Weaning is about introducing other food to your baby alongside her usual breast or formula milk. Until 6 months, breast or formula milk provides all the nourishment that babies need. At 6 months you can gradually introduce mashed foods (also known as ‘solids’). However, you should continue to give your baby her regular formula milk feeds until she is at least one year old. You may continue to breastfeed your baby for as long as you wish.
Learning to eat
Just as your baby had to learn to feed from your breast or a bottle, so she needs to learn how to eat solid food. This is a gradual process which shouldn’t be rushed. Be patient and allow your baby to develop her eating skills and tastes at her own pace. By her first birthday, your baby should be able to enjoy more or less the same food as the rest of the family. Developing a healthy approach to eating from the very start will stand her in good stead for the rest of her life.
When to start weaning
Every baby is different but there are some signs that can suggest your baby is ready to move on to solid foods. These are:
- She can sit up
- Her eye and hand co-ordination has developed so that she can reach out and grab things accurately
- She takes things into her mouth and chews them rather than automatically pushing them out
Weaning at 6 months: the advantages
- medical evidence now suggests that waiting until 6 months carries significant health benefits
- waiting until six months will make sure your baby's digestive system is developed enought to cope with solid foods
- chewing skills are more developed at 6 months so your baby will be able to have well mashed food and move on to food with lumps and bumps
- chewing develops facial muscles which are later used for talking.
In addition, you’ll enjoy some practical benefits if you wait until your baby is 6 months old. She’ll have more control over her body, so feeding is easier when she can sit up in a high chair. And you don’t have to sterilise all her feeding equipment.
Weaning early: the issues
It is not recommended to start giving your baby solid foods before six months. If you decide after talking to your health visitor or GP to give solids before six months see page 175 for list of foods that should be avoided. This is because these foods can sometimes trigger the development of a food allergy.
If you do decide to wean earlier you will need to remember the following:
- all feeding equipment, including bowls and spoons will need to be sterilised
- younger babies need pureed foods and certain foods need to be avoided
- all food will need to be pureed to a completely smooth, thin consistency until your baby is 6 months old. This may make it more difficult for her to progress onto mashed food, or food with lumps and bumps
- if you wean at under 6 months, you’ll need to feed your baby from a baby chair or while sitting on your lap, or sitting up supported by cushions on the floor
- don't give them any peanuts, nuts, seeds, milk, eggs, wheat, fish, shellfish, or foods containing these until after 6 months of age. This is because these foods can sometimes trigger development of a food allergy.
How to start weaning
Like all the new experiences, which you and your baby will enjoy together, it’s best to start off slowly and work at a pace that suits both of you. Remember, it’s not a race, so build up slowly from one ‘solid’ feed a day, to breakfast, lunch, tea and snacks by the time she is a year old. Some babies will take longer to do this than others.
Find a time that suits you
It’s best not to give your baby solid food immediately before her regular milk feed – you don’t want to fill her up and reduce her milk intake, as it’s important that milk is the main part of her diet until she is a year old. Choose a time when she is awake and alert, but not expecting a milk feed. The middle of the day may be best.
Be safe and comfortable
At around 6 months, your baby will be able to support herself enough to sit in a high chair, safely strapped in. Don’t leave her alone in her high chair, or leave her to feed herself – there’s a very real danger that she could choke.
To reduce the risk of choking:
- remove any stones or pips before serving
- halve or chop small fruit, nuts and vegetables like cherry tomatoes and grapes
- cut large fruits into slices rather than chunks.
Ask your health visitor for advice on how to deal with choking. If your child has special needs and you need expert advice, ask to speak to a speech and language therapist.
Spitting and refusing
When you first introduce solid food to your baby it is a completely new experience for her. As well as the unexpected taste and texture she has to learn to move the food around her mouth and swallow it. Many babies initially react by spitting their first mouthfuls of food straight back out again! This is quite normal and you should gently keep trying until she gets the hang of it. You might find that your baby refuses food at first. Again, this is fine. Leave it for another day and try again.
Your baby’s appetite
Healthy babies know their own appetite and to begin with a couple of teaspoons of food may be enough. Never force your baby to eat if she doesn’t want to – but do contact your health visitor if you’re worried.
What to start with
A baby at 6 months can start with mashed food or finger foods, for example, cooked carrot sticks, broccoli or cauliflower florets, or pieces of pear of peach.
Suitable weaning foods
You don’t have to buy any special foods for weaning your baby – lots of everyday foods are suitable. These include:
- baby rice mixed with your baby’s usual milk
- cooked and mashed vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, carrot, parsnip or cauliflower
- peeled and mashed banana
- peeled, cooked and mashed fruit, such as apple or pear.
Remember not to add any sugar or salt to your baby’s food – salt can damage her kidneys.
What can my baby eat?
The table below shows foods which are unsuitable for your baby before 6 months, and indicates when they may be introduced. It is important that you do not introduce any of these foods before 6 months. This is because of possible allergic reaction.
After 6 months you may gradually introduce these foods, one at a time, checking for any reaction. If you think your child is having an allergic reaction, you should seek urgent medical attention.
Common symptoms of an allergic reaction include one or more of the following: coughing; dry, itchy throat and tongue; itchy skin or rash; diarrhoea and/or vomiting; wheezing and shortness of breath; swelling of the lips and throat; runny or blocked nose; sore, red and itchy eyes.
Cows’ milk is not a suitable drink for babies aged under one year old. Full fat cows’ milk can be added in small amounts to weaning foods from six months. Cows’ milk does not give all the nutrients that children aged under one require. It is also low in iron and high in sodium and lacks the essential energy levels that babies under one need.
Feeding and allergies
Babies are more likely to develop allergies if there is a family history of eczema, asthma or hay fever. If you are concerned that your baby might develop a food allergy, it is a good idea to introduce the foods that are most likely to cause food allergies one at a time, starting with just a small amount, and not before your baby is six months old. These foods are: peanuts, nuts, seeds, egg, milk, soya, wheat (and other cereals that contain gluten such as rye, barley and oats), fish and shellfish and any other milk other than breast milk or infant formula.
If your baby develops an obvious reaction just after eating a food for the first time, for example, swelling or redness around the lips, you should report it to your health visitor or GP who will advise on whether any further investigations or precautions are necessary.
A severe and immediate allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis, which requires urgent medical care, is obvious. Medical staff will advise on how to check for possible causes and avoid repeat episodes. Some foods, such as honey, should be avoided altogether until your baby is over one year old.
Sometimes mothers remove foods from their baby’s diet for various reasons. This is not always wise. It is always better to talk things over with your health visitor or GP before making any substantial changes to your baby’s diet.
You may have heard the previous advice to avoid giving a child foods containing peanuts before three years of age, if there was a history of allergy in the child’s immediate family (such as eczema, hayfever, food allergy or other types of allergy).
The advice has now changed because the latest research has shown that there is no clear evidence to say that this will reduce the chances of your child developing a peanut allergy. If your child already has a known allergy, such as a diagnosed eczema or a diagnosed food allergy, or if there is a history of allergy in your child’s immediate family (if parents, brothers or sisters have an allergy such as asthma, eczema, hayfever, or other types of allergy) then your child has a higher risk of developing peanut allergy. In these cases you should talk to your GP, health visitor or medical allergy specialist before you give peanut or foods contain peanuts to your child for the first time.
If you are introducing nuts, peanuts or seeks from six months, they should be finely chopped to avoid choking.
For the most up-to-date advice on weaning your baby, ask your health visitor for a copy of the revised NHS Health Scotland leaflet, Fun First Foods. This booklet helps parents to introduce foods in a way that suits their child. It provides tips, advice, recipes and information on weaning.
What can my baby eat?
|Food||Under 6 months||Over 6 months
|Dairy products (cheese, plain fromage frais, custard, milk sauces and plain yoghurt)
||Yes. Cow's milk may be used in cooking but not to drink until at least a year old. Goat's and sheep's milk is not suitable for under 12 months and must be pasteurised after 12 months.
|Cereals that contain gluten, for example wheat, rye, barley and oats, so avoid rusks, pasta, bread, flour, and breakfast cereals containing gluten, including porridge, until six months
|Follow-on formula, second-stage formula
||No, not recommended or needed, continue breastfeeding or using formula as there is no medical or nutritional benefit
|Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit) and juices
||Yes but juices should be provided in a 50:50 dilution and kept to meal times.
|Soft berries (raspberries and strawberries)
|Fish and shellfish (for example, prawns).
||No, children under 16 yrs should avoid eating shark, marlin and swordfish.
||Yes and ensure they are always well cooked
|Peanuts or food containing peanuts like peanut butter
|Whole nuts and seeds
||Yes, only finely chopped to avoid choking. Not whole peanuts or nuts.
|Soya products (for example, tofu, soya yoghurt)
|Liver and liver products (for example, pate).
It is best not to give your baby solid food immediately before her regular milk feed – you don’t want to fill her up.
Ready prepared foods
Baby foods can be expensive to use every day, although it’s possible to get healthy and interesting products. Read the label to check for added sugars, these may be in form of concentrated fruit puree or fruit juice. Also check for starch and water – both bulk out the food but add little in the way of nutrition. Some babies who have a lot of pre –prepared ‘baby’ which are mostly pureed take a while to get used ‘real’ food with its varieties of tastes, textures and lumps.
Some sources indicate that organic food may be better for us – and so for our babies. But it’s still not clear whether organic food is actually healthier, and it’s certainly more expensive. Whatever you choose, it makes sense to buy the best and healthiest food you can afford.
Babies do not need meat or fish to stay healthy, but you need to make sure she’s getting enough protein and other nutrients from the rest of her diet. Make sure she gets a good variety of foods including pulses, eggs, milk, grains and cereals.
A lot more care needs to be taken with a vegan diet, which cuts out animal products such as eggs and milk, although it is possible for your baby to develop healthily on such a diet. Ask your health visitor or GP to arrange for you to speak to a dietician if you are thinking of weaning your baby onto a vegan diet.
Feeding your growing baby
After 6 months you can start introducing your baby to foods she can pick up and eat by herself. Some babies seem to enjoy food better this way – they prefer picking things up and feeding themselves to taking food from a spoon. Getting your baby involved in feeding herself can also make weaning easier.
Here are a few suggestions for finger foods – all should be cut up into a shape and size your baby can hold easily to chew, gnaw or suck at:
- slices of bread, toast, chapatti or naan
- slices of eating apple or pear
- sticks of carrot or celery (part boiled)
- tiny sandwiches with grated cheese, cottage cheese or mashed banana
- fingers of cheese on toast or pizza
- cubes of cheese
- cooked pasta shapes
- cooked vegetables
- grapes, which should be cut in half to reduce the risk of choking.
Ask your health visitor about vitamins for you and your baby. It is recommended that babies and young children have vitamin drops (A, C and D) up to the age of five. If you qualify for Healthy Start, you can receive these vitamin drops free of charge.