So many people ask questions about WHEN their baby might be ready to have their first tastes of solid foods. Back in 1994 advice was to start offering solids at 4-6 months of age1. For some reason this seemed to lead to many people introducing solids to their baby BEFORE 4 months of age. In fact, in 2000 85% of parents introduced solids before 4 months. In recent years advice has changed. Our Government in the UK now say weaning should begin “at around 6 months”.
Why is there so much confusion?
Couple the old advice (which is still memorised by many of our grandparents/parents today) with the fact that:
- Health care professionals often aren’t up to date on the new guidelines, despite them being in place since around 2001
- Manufactured baby foods often have “from 4 months” on their packaging, which can be super confusing for parents who are about to start
- Many other countries (including in Europe) recommend earlier weaning ages
- Advice to parents often comes from friends and family, not Registered Nutritionists/Dietitians who are more likely to be up-to-date with latest guidance.
It’s easy to see why many are confused.
On top of that, it’s important that we realise that there are medical situations where a health care professional, such as a GP or a paediatrician, may call for a baby to be introduced to solid foods earlier. e.g. if a baby is at a higher risk of allergies, if a baby has colic or acid reflux than 6 months.
However, ideally this should not be before 4 months of age as babies are very unlikely to be developmentally ready before then.
The reality is however that many parents wean earlier than “around 6 months”. Babies all reach developmental milestones at different paces. They don’t crawl, roll, walk, sit up etc exactly on their 6 months birthday. So it’s not possible to easily see if there are developmentally ready without looking out for a few signs first. That’s why the NHS recommend 3 main signs of readiness for babies (see below), along with their suggestion that a baby is likely to be ready at “AROUND 6 months of age”. Not specifically at 6 months on the dot.
Advice from me?
You know your baby better than anyone, so my advice when it comes to starting solid foods is the following:
Go with your instincts BUT do look out for the main signs of readiness to ensure that your baby is DEVELOPMENTALLY and PHYSICALLY ready to start having solid foods.
If you do decide to offer your baby solid foods a fair bit before 6 months (e.g. 5.5 months or less) then it’s certainly a good idea to have a chat with your Health Visitor and GP FIRST to ensure they also think your baby is developmentally ready.
What does “developmentally ready” mean?
- A baby needs to have the physical abilities to swallow solid foods other than milk. They need to accept solids into the front of their mouth and actively use their tongue to transport food to the back of their mouth where they can then swallow2. This is easier with purees than with finger foods, as finger foods have to be broken down in baby’s mouth first and therefore is part of the reason why finger foods are recommended from 6 months and not before, ideally.
- They also need to have an immune and digestive system that is ready to take more than milk alone and that is ready for a complex set of nutrients and compounds to break down and digest.
- They also need to have the physical ability to hold themselves up enough to self-sit, which will help with the process of swallowing but also allows a focus on hand and arm movement and control, rather than stabalising the trunk3.
3 signs of readiness to wean?
For these reasons, the NHS in the UK recommend that the 3 main signs of readiness for a baby are:
- They can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady.
- They can co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth, all by themselves.
- The baby can swallow food. Babies who are not ready will push their food back out with their tongue, so they get more round their face than they do in their mouths.
What about other signs?
Other signs such as chewing fists, showing a real interest in your foods and seeming to want more milk are other signs that many parents associate with a baby being ready for solid foods. And they might well be signs. However, they can also be signs of other things such as teething, learning or simply having a growth spurt. They are also typical of a baby’s development and other milestones between 4 and 6 months of age.
Ultimately it’s best to look for a combination of the three main signs happening all together on a number of occasions (not just the odd one off) as well as some of the other factors such as an interest in your food and dissatisfaction with current milk.
Hopefully this has helped to answer the all-important question “when is my baby ready for solid foods”.
- COMA Report 45. Weaning and the Weaning Diet. Report on Health and Social Subjects. HMSO, London; 1994.