One question I get asked more than daily is the following “When should I move my baby from one, to two and three meals a day”.
I also see TONNES of different answers to this question on social media, online and in weaning books too. So I thought I would try and address the answer, from my own experience, knowledge and opinions on here.
It’s no wonder really that families are confused about this. But ultimately, there really is no right or wrong answer. Babies move through weaning at such different paces, some take to food really quickly and may even start reducing their milk intakes earlier on and be on three meals after a few weeks or so of solids. Others are much more gradual, they explore foods slower and may take a while to move from 1-2-3 meals a day.
So the answer, although not black and white, is really to go at your baby’s own pace with meal frequency.
Helpfully, the NHS recommend the following:
“Your baby will gradually move towards eating 3 meals a day (breakfast, lunch and tea), in addition to their usual milk feeds, which may be around 4 a day (for example, on waking, after lunch, after tea and before bed)” in their 7-9 month age section, which is a good, rough guide of a baby’s progress through meals.
How many meals a day should my baby start with?
Ultimately in the beginning it’s about simply offering one meal a day to baby and starting to build in a structure and a routine around when your baby has “meals”. Going straight into 3 meals may be a bit much for a baby, whose digestive system needs a little time to note the change from a milk only diet and when they only really need small amounts and tiny tastes of food.
A gradual progression through the meals is key and this can also help them become familiar with the concept of “mealtimes” which I really find encourages babies to accept solid foods more readily.
Once you find your baby is happy with their single meal each day, they are swallowing a fair bit at each mealtime (sometimes this takes a little longer with BLW babies) and really getting to grips eating solids at mealtimes, it might be time to start building in another meal each day. Check you’re ready too as a parent, as this is important for yours and their confidence too.
This might happen one or two weeks after their first solid tastes, or it might be more like 2 months – that’s OK. However, ideally, by around 9 months of age baby will be eating 3 meals a day – such as breakfast, lunch and dinner with their usual milk in-between. Again, this is just a guide and depends hugely on your baby’s individual circumstances, so don’t worry if you’re not quite there yet.
What about milk intakes?
Milk often causes a lot of controversy around this time too.
Initially offer your little one the SAME amount of milk that you did before weaning began and try (if bottle feeding) to get into a bit of a routine around meals and milk feeds. It can help to leave a gap after a milk feed of roughly an hour to allow baby to build up an appetite, or try offering solid foods BEFORE a milk feed. If you’re formula feeding, responsive feeding is recommended, which essentially means responding to your baby’s AND your body’s needs with regards to when they/you need to feed them.
At the start of weaning you might notice…
A – Baby takes to food WELL and seems to quickly drop their milk intakes
B – Baby is less keen on food and seems to prefer having their milk feeds
These scenarios are both very common. In A, keep offering the same amount of milk to baby as they may come back to it once they’ve regulated their appetite around their new solid feeds. Additionally, you can add your expressed milk, your formula milk or even full fat cow’s milk (as long as baby isn’t allergic to it) into baby’s food as a top up on the milk.
In scenario B it’s important that baby still learns that food is part of their diet alongside milk. It’s not true that food before one is JUST for fun, food is an important part of a baby’s diet from 6 months from a nutrition and a learning standpoint. Try to establish a bit of a routine around solids, eat with your baby as much as possible, offer food in different ways (some mashed and some finger foods can help this way to allow baby the independence around how they want to eat initially) and keep up with a variety of options to. Sometimes it takes babies a little longer to get there and that’s OK. My free factsheet, My baby isn’t taking to weaning, might also reassure you in this case.
How much milk?
The NHS recommend that around 7 months of age babies should be having roughly 600mls of formula milk, which drops to around 400mls by 10 months of age – that’s a good guide of how much your baby should be taking and may coincide with them gradually eating larger portions and an increased number of meals too.
Check out my blog on Milk Recommendations for Babies and Toddlers for more info on this.
Ultimately, go at your baby’s own pace. If they seem ready and keen to have more solids, go with the flow. If they are a little reluctant, give them time and practice lots of role modelling and making mealtimes enjoyable too.