Weaning, or complementary feeding, can seem overwhelming at first, but is also a really exciting time. At the beginning, it is all about your child getting used to flavours and textures and learning how to eat, as their milk will continue to supply all the nutrients they need.
Much of the guidance on this page is taken from the recent report from The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) or the latest NHS guidance.
We are thrilled to be working with one of our favourite Instagrammers, Meals For Mini Mouths. Together, we have developed the Ordinary Mothers online cookbook! Check out the Recipes Page. Do you have a favourite recipe? Let us know about it for a chance to be featured on the site.
When should I begin weaning my child?
Babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months, at which point, solids can be introduced. If you are not breastfeeding, use infant formula. You should continue to see their milk as their main source of nutrition, although they may drop a feed or have slightly less whilst weaning.
Guidance used to be from 4-6 months; however, this has changed to reflect new studies on infant health. Many people were beginning even earlier than 4 months. The current guidance is to wean babies at 6 months when they are developmentally ready. It can be especially dangerous to wean before 17 weeks. The introduction of solid foods (or infant formula) before 6 months of age is associated with greater risk of gastrointestinal, and lower and upper respiratory infections than continuing to breastfeed exclusively.
Consult with your health visitor or doctor if you are unsure your child is ready. Please ensure your health provider is referring to the most up-to-date guidance if they recommend early weaning as some do not have regular refresher training on weaning. To reiterate, solids should not be introduced before 6 months. If your baby is hungry, they will get more nutrition from their milk (sources at the bottom of the page).
Many people think that the following things are signs that you should begin weaning:
showing an interest in what people are eating
wanting more milk
waking at night for a feed.
However, these are all normal developmental signs that have no bearing on whether you should be weaning, other than a possible correlation with age.
Instead, you are looking out for:
Good head and neck control
The ability to sit well. Baby-led weaning groups may specify that they must be able to sit unsupported for at least a minute to follow this route.
Good hand-eye coordination, with the ability to guide food to their mouth
The loss of the early tongue-thrust reflex that would push food straight out of their mouths.
It is unlikely your baby will show all of these signs before 6 months. Some infant food products will say for 4+ months, but this age is not a recommendation. Remember, companies want you to use their products for as long as possible.
You should continue to give your baby their normal milk alongside solids until they are a year, either breast milk or infant formula. Full fat cow’s milk (or an alternative) can be introduced at a year as a drink, but can be used in small amounts for cooking.
Baby-led or traditional?
A fully baby-led approach would see the caregiver providing safe food for the baby to handle themselves, and ideally it would be the same meal the rest of the family are eating to allow modelling. The baby would either just use their hands to eat, or would learn to use a spoon (an appropriate size, shape and material for weaning). With any kind of weaning, you have to learn to embrace the mess, but obviously a child trying to scoop their own porridge is likely to make more of a mess than a parent with a spoon! People may worry more about choking with this method, but whatever approach you take you must ensure the food is suitable and safe for your baby. This means cutting food into appropriately sized pieces, or ensuring food is soft enough to be easily mashed by inquisitive hands and hungry mouths!
Some people are put off baby-led weaning because they do not feel in control of the amount a child is eating. However, a baby still gets their main nutrition from their milk at this age so it does not matter if they do not have a full meal. It is more about them eating the same food as the rest of the family, caregivers modelling eating, and allowing children to explore different flavours and textures.
A traditional approach starts with puréed food, and gradually introduces small lumps and different textures. A caregiver would feed the baby with a spoon. Some people prefer this approach as it probably creates less mess, and you are more in charge of how much food makes it into their mouths! However, the flip side is that babies do not learn the skill of feeding themselves, and some people spend too long just giving their babies purées, which can lead to fussy eating if the baby learns to like their food without lumps! Therefore, it is important that you only spend a very short time on purees if you choose this approach.
A combination of these two approaches allows the baby to experiences the different flavours and textures, whilst also learning to feed themselves. This is why most parents actually combine a traditional spoon-feeding approach and baby-led weaning, an approach that is growing in popularity. This means you would spoon feed (without spending too long on just purées) alongside introducing ‘soft’ finger foods that do not ‘snap’ - think banana rather than apple. Give your baby an appropriate spoon to allow them to experiment with feeding themselves with it.
Babies will not always ‘like’ or accept a food straight away, but studies show that with repetition babies will learn to like foods, so don’t assume anything about likes or dislikes from your first try.
Whichever approach you take, it is important to learn about the difference between gagging and choking. Watching videos to help you understand the difference and to make you feel more confident that gagging is an important and natural reflex to actually avoid choking.
Many parents choose to take an infant first aid course as well just in case.
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Keeping my baby safe - choking risks
Many caregivers like to do an infant first-aid course before beginning the move to solid foods which can lessen the worry around choking.
To avoid choking risks, food should be cut into appropriate shapes and sizes for babies and young children. As a guide, if you are BLW or giving finger foods alongside purees, first foods should be the size of your index finger. This gives them enough to hold so that some still extends out of their fist.
Raw jelly cubes are a choking risk.
Whole nuts are a big choking risk and should not be given to children under 5.
Check out this article on why grapes and cherry tomatoes can be dangerous. Note that these are quartered in the photo above, along with blueberries which should be halved as these can also be quite large.
Keeping my baby safe - foods to avoid
Don't give your baby shark, swordfish or marlin. The amount of mercury in these fish can affect the development of a baby's nervous system.
Shellfish should not be given raw to avoid the risk of food poisoning.
Honey should not be given under 1 due to the risk or botulism.
Babies over 6 months can have eggs. If the eggs are hens' eggs and they have a red lion stamped on them, or you see a red lion with the words "British Lion Quality" on the box, it's fine for your baby to have them raw (for example, in homemade mayonnaise) or lightly cooked.
Raw/lightly cooked eggs hens' eggs that don't have the red lion mark should be cooked until both the white and yolk are solid. So should duck, goose or quail eggs.
Babies can eat pasteurised full-fat cheese from 6 months old. This includes hard cheeses, such as mild cheddar cheese, cottage cheese and cream cheese. Full-fat cheeses and dairy products are recommended up to the age of 2, as young children need fat and energy to help them grow.
Babies and young children shouldn't eat mould-ripened soft cheeses such as brie or camembert, ripened goats' milk cheese such as chèvre, and soft blue veined cheese such as roquefort. These cheeses may be made from unpasteurised milk and may therefore carry bacteria called listeria. You can check labels on cheeses to make sure they're made from pasteurised milk.
But these cheeses can be used as part of a cooked recipe as listeria is killed by cooking – baked brie, for example, is a safer option.
Don't give your child too many foods that are high in saturated fat, such as crisps, biscuits and cakes.
Babies should not be given low-fat versions of food. Fat is an important source of calories and some vitamins for babies and young children. It's better for babies and young children up to the age of 2 to have full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese, rather than low-fat varieties.
It is also really important to ensure that they don't have too much salt. Do not add salt to your recipes if baby is eating the same food as you, and avoid ready meals which are often high in salt. As a guide, before a year babies should be below 1g daily. Between the ages of 1-3, salt should be 2g or less.
Keeping my baby safe - allergies
There are 7 main allergenics, which should be introduced one at a time as you begin weaning. This will allow you to monitor for any adverse reactions. These are:
Cow's Milk (an allergy to cow's milk is most often seen in babies and young children, especially when they have been exposed to cow's milk protein before they are six months old.)
Hen's Eggs (in the UK, these should have the British Red Lion stamp; otherwise both the yolk and whites should be cooked until hard).
*Whole nuts are a choking risk so shouldn't be given under 5 years old. Peanuts can be given at 6 months if crushed on ground in peanut butter. If there is a history of allergies, consult your doctor first. Otherwise, the exclusion of peanuts (or hen’s eggs) from a child’s early diet can actually increase the risk of an allergy, so introduce these between 6-12 months and then try to incorporate them as part of your child’s normal diet.
If there is a history of food allergies or early-onset eczema, then you may wish to seek medical advice before you introduce these foods.
The NHS have produced guidance on food to avoid with babies:
Keeping my baby healthy - milk feeds
Under a year, babies will get the majority of their nutrients from their milk. Babies should therefore continue to be given their milk feeds (breastmilk or formula only) even when being weaned until they are a year.
For more info on breastfeeding, see our page.
For more info on formula feeding, see our page.
After a year, babies will be eating more solids and the milk feeds are likely to reduce. Babies can still continue to be breastfed or can be given full-fat cow's milk. There is no need for babies to be given toddler milk - see this article; in October 2013 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stated that these milks provide no additional value to a balanced diet, and they are more expensive than cow's milks or vegan alternatives.
If you are vegan, check out this link for milk alternatives.
Keeping my baby healthy - a balanced diet
Once you begin to introduce solids, you need to consider the diet you maybe is getting; like adults, babies need a healthy, balanced diet.
Give them a varied diet that includes iron-rich food.
Be aware of natural sugars in foods and drinks
Avoid too much fruit juice and avoid all fizzy drinks
Look out for foods (and drinks!) with added salt. Ready meals will have far too much salt. Bottled water should also not be given to babies unless you are abroad - see this link
Aim to include oily fish in their diet.
Don’t over-do the meat. Aim to have vegetarian meals a few times a week.
If you are vegan, check out this link.
Water for babies over 6 months old does not need to be boiled first if you use water straight from your mains tap, never bottled water (whether for making up formula feeds or on its own) as the salt or sulphate levels may be too high.
Keeping my baby healthy - dental health
Another thing to consider if their dental health.
Babies should not be given sugar. The only thing babies should drink from a bottle or training cup is milk or water, as other drinks will affect their teeth when they are still sucking. When your baby is learning to drink from a free-flow or open cup, they are learning to sip rather than suck, which is better for their teeth.
A beaker with a free-flow lid (without a non-spill valve) is better than a bottle or beaker with a teat. Drinks flow very slowly through a teat, which means that children spend a lot of time with the teat in their mouth. As soon as your child is ready, encourage them to move from a lidded beaker to drinking from an open cup.
Water for babies over 6 months old does not need to be boiled first. Use water straight from your mains tap, never bottled water (whether for making up formula feeds or on its own) as the salt or sulphate levels may be too high.
Fruit juices contain natural sugars and acids, which can cause tooth decay. Babies under six months old shouldn't be given fruit juices.
Diluted fruit juice (one part juice to 10 parts water) can be given to children with their meals after six months. Giving fruit juice with mealtimes (rather than between) helps reduce the risk of tooth decay.
From age five, it's OK to give your child undiluted fruit juice or smoothies, but stick to no more than one glass (about 150ml) a day served with a meal.
What equipment do I need?
A splash mat for your floor
Long-sleeved, wipe clean bibs
A training cup or open-flow cup/ beaker
An inexpensive hand blender if you are making your own purées - you shouldn’t be making purées for long. You may find a fork does the job effectively enough and allows them to experience slightly different textures rather than just very smooth purées.
Freezer pots or bags or trays if you are going to batch cook or prepare small portions for when they are needed
Should I use pouches or jars?
There is no reason to use pouches or jars, as babies can eat most of what you will eat. It is good for children to get used to what they will eventually eat with you. They can also work out to be an expensive option, although some people like them for when they are on the go. Pouches have become more popular but there is no reason to avoid jars.
If you do decide to use jars or pouches on occasion, aim for ones that sound like a dinner e.g. chicken and peas, rather than apple, kiwi and banana. Often these fruity ones are very sweet and your baby is likely to love them - but maybe a bit too much - and remember you want them to eat the kind of food you will have for dinners.
You would never use pouches/jars if you were following a fully baby-led approach as purees are not a stage of BLW.
Ordinary Mothers Online Cookbook
We are thrilled to have teamed up with the popular Instagrammer, Meals for Mini Mouths. Together, we have developed the Ordinary Mothers Online Cookbook which features fun and healthy meals for the whole family. You can give all of these meals from 6+ months if you are baby-led weaning (unless otherwise stated), or you can move onto them once your baby has begun having solid food after purees.
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