Current recommendations from health organizations recommend that a baby be breastfed for the first six months of his or her life. Of course, if mom choose not to or can’t breastfeed, this can be replaced by formula milk until six months.
Once the six-month landmark is reached, moms may look for the signs that the baby is ready to move on from pure milk to something a bit more substantial. Health professionals suggest that baby-led feeding is introduced, and use the term ‘complementary feeding’ rather than weaning. The term can be confusing when it also refers to the process of coming off the breast and moving onto formula.
Babies will show signs that they are ready for eating solid food by taking an interest in food and what goes on at meal times and imitating those who are eating. They may try and grab food and make chewing actions or drool when close to food.
Although there is no one sign that the baby is ready to wean, their stomachs will be ready for solid food after six months when their little tummies are ready to start digesting something other than milk. Calories and nutrients are provided by milk until the age of six months, but after that, the baby can get this from solid food as well as milk.
20 Ready: The Baby Is Six Months Old
The World Health Organization, along with other child welfare bodies, recommend that a baby should be breastfed exclusively until they are six months old. A baby’s stomach is then better suited to the addition of solid food and can digest more than milk. Breastfeeding is still recommended as a complement to solid foods until one year.
It is best to let the baby dictate the pace as much as possible. Once the age of six months is reached, introduce the baby to some solid food and see how they react. If they don’t seem ready, there is no reason to rush.
19 Ready: Sits Without Support
A baby will need to be able to sit up on its own before it can be weaned successfully. It is best to feed a baby in a high chair and if it cannot sit up. It will be difficult for the baby to adapt to this new skill as it may be uncomfortable and take a lot of effort to sit up, according to Skills You Need.
If your baby is not sitting up by the age of six months, it is important that you take the baby to a health professional, as this is a milestone that babies should have reached by this point. Also, trying to feed a baby that cannot sit on their own, may lead to choking.
18 Ready: Able To Chew
Most mothers start the weaning process with something soft like baby rice cereal or pureed fruit or vegetables. However, it may be more fun and exciting for the baby if more solid foods are introduced to give them practice at chewing.
Moms recommend a strip of omelet or cooked vegetables, or even some chopped up soft fruit. The baby will learn the chewing process more easily if the taste is appealing. Make some chewing actions for baby to copy to help this process along. Give the baby plenty of time to learn this new skill and be patient with them. Making the process as stress-free as possible will encourage the baby to see the change as fun.
17 Ready: Picks Things Up
When a baby shows an interest in food and has gathered the concept that these strange new things and shapes are ok to put in their mouths, they may want to pick them up and taste more of them. If the baby is unable to pick them up and successfully put them in their mouths, the process will be more frustrating and difficult.
Put small items of food on the tray of the high chair and encourage the baby to pick up the food and ‘play’ with it while they are getting the hang of it. Food will be an object of curiosity to start with, so expect a long process and let baby feed themselves with supervision.
16 Ready: Tries To Grab Food
One of the signs that the baby is ready to approach weaning, is that they show a real interest in meal times. Sit them close to you while you are eating and see if they have an interest in what is going on. They may watch and seem intrigued and try to grab what you are eating.
Once the baby has shown an interest at a number of mealtimes, put some small items on the tray of the high chair and let the baby experiment and feel included in family meals. They may not have much success to start with, but it is all a learning process and will be fun to start with.
15 Ready: Hungry Between Normal Feedings
Babies do go through growth spurts and sometimes feed more than usual. Finding that the baby is hungrier than usual is not a sign that the baby is ready for weaning, by itself. However, along with a number of the other signs, it could mean that their stomach is ready for something other than just milk.
If the baby is a healthy weight and showing signs of needing something extra from the usual milk, it can be one of the signs that weaning can be attempted. While most of the baby’s nutrition and calories will still come from milk in the early stages, solid food will provide some extra filling and nutrients.
14 Ready: Tries To Imitate Mom And Dad
Babies love to imitate facial expressions. Any parent who has stuck their tongue out in front of a baby knows this! If the baby watches parents eating and makes chewing motions, then it is a sign that they are getting ready to join in. This can be made fun and will help encourage baby that meals are a stress-free environment and that they can be relaxed around food.
Don’t take this as a sign on its own, but along with other signs this is a great encouragement that the baby is well on its way to wanting to eat solid food.
13 Ready: You Know When The Baby Is Full
If a baby is to be weaned successfully, and make that transition onto solid food, they need to be able to let you know when they have had enough. If they are pulling themselves off the breast when they have had enough, or if bottle fed, can let you know that they are full, this is a good sign of development and can be one of the signs that weaning is approaching.
When they are eating solid food, it may not fill them up much to start with as they explore. They need to have some level of communication to let parents know when they are hungry or full.
12 Ready: Opens Mouth For Food
If the baby is totally anti-solid foods, it is unlikely they will want to repeat the experience quickly. However, if they are ready and enjoying the flavor and sensation of the food, they are likely to open their mouths when the spoon or morsel of food is offered again.
Let the baby be the instigator of this. In the early days, it is best not to force a spoon or piece of food if the baby is not ready. There is no rush to the weaning process as most nutrition still comes from milk. Try mixing the early pureed food with the baby’s usual milk to give a familiar flavor.
11 Ready: Dinnertime Doesn't Make The Baby Cry
There is no point in trying to force a baby to take solid food. If the baby seems completely put off by the offer of anything other than milk, don’t persist or it could cause food aversions. Babies set their own pace with weaning and some days they may seem more than ready to experiment and on other days may not want to.
Let the baby lead the way and be prepared for a long haul. It’s wonderful on a day when it works well, but don’t be put off when there is a setback. Some babies take to solid food straight away and others take longer to adjust.
10 Delay: The Baby Was Born Premature
Advice is confusing when it comes to when to wean a premature baby, but most professionals suggest taking the lead from the baby. If the baby is exhibiting signs of being more hungry than usual, they could be experiencing a growth spurt. Wait until they are showing a real interest in food and what others are doing when they eat and that you are satisfied as the mom that all the signs are pointing in the same direction.
A premature baby may take a little longer to learn the required skills, so some advice recommends starting early to compensate for this delay, but as with most things in parenting, it really is a matter of gut instinct for mother and baby.
9 Delay: Exclusive Breastfeeding Is Recommended Until 6 Months
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding until the baby is six months old, so it is advised that solid food is not introduced until this milestone has been reached. The American Pediatrics Association endorses this view as long as the baby is full term and healthy.
One of the reasons for this is that by six months the baby is more likely to be able to fight off any infections that the food may carry according to Mumsnet.
The baby will still receive most of its nutrition from the milk, but extra calories, minerals, and vitamins can be added with solid food. The baby doesn’t need more than milk for six months to provide these nutrients.
8 Delay: The Baby’s Digestive System Isn’t Mature Yet
Babies have a delicate digestive system that is perfectly designed to digest only milk. The structure of the gut is designed to be ready for solid food after six to nine months. There are various enzymes and stomach acids that are not at the optimum level yet to digest solids. If solids are introduced too early, there can be problems with digestion that can lead to colic or cause gassiness and diarrhea.
The gut ‘closes’ up after the age of six months, meaning that the holes between the cells in the stomach are closed and no foreign bodies can pass through.
7 Delay: It Won't Make The Baby Sleep Through The Night
There used to be a theory that if a baby had solid food, it would make it easier to get the baby to sleep through the night as it would be less likely to wake hungry in the night. Many scientific studies have been carried out to assess the truth of this theory and it has been found that it has no significant effect on a baby sleeping through the night.
Certainly, a baby will be fuller from eating solid food once enough is being taken on board, but at the beginning, it could be more play and experimentation than for the means of filling them up. So, they may not be taking on board enough food to keep them asleep for any longer at the beginning.
6 Delay: It Takes Time To Prepare An Extra Plate
New moms have enough to do with looking after a small baby. If you add pureeing and storing and cooking solid food, it can present an extra workload that can be put off for a while if weaning is delayed. Of course, if a mom is to use ready prepared food, this won’t apply, but it is suggested that first foods are home prepared, such as baby rice and pureed fruit and vegetables. For the amount that the baby will actually digest, the stress and time spent on preparation may seem like a lot of work for a little result!
It can also make going out more challenging, as the baby will require more equipment than the bulging changing bag already takes.
5 Delay: It Can Be Challenging
It may seem an exciting and enticing process to get the baby to the next stage and introduce solid food. In reality, some parents find it incredibly challenging when the baby won’t eat and is incredibly fussy in what they will accept. A baby can also find great comfort in having a breast to feed on, so the reduction in this method may cause anxiety.
Babies who are weaned before they are ready can be very confused by the introduction of solid food and it can present eating issues in later years. Babies who seem very keen milk consumers can struggle when it comes to solid food and become fussy and picky.
4 Delay: Get With The Times
There have been various guidelines put in place over the years as to when the ideal time is to wean. It used to be suggested that babies were weaned at four months, but that has been changed to six months.
In times gone by, the introduction of solid foods happened at a much earlier age, but more recently it is suggested that six months, not four, is the earliest age to attempt it. Others stick by the theory that early weaning does no damage, according to Baby Centre. Once again, take a doctor’s advice if in any doubt and be led by your gut feeling and the baby most of all.
3 Delay: Baby Allergies
With so many allergies and food intolerances in children and adults, it can be a minefield to decide what to feed and what not to feed the baby in order to try and avoid problems in later life.
Ensure that allergy potentials are introduced one by one, so anything that has cow's milk or eggs, for instance, needs to be introduced in isolation to check for any reaction. Anything with gluten in it or nuts should be monitored closely as well, similarly with fish or shellfish.
If there is a family history of allergies, talk to the doctor first and watch carefully for any reaction.
2 Delay: There Are Always Risks
The process of weaning may be slow and very messy. Be very careful what you offer the baby as it can be easy for a baby to choke on small pieces of solid food when they are starting out. Make sure that fruit and vegetables are very soft and well-cooked and chopped up very small.
Be wary of foods like grapes that have a hard skin that can get trapped in the throat. Always cut them up so that if a piece does get stuck, it is more likely to slip down. Be careful of foods with skin, like a sausage and it goes without saying to avoid anything with bones!
1 Delay: The Baby Feels Under The Weather
It is never a good idea to introduce a change like weaning to the baby if they are sick or feeling under the weather. Obviously, they will be less interested in feeding and be starting when they are ill may put them off the idea altogether. Similarly, if you are unwell, it is not a good time to wean, as the baby will need antibodies from breast milk more than ever, in order to fight off the germs, according to Health Prep.
It is best to wean at a calm time in the household, so if there are big changes going on or anything particularly stressful is happening, delay until things are calmer and there is a greater chance of success.
References: World Health Organization, Skills You Need, Mumsnet, Baby Centre, Health Prep