Your baby is growing oh so fast and those newborn days seem a distant memory. Your baby is smiling and gurgling, grabbing things, perhaps starting to try sitting up on their own and you start to ask yourself: “Is it time to start to wean my baby?”.
Perhaps your mum has suggested that your baby should be on solids? Perhaps your friend has started weaning their baby already and they are younger than yours? Perhaps your auntie is convinced it will help your baby sleep through the night? Or perhaps you think they have got to an age where they “should” be eating solids but you are not sure if they are showing the right signs?
What age should I start to wean my baby?
The NHS guidelines state that babies should be exclusively fed on milk (either from breast or bottle) for 6 months. Some Health Visitors will advise weaning from 4 months, and most baby food manufacturers will advertise their purée meals as suitable from 4 months.
However, the gut of a baby is not mature at 4 months to process any food other than milk and so unless your baby us quite clearly ready by showing all or most of the signs below, then I would resist weaning so early. This article discusses in detail why biologically, babies are not physcially able to digest food until at least 6 months and for some foods not until some months later.
Historically, we never introduced solids to our babies until they deemed they were ready (not some guidelines based on the law of averages), and in fact the whole concept of weaning via puréed food is quite a recent invention (that I will discuss in another blog!).
How can I tell if my baby is ready for weaning?
- Able to sit up (mostly) unaided in a highchair (they key thing is they are upright and not reclined)
- Staring at you as you eat your meals
- Grabbing at your food
- Able to hold things or grab things with a pincer movement (finger and thumb together)
- Communicating they want to have what your are having
- Putting everything in their mouth (although this in itself can indicate many things like teething pain, or even just that they have discovered how to do it. I would say that the ability to put something in their mouth is a pre-requisite for weaning).
- If you put food into the baby’s mouth they don’t immediately push it out with their tongue (this is known as the tongue-thrust reflex)
- Baby seems able to chew in a rudimentary form
- Baby is around 6 months old this can be earlier or later if they are showing most of the other signs)
Will weaning help my baby to sleep though the night?
It is common to want to start weaning to help your baby sleep through the night, but the reality is it is very unlikely to make any difference. When babies start weaning they consume very tiny amounts of food and the “eating” process is much more about exploring the taste and texture of food as opposed to actually filling their bellies. It can take a number of weeks or months to actually consume enough food t make any difference to their calorie intake and even longer to have an effect on their sleep (if at all).
If your baby is waking frequently at night to feed, or feeding much more often than normal then it is likely they are experiencing a growth spurt. This is extremely common around the 4 months mark as they go through a huge growth and development spurt that can last up to 4 weeks around this time. Starting to wean at 4 months is very probably too early
What is my baby is not remotely interested in food?
Then the best thing to do is wait until they are ready. Babies can thrive on milk alone until the age of about 12 months when they really start to get more complex nutritional needs. Just give it a few weeks and try again.
Should I give up feeding them milk?
No! Weaning is a process of slowly introducing foods and slowly reducing the amount of milk given. This process takes many months and babies still need to drink milk through to their toddler years and beyond.
They do need to start gaining their nourishment form other sources after 6 months but weaning is a transition not a switch.
How do I start weaning?
You may want to start with puréed food, although Birthzang personally advocates Baby-Led Weaning (and aims to write a blog post on this soon).
Traditional says you should introduce one food at a time but Birthzang thinks this is rubbish and firmly advocates introducing a range of colours, tastes and textures every mealtime.
The best tips I can give are:
- Be prepared for mess whatever way you wean
- Be prepared to let the baby touch and explore the food (see above re: mess!)
- Protect your floor (and walls and, in my case, ceiling)
- Don’t stress about food groups covered or quantities – remember that babies have pretty tiny tummies even at 6 months and as long as you provide a good range of foods, they should get all the nourishment they need.
- Offer food first then top up with a milk feed afterwards.
- Give your baby food when you are also eating – they will copy you.
- Be aware of foods that you must avoid, for e.g., honey, cow’s milk and nuts.
Most importantly: make it fun!
If you are stressed out about it, then you are setting yourself up for a stressful time. Relax, enjoy it, and make mealtimes into a lovely and fun family experience!