, feeds will still be mainly milk, but as you feel ready, you can gradually increase the amount of solids you give. Move from offering solids from once a day to twice, then three times a day.

To add variety, you can give you child full-fat cows' milk products such as yoghurts or cheese sauce. Cereals should be given just once a day.

You will find you are able to use lots of the food you alrady cook for yourself. It only needs to be sieved or pureed. Just remember do not add salt, honey or sugar during cooking.

Using your own food is often more economical than buying expensive baby foods, you also know exactly what ingredients are in it. Giving the same food to your baby will get them used to eating like the rest of the family. Preparing larger quantities than you need and freezing small portions for later, for example in an ice cube tray, can save you time and effort. Having a freezer full of different options can be a welcome relief when you've had a very broken nights sleep and have a baby who is being very choosy in what they want to eat!

Other baby food ideas

Vegetable, fruit and cereal purées can have other foods added to them such as:

  • Full-fat milk products like yoghurt or fromage frais - (Check with your GP or health visitor first)
  • Full-fat milk can be used in cooking, for example in cheese sauce, but DO NOT give it to your baby as a drink until after they are a year old
  • Puréed meat and poultry
  • Puréed pulses such as lentils and hummus

Step 3 - adding quantity, texture and lumps

As the quanity of solid food you baby eats increases to become a major part of their diet, it is very important to offer a range of different foods. This ensures that you baby receives all the vitamins and minerals they require and also that food remains interesting and not repetitive. In addition to solids, your baby should be having a minimum of 500-600ml of breast or formula milk each day.

Try giving 2-3 helpings of starchy foods every day such as potatoes, yams (Sweet potatoes), rice or bread. Fruit and veg make excellent finger foods and can be offered at two or more meals a day. One serving of soft cooked meat, fish, egg, tofu or pulses such as beans or lentils should be given each day. Red meats such as beef, lamb and pork are a good source of iron. Well cooked eggs are a quick, nutritious and cheap source of protein.

As your baby becomes accustomed to eating solids, foods with a thicker texture and a lumpier consistency can be introduced to encourage learning to chew and manage small pieces of food. Teeth aren't needed for this! Giving finger foods such as toast, bread, breadsticks, pitta bread or chapatti, peeled apple, banana, carrot sticks, or small cubes of cheese. You should avoid giving sweet biscuits and rusks, so that your baby doesn't expect sweet snacks.

Current government advice is that once your baby is over six months old, you should start giving them vitamin drops containing vitamins A, C and D. If you are giving your baby infant formula, you don't need to start giving them vitamins until they are having less than 500ml of formula a day. This is because infant formula already contains added vitamins and minerals.

REMEMBER: Always stay near your baby during feeding to give encouragement and to make sure they do not choke, especially now they are eating finger foods and more lumpy solids.

Step 4 - eating with the family - minced and chopped

Once your baby becomes used to eating solid foods, they should begin to learn to fit in with the family by eating three minced or chopped meals a day. In addition to this they will require breast or formula milk as the main drink (around 500 - 600ml a day). Give your baby fruit or other healthy snacks between meals.

If your baby is mobile (crawling) or very active, you may need to increase the amount of food given. Babies only have small stomachs and need energy to grow, so make sure you give full-fat dairy products. Reducing fat intake is sensible for adults, but not for babies or young children as they require the energy it gives to grow.

Give 3-4 servings of starchy foods and fruit and vegetables each day. Try to avoid giving biscuits and cakes to your baby, because these foods will fill your baby up without providing the right nutrients and develop a sweet tooth.