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Babies, weaning

Introduction

Weaning means gradually introducing a range of solid foods to your baby, until they are eating the same food as the rest of your family. As your baby eats more solids, they will want less milk.

When do I start weaning my child?

You should start giving your baby solid foods when they are around six months old, as well as breast or formula milk.

Before six months, your baby's gut is still developing and they need only breast or formula milk. Weaning too soon may increase the risk of infections and allergies.

Try giving solid foods when your baby:

  • can sit up,
  • wants to chew and is putting toys and other objects in their mouth, and
  • reaches and grabs accurately.

It is normal for babies aged three to five months to begin waking in the night when they have previously slept through. It is not necessarily a sign of hunger and starting solids will not make your baby more likely to sleep through the night again.

If your baby seems hungrier at any time before six months, they may be having a growth spurt, and extra breast or formula milk will be enough to meet their needs.

Why is weaning important?

Solid food is needed to provide your baby with enough important nutrients like iron. Also, giving solid food from around six months is important for learning to chew and accept different tastes and textures.

By the age of 12 months, they can join in with family meals.

How should I do it?

Introduce small amounts of pureed fruits and vegetables and gradually build up to larger amounts of more solid food.

You can mix the solid food with breast or formula milk, using a hand blender. Make the food gradually more textured by blending for shorter times.

Allow plenty of time and go at your baby's pace. When your baby has clearly had enough food or is refusing to eat, stop until the next mealtime.

See 'how to start' for a more detailed guide.

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How to start

You should start giving your baby solid foods when they are around six months old. 

Try to avoid introducing solid foods when your baby is very hungry or tired. If your baby does get frustrated or hungry, start them off with a little milk before you offer them solids.

Some babies can become distracted by other things going on in the room while they are eating, such as the TV or radio, so try to keep the room free of these things.

As they eat more solids, your baby will want less milk. You can start to drop a milk feed, but continue to breastfeed or give 500-600ml (a pint) of infant formula a day until at least 12 months of age.

This guide covers:

How to start

First foods

More foods to try

Cups

How much and how often

How to start

Start by offering a small amount of mashed vegetable, fruit or cereal mixed with milk after a milk feed or in the middle of one, if this works better. If the food is hot, allow it to cool, stir it and test it before giving it to your baby.

Some babies take time to learn to eat new foods. Your baby will be finding out about different tastes and textures and learning that food does not come in a continuous flow. Be patient, let your baby touch the food if they want to, and be prepared for some mess.

  • Start by offering just a few teaspoons of food, once a day.
  • Use a little of your baby’s usual milk (breast or formula) to mix the food to the desired consistency.
  • Allow your baby to feed themself, using their fingers, as soon as they show an interest.
  • Give your baby a range of foods and textures to taste.
  • Do not force feed your baby. If your baby does not seem to want it, wait and try again later.
  • If you are using a spoon, wait for your baby to open their mouth when the food is offered.
  • Let your baby touch the food in the dish or on the spoon.
  • If you are bottle feeding, do not add any foods (including rusks, cereal or sugar) to the milk.

Make sure your baby is sitting up straight and is facing forward. A highchair is best. This way your baby is able to explore foods better and will be less likely to choke.

First foods

You could try:

  • cereals such as baby rice mixed with milk,
  • mashed cooked vegetables such as parsnip, potato, yam, sweet potato or carrot,
  • mashed banana, avocado, cooked apple or pear,
  • pieces of soft fruit or vegetables small enough for your baby to pick up.

Use mashed-up family food when you can. It is best to cook your own food for your baby. This way, you will know the ingredients of the food and you will be getting your baby used to eating what you eat. Do not add salt or sugar to food for your baby.

Ready-prepared baby foods

It can be useful to have a few jars, tins or packets of baby food in the cupboard, but do not let them replace family food altogether.

If you buy baby foods:

  • Check the ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates.
  • Check that the seals on cans and jars have not been broken.
  • Choose ‘sugar free’ foods, or foods that do not contain added sugars or sweeteners.
  • Remember to check the label of any food product you use to make family meals. Many of the food products we buy such as sauces, soups, breakfast cereals and ready-prepared meals are high in salt and sugars. Try to check the labels for healthier versions.

More foods to try

Once your baby is used to eating vegetables and fruit you should add other foods, such as:

  • puréed or mashed-up meat, fish and chicken,
  • mashed rice, noodles or pasta,
  • lentils (dhal) or pulses,
  • full-fat dairy products, such as yoghurt, fromage frais or custard (choose lower-sugar varieties).

See how your baby responds to the different flavours and textures. Offer your baby finger foods such as small pieces of fruit and vegetables or toast. How much your baby takes is less important than getting used to the idea of food other than milk.

Finger foods

Encourage your baby to chew, even if they do not have teeth, by giving finger foods. For example, cooked and cooled green beans or carrot sticks, cubes of cheese, toast, bread, pitta bread or chapatti, peeled apple and banana.

Some babies prefer food they can hold to mashed foods, so offer your baby finger foods from the beginning. Finger foods provide chewing practice and encourage babies to feed themselves.

Avoid sweet biscuits and rusks so that your baby does not get into the habit of expecting sweet snacks.

Cups

If you are bottle feeding, comfort sucking on a bottle can become a habit that is hard to break. Introduce a cup from six months and aim to have your baby off the bottle by their first birthday. Using an open cup, or a free-flow cup without a valve, will help your baby learn to sip and is better for your baby’s teeth.

Offer sips of water from a cup with meals. If you choose to give pure juice, dilute it one part juice to ten parts water, and offer it only at mealtimes.

How much and how often

When you are both ready, you can start to increase the amount of solid food you give. Try to react to your baby’s appetite, so if your baby is still hungry, you can give a little more. Your baby is the best guide to how much solid food you need to give.

Progress from offering solid food once a day to solid food at two and then three feeds. Offer different foods at each of the three meals to give more variety.

Begin to add different foods and different tastes. You will be able to use lots of the foods you already cook for yourself. Just mash a small amount cooked with no added salt or sugar and give it a try.

Offer foods from each of the following food groups:

  • starchy - such as potatoes, yams, rice or bread,
  • fruit and vegetables, and
  • protein - meat, fish, eggs, tofu or pulses such as beans and lentils.

Red meat (beef, lamb and pork) is an excellent source of iron. Eggs are a quick and nutritious source of protein, but make sure they are thoroughly cooked until both the white and yolk are solid.

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From nine months

From about nine months, offer your baby:

  • three to four servings of starchy food each day, such as potato, bread and rice,
  • three to four servings of fruit and vegetables - vitamin C in fruit and vegetables helps to absorb iron, so give these at mealtimes, and
  • two servings of meat, fish, eggs, dhal or other pulses.

By now your baby should be learning to fit in with the family by eating three minced or chopped meals a day as well as milk. Your baby may also like healthy snacks such as fruit or toast in between meals.

Include your baby in the family mealtime routine. Feed your baby while family members are eating.

If your baby is on the move, you may need to increase the amount of food you give. Babies have small tummies, and they need energy for growth, so make sure you give them full-fat dairy products, such as yoghurt, fromage frais and cheese. Cutting back on fat is sensible for adults but not for babies.

If you have decided not to give your baby meat or fish, make sure that you give two servings a day of pulses (dhal, split peas, hummus), tofu or eggs.

Vitamins

Vitamin D is naturally present in only a few foods such as fortified margarines, eggs and fatty fish. It is also made naturally in the skin when it is exposed to gentle sunlight.

It is sensible to give all children vitamin drops with vitamins A, C and D from the age of one to five years old. Breastfed babies, and babies drinking less than 500ml of infant formula milk per day, should begin vitamin drops at six months, or earlier if advised by your health visitor or doctor.

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What to avoid?

The following foods shouldn’t be given to your baby:

  • Salt - it cannot be processed by their immature kidneys, and too much salt can be very dangerous to a baby. Avoid giving salty foods such as bacon, and leave it out of your home-cooked meals (it is healthier for the whole family too).
  • Sugar - this encourages a sweet tooth and causes dental decay.
  • Honey - this can cause the same problems as sugar. Rarely, dangerous bacteria are found in honey that causes serious illness in under the age of one.
  • Nuts - these present a choking risk and, in rare cases, your baby may have a life-threatening allergy to them.
  • Low-fat, low-calorie and high-fibre foods - these are not suitable for babies. They have small stomachs and are growing quickly, so they need small portions of foods that contain lots of nutrients and calories.
  • Certain types of fish - shark, marlin and swordfish contain high levels of mercury and could harm your baby's growing nervous system.
  • Raw shellfish - this can cause food poisoning.
  • Raw and lightly-cooked eggs - make sure eggs are cooked until the yolk and white are solid.

Allergies

Babies are more likely to develop allergies if there is a family history of eczema, asthma or hayfever. For these families, exclusive breastfeeding is particularly recommended for the first six months. Introduce the foods that commonly cause allergies (milk, eggs, wheat, nuts, seeds, fish and shellfish) one at a time so that you can spot any reactions.

Soya-based infant formulas should only be used on the advice of your GP. Some babies who are allergic to cow’s milk may also be allergic to soya. Infant formulas based on goat’s milk protein have not been approved for use in Europe.

Foods to avoid before six months

If you choose to introduce solid foods before your baby reaches 6 months of age, you should not give them the following:

  • wheat-based foods and other foods containing gluten, (such as bread, rusks, some breakfast cereals), and 
  • soft and unpasteurised cheeses.

Ask your health visitor for advice, especially if your baby was premature.

Solid foods should never be introduced before four months. Also, do not give cow's milk as a drink until your baby is 12 months old, although you can use it in cooking after six months.

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