Baby weaning - eating in high chair

When should I start weaning my baby onto solid foods?

The offical advice from the NHS is that parents should start weaning their babies onto solid food from around the age of 6 months.

Solid food should be introduced around 6 months alongside breast milk or formula.

Weaning is a key milestone within the first 1,001 critical days, influencing children’s eating habits and their health later in life and improving babies' abilities to move food around their mouth, chew and swallow.

Confusion over when to start weaning

When to wean babies is seen as such an important topic that this month (March 2022) the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) launched a campaign to promote NHS advice on weaning after a survey found that 40% of first-time parents introduced solid food before their babies are 5 months old - earlier than the NHS recommendation of around 6 months.

And almost two-thirds of parents (64%) say they have received conflicting advice on what age to start weaning.

The campaign includes an online Start for Life Weaning Hub featuring tips and guidelines from the NHS plus 120 recipes. The hub provides information all in one place to better support parents and reduce confusion and is backed by experts, including GP Dr Zoe Williams and nutritionist and author Charlotte Stirling-Reed.

Dr Williams said:  "The research confirms that with so much conflicting advice available, weaning can be a very confusing time for parents. That’s why it’s so important to have all the information and NHS advice in one place.

"For most healthy babies, the easiest way to cut through the confusion is to wait until your baby is around 6 months old – this gives them time to develop properly, so they can cope with solid foods. When you do eventually start, there will be days when your baby eats more, some when they eat less, and then days when they reject everything!

"Don’t worry – this is perfectly normal."

What is weaning?

Introducing babies to solid foods - at around the age of 6 months. It is sometimes called complementary feeding because babies are still being milk fed as well - either with breast milk or formula.

Why do we have to wait 6 months before beginning weaning?

  • If you’re breastfeeding – this is the best food your baby can have during the first 6 months.
  • Breast milk or first infant formula provides all the energy and nutrients needed until around 6 months.
  • It gives your baby time to develop so they can cope fully with solid foods.
  • Your baby will be more able to feed themselves.
  • They will be better at moving food around their mouth, chewing and swallowing – this may mean they can have mashed, lumpy and finger foods.

How will I know if my baby is ready to start trying solid foods?

There are three signs to look out for which when they appear from around 6 months of age, show that your baby is ready for their first solid foods, alongside their usual milk feed. 

  • Being able to stay in a sitting position, holding their head steady.
  • Being co-oordinated enough to look at their food, pick it up and put it in their mouth.
  • Being able to swallow food (rather than spit it back out).

Sometimes parents notice babies chewing their fists, wanting extra milk feed and waking up in the night (more than usual) and take these as signs that the child is hungry and needs to start on solid foods - however these aren't necessarily a sign of hunger or being ready to be weaned. They are often just normal behaviours.

Giving extra milk will help to fill them up until the right time comes for them to start eating solid food.

If your baby was born prematurely, ask your health visitor or GP for advice on when to start weaning.

For more advice on how to begin weaning, what equipment and food you might need visit the NHS Start 4 Life - Weaning Hub.

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