All parents know weaning is a tricky thing: since every baby is different, there is no clear answer on when or how to start.
However, there are indeed some helpful facts, answers and tips that can work more or less with any baby, and that will be definitely of use when you start weaning your little one.
When to start weaning?
The right time to start with baby weaning is between 4 months and 6 months, which is the time when your baby’s digestive system is strong enough to handle solid baby foods, that is, any food that is not breast milk or formula milk. Another important reason why we need to wait until this age for weaning, is that introducing solids before that could trigger certain allergies that otherwise would remain asleep.
The best time to start weaning is at 6 months, even if you can start earlier if your baby shows symptoms that he’s ready before that time (but never before 4 months). From 4 to 6 months, breast milk and baby formula will need to be the base of your baby’s diet nonetheless.
You may be thinking now that this information contradicts the idea that is best to keep breastfeeding the baby as long as possible, or at least until he celebrates his first birthday. In fact, to keep on breastfeeding after 6 months is beneficial for the baby, but not if done in detriment of introducing solid foods: once the baby is 6 months old, his natural iron stores begin to decrease and he needs to get iron from other sources. This is why you shouldn’t postpone weaning after 6 months.
Is my baby ready for weaning?
At this point, you already have some valuable mummy experience and know that forcing babies is usually counter-productive. After your baby is 6 months, you will need to find techniques to ensure that your baby accepts the changes in his diet, but you could come across the opposite situation: your baby could be ready for weaning before reaching the 6 month milestones! Let’s take a look of the signs that you have a baby ready for weaning:
- He can hold his head alone: gone are the days where you had to handle your baby’s head when holding him: if he does all the work himself, he may be ready for weaning
- He can seat correctly: he needs to be able to sit straight so he can swallow the food – an essential for a successful weaning
- He no longer “expels” the food out of his mouth with his tongue.
- He chews: for the baby to be able to eat solids he needs to be able to swallow and be aware of it. If you see that he “fakes” chewing movements (something that starts happening by the time he starts teething), take it as a symptom of a weaning baby!
- He’s hungrier and hungrier: milk may no longer be enough for him. If you can’t seem to satisfy his appetite, he may want to start eating solids.
- He tries to get to your food: If your food seems to appease him more than your milk, you can be sure: your baby’s ready for weaning!
Oatmeal, your best ally for weaning
Foods rich in iron are the best ones to start weaning, so oatmeal is a very good place to begin. Besides compensating your baby’s stores of iron starting to decrease, it’s easy to digest. Yes, at 6 months, his digestive system is ready to process it, but that doesn’t make it any less of a change: besides introducing solid foods progressively, it is also important to start weaning with things that are soft to your baby’s stomach. Just remember all the baby colic fuzz when he started to actually use his digestive system! When starting with cereal, remember to mix it with a bit of breast milk or formula so it has a more liquid consistency.
Another good option for early weaning are fruits and vegetables. There are no right and wrongs here and, in fact, doctor recommendations on what to choose for weaning can vary from one country to another. What is important hear is that you boil the fruits and vegetables before processing them and never add any salt to it. If you want to explore further options, check out our article on the best first foods for baby!
You can buy already made baby food or make homemade baby food, something easier than what you may think. For the ingredients, you can choose apple or pear, banana, potato or carrots. Try different things to see what your baby likes best, and give him different combinations so he can have a rich, varied diet from the start. Don’t do it everything at once, though: it is better to wean the baby little by little, as we’ll explain in detail next.
Baby weaning: Let’s cut to the chase
No, weaning is not easy. You may be lucky and have an avid eater, but you may as well have a picky one. Mummy’s stories vary from the baby who jumps towards the spoon to the one who throws up as soon as he finds a tiny piece of fruit in his puree. You’re going to need some techniques!
Before starting weaning, make sure you have all you’re going to need. The essentials are:
- A high chair where your baby is secure, but also comfortable enough so he doesn’t grow impatient. Make sure he can’t fall or move too much, but give him enough freedom to move his arms and legs as much as he wants. If he’s comfortable, weaning will be easier.
- A bib: things are about to get messy! It’s better if they are plastic or made in other waterproof material, because they will be easier to wash (and you will have to wash them many times!)
- Plastic bowls and plates: Much like a cat, your baby will probably find very amusing knocking the plates off the chair
- A special baby spoon, made out of plastic and with a soft tip.
Here you have a few tips and recommendations to keep close when you start introducing solid foods in your baby’s diet or weaning:
- Start up with a “shy” weaning: breastfeed your baby or give him his usual bottle of baby formula, then give him two or three spoons of puree. However, don’t wait until he’s full, since he will me more like to reject the new food if he’s already satisfied from the milk.
- If you start with cereal, don’t add it to the bottle even if you have to mix it with the milk. Your baby needs to understand that this new foods are to be eaten with a spoon for the weaning to be successful.
- Don’t fill the spoon too much: make sure there’s a good amount of the puree from the middle of the spoon to the tip. Too much puree at once could make the baby feel like he’s choking and he would most likely reject the food.
- Once you’ve succeeded in giving him these first shy spoons of puree after his meals, try with one solid food a day. It doesn’t matter which of the meals you choose, but avoid times when your little one is tired or cranky. It’s better to take advantage of his good moods!
- If your baby doesn’t want to eat, don’t force him and try again tomorrow. It’s normal that it takes a few days for him to get used to the new flavours and textures. Accepting a new food could take up to 10 days!
- If he rejects certain foods for longer than 10 days, substitute them for other more to your baby’s liking. You can try again a few days after: you may be surprised!
- Be patient: it seems like a given, but it’s one of the most important tips for any mummy and any situation involving babies. You baby will feel your frustration and become even more reluctant to weaning or any other new experience. Baby food is going to fly around your kitchen and living room and, of course, is going to land in the most inconvenient places. Have a good laugh about it instead of being angry!
- When weaning, make sure not to give your baby any of the following: salt, sugar, honey, egg whites, coffee, tea or soft drinks.
- Make sure he’s always sitting straight so he doesn’t choke.
- Measure quantities to make sure he eats enough or he doesn’t eat too much, but be flexible: it’s OK if he eats more or less than he “should” as long as he keeps growing healthy.
So I succeeded in weaning. What’s next?
Congratulations, mummy! Introducing solid foods to your baby’s diet is no easy thing! Now that you and your baby have the basics of weaning covered, feel free to try new things. It’s time to introduce new healthy items to your baby’s purees, experiment with textures and see how your baby reacts. Here you have some basic guidelines for the following months of weaning:
- At 6-7 months, your baby should be eating two solid meals a day. Once he’s 8 months old and weaning is no new thing, the amount of solid meals should rise to three, divided in different food groups.
- Once your baby is eating three meals a day, make sure you include all the following in every day’s menu: breast or formula milk, iron-rich cereals, fruits, vegetables and protein (cheese, poultry, fish or read meat).
- Make the purees progressively lumpier and thicker.
- Try giving him small chunks of food for him to chew. When he’s 9 or 10 months old, he will want to grab the food himself. Let him do it: to be able to feed himself is very satisfying for the baby!
Besides all this, at some point, your little one will have to abandon the breast for good. Here you have some tips on how to stop breastfeeding for when that moment arrives!
Definitely, raising a baby never gets boring! Weaning is very important baby milestone and, as all of them, comes of a variety of good and not so good moments. But in all of them you’re strengthening the bond between you and your baby, and seeing him grow and learn is always great!
Not convinced with traditional weaning? There are other options! Here's all you need to know about baby led weaning.