When to start?

girl-eating-chicken-cropped-circleIt can be really confusing for parents knowing when to wean. You may have been told by your health visitor (as I was) that you should wait til around six months; on the other hand, jars of baby food say 4m+ on them and your granny might tell you she used to put baby rice in bottles at 12 weeks – so how are you to decide what to do?

Let’s have a look at what some of the experts say:

  • The infant feeding recommendation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that ‘infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life… [thereafter,] infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.’ The recommendation is also to wait until six months when formula feeding.
  • The National Health Service (NHS) state: ‘Introducing your baby to solid foods – sometimes called weaning or complementary feeding – should start when your baby is around six months old.’ This has been the UK recommendation since 2003.
  • Dr Gill Rapley, the “BLW guru”, says in her book Baby Led Weaning: ‘The current recommended age for starting solid foods is six months.’ [2008, pg 19]

Why six months?

Before roughly six months old, babies get everything they need breastmilk or infant formula. As someone with a fairly big boy baby, I had a lot of people tell me that milk wouldn’t satisfy him – but it just wasn’t true. He continued to grow and develop brilliantly just on breastmilk until he was 24 weeks (just over 5.5 months) when we started him on solids. Even after that point, milk is the main source of nutrients and calories for a baby until age one, though they gradually start to need more and more from food as they get older.

Waiting til six months makes sure your baby’s gut and digestive system is fully developed (this happens sometime between 4-6 months but you can’t tell from the outside if it’s fully developed) which reduces your baby’s risk of infections and adverse reactions.

How can I tell if they’re ready?

There are three signs you can look out for which show your baby is ready for baby led weaning. They should:

  • Be able to sit well (can be supported in a highchair or an adult’s lap) with head held steady.
  • Be able to co-ordinate their movements to pick up a piece of food and bring it to their mouth all by themselves.
  • Be able to swallow (e.g. have lost the tongue thrust reflex babies are born with).

The signs are usually seen together around six months. My baby was able to steal a carrot stick from me and gnaw on it by 24 weeks, so I started him then as much of the advice says “about” six months. Other people think six months is the very earliest you should start, while some new research seems to say allergy risks can be lowered by starting earlier. Personally I felt my baby was ready; but equally I look back now and think it would have been easier just to wait another two weeks!

You’ll probably get lots of well-meaning advice about other signs you should start solids. But things like waking up more at night aren’t a sign your baby is hungry for food – there’s a well-known sleep regression about 4/5 months of age. And them watching you eat isn’t a sign either. You’ll notice your baby also watches you use the toilet even though they aren’t ready to potty train yet. They’re just really curious about what you’re up to!

The current UK advice is not to start under 17 weeks. If you do feel you need to start between 17 weeks and about six months, speak to a health professional like your child’s doctor or health visitor. The NHS recommend that if you are starting early food be fully pureed and spoon fed – it’s unlikely a younger baby would be able to feed themselves so BLW might not be for you. You’ll still want to start them on finger foods and varied textures from about six months, so even if you have gone down a different route some of the recipes on the blog might be useful for you a bit later on 🙂