We recognise that as your new baby grows past those very early few months, the focus for parents often moves onto the introduction of solid foods into their child’s diet.
Some parents feel pressured to introduce solids or wean their baby before the six-month point, where the research shows most children develop readiness. Other parents start to recognise signs that may suggest their child is ready for weaning or introducing solids.
We wanted to make sure you had the key information ready for this new, exciting stage for you and your child.
What is weaning?
Weaning can mean when your baby stops breastfeeding, but it is also commonly used as the word to describe the process of introducing your baby to soft or solid foods while gradually reducing milk feeds. Through this process, a baby will develop chewing and swallowing reflexes and also discover new textures and flavours. Your baby will also learn how to feed from a spoon and/or how to feed themselves.
When should you introduce solid foods to your baby?
Until the age of 6 months, babies will receive all of the nutrition they need from breast milk or infant formula. From 6 months a baby’s digestive system will be ready to cope with solid food and most babies will be showing signs of developmental readiness for solid food from this age. Therefore, solid foods should be introduced gradually from the age of 6 months. Your baby at this stage will continue to get most of his/her nutrition from their breastmilk or formula milk.
Signs of developmental readiness for solid food
At around 6 months, it is likely that you will start to see the three developmental signs that your baby is ready to start solids. It’s important that you follow these signs to help ensure that your weaning process is safe.
The three developmental signs are:
- Your baby can sit in a sitting position and hold their head steady.
- Your baby can co-ordinate their eyes, hand and mouth and can look at food. They can pick up finger food and put it in their mouth by themselves.
- Your baby can swallow food. Babies who are not ready will push their food back out.
Common starting solids worries for parents
Although a worry, choking is relatively rare. Babies will use their gag reflex to move food into a position where they can chew it, therefore you will see them do this quite often. The Start4Life website has lots of ideas on it that ensure that introducing solids to your little one is safe: Safe Weaning | Choking | Start4Life
You can find more information on how to help a choking child on the NHS website.
Constipation can be quite common when a baby starts to wean. Fruit, vegetables and water can all help to prevent constipation in the first place. If your baby already becomes constipated, a light massage on their belly can help to relieve pain. If you think constipation is persisting, please give your GP a call for further advice.
When introducing foods that can cause an allergic reaction it is good to offer them in small amounts and offer them one at a time. This is so you can trace back any reaction to a particular food. For babies who have a strong allergy history within the family, you may want to talk through weaning with a member of our public health nursing team via our Public Health Nursing hubs.
Within the United Kingdom we recommend all children under the age of four receive vitamin supplements specific for children. The NHS website provides the key information so that you can understand what vitamins are recommended and why.
What foods are appropriate for babies to eat?
It is suggested to offer a variety of vegetables as your baby’s first foods as it helps to develop a tolerance and enjoyment of savoury and bitter. Try a different vegetable each day introducing different tastes and textures. Then progress on to mixed foods, keeping a variation in texture and taste.
How to introduce solid foods to your baby
When it comes to weaning you will often hear of two methods.
Baby led weaning
This style involves providing your baby with finger food for them to experiment with and to feed themselves with. This can help babies acknowledge when they are feeling full.
Puree / spoon-feeding
This is parent-led feeding which involves serving soft foods on a spoon to your baby. A progression is usually made from blended to more textured and lumpy food to eventually bite-size bits of solid food. This method can be a useful way to introduce tricky flavours and foods that might be harder to chew.
These links contain some really useful information and guides for parents:
- Benefits of starting solids at 6 months vs 4 months for baby (firststepnutrition.com)
- Infants and new mums — First Steps Nutrition Trust
Equipment you may find useful throughout weaning
- Highchair. Your baby needs to be sitting safely in an upright position (so they can swallow properly). Always use a securely fitted safety harness in a highchair. Never leave babies unattended on raised surfaces.
- Plastic or pelican bibs. It’s going to be messy at first!
- Soft weaning spoons are gentler on your baby’s gums.
- Small plastic bowl. You may find it useful to get a special weaning bowl with a suction base to keep the bowl in place.
- First cup. Introduce a cup from around 6 months and offer sips of water with meals. Using an open cup or a free-flow cup without a valve will help your baby learn to sip and is better for their teeth.
- From 6 months in UK tap water is absolutely okay for your baby to drink.
- A messy mat for under the highchair to catch most of the mess.
- Plastic containers can be helpful for batch cooking and freezing small portions.
Further help and support
We have a duty health visitor working from our public health nursing hub Monday to Friday 9 – 4.30. Please do contact them if you have any additional questions.
If you would like to attend a virtual Introduction to Solid Foods session that covers information for parents to consider before starting to wean their baby, please see the list of upcoming session dates below. Please note that all sessions will be offered virtually on Microsoft Teams, and the content for all dates will be the same. If you would like to see all of the events in Devon, head over to the events page.
Have your say
Help us improve the local information on this website and give us feedback about any contacts you have had with our service by completing the Devon Public Health Nursing feedback form.