Weaning

Mother spoonfeeding 6 month old baby"Weaning" is just another name for starting your baby on solid foods. Experts recommend that you start weaning when your baby is six months old if breastfed and 4-6 months old if formula fed. And don’t give your baby any solid foods before he or she is four months old (17 weeks).

If you wean too early, you put baby at risk of developing allergies, especially is there is a history in the family. 

Why wean at 6 months?

The nutritional needs of your baby will change and milk alone will not be enough for your baby. At six months old, your baby will be physically ready to start eating solid foods. He or she will be able to sit up, move food around their mouth and start to chew – with or without teeth! Your baby’s digestive and immune systems will be stronger too. This makes it an ideal time to introduce solid foods.

How long does weaning take?

You should think of weaning as a gradual process - there are several different stages your baby will pass through before they can eat the same foods as the rest of the family. Baby’s first foods will be very soft in texture, and bland in taste. In the very early days, you’re really just trying to get your baby used to eating from a spoon. As time goes on, your baby will take foods with a lumpier texture and a stronger taste. Eventually, your baby should be eating a variety of nutritious foods with the rest of the household.

What foods are best?

It is best to start baby on bland foods such as baby rice. The food should be of a runny consistency. Remember your baby has been used to just drinking milk up to the point so it will take time for baby to get used to the concept of food. Pureed root vegetables such as carrot and parsnip are also popular with babies as are pureed cooked fruits such as apple and pear.

Top tips to get you started 

  • A gentle start! If you can, pick a time when both you and your baby are relaxed to first introduce them to the spoon
  • One at a time. Introduce one food at a time. Allow your baby to get used to this food before starting another
  • Keep it clean. Anything you use to feed your baby needs to be kept very clean
  • Test it yourself. When you’re feeding your baby a warm meal, heat it thoroughly, let it cool, stir it well and then test it yourself before giving it to them
  • Pace it. It takes time for your baby to learn how to move food around their mouth and swallow it, so try not to rush them. Let your baby set the pace
  • Try not to force-feed. Most babies know when they’ve had enough to eat. If you spend too much time persuading your baby to eat, they may start to refuse food as a way of getting attention
  • Let your baby help! At some point, your child will show an interest in feeding him or herself. While it’s a messy business, this is something to be encouraged! Allow your baby to hold one spoon, while you try to spoon in most of their meal with another spoon
  • Be safe. Make sure that an adult is always with your baby when they’re eating. This is to give them encouragement, but more importantly to make sure they don’t choke
  • Cook it yourself. Give your baby food you’ve prepared yourself as often as you can. It’s cheaper than buying jars of baby food and it means your baby will get used to eating like the rest of the family. Don’t add any salt (or sauces containing salt) to food your baby will be eating 
  • Ice-cube trays. Prepare a family meal that’s suitable for baby too (remember not to add any salt). Freeze small portions of the meal in an ice-cube tray for later. Tip: Silicone trays are great as the frozen cubes pop out very easily. The cubes can be then stored in a labelled freezer bag.
  • Safe re-heating. If feeding baby food that has been stored frozen, it must be heated to piping hot to kill all bugs and then allowed cool to before giving to baby 
  • When you feed your baby re-heated food, make sure to throw out any leftovers - it’s not safe to reheat foods more than once 
  • Variety is the spice of life. Over time, offer your baby a wide range of foods that you and your family normally eat. This can help to avoid fussiness later on.

 Anything baby should avoid?

  • Regular cow’s milk is not suitable as a main drink for your baby until baby is one year old. That is because it contains too much salt and protein and not enough iron and other nutrients for your baby. Cows milk can, however, be added to foods to soften them (e.g. mashed potato or cereal) from 6 months onwards. Breast-milk or formula milk can also be added to foods to soften them.
  • Raw eggs: There is a risk to baby of food poisoning from raw or partly cooked eggs. Cook them until both the yolk and the white of the egg are solid.
  • Whole or chopped nuts: Nuts carry a risk of choking for children under five. Crushed or flaked nuts are okay
  • Shark, Swordfish and Marlin: These fish contain levels of mercury that are unsuitable for babies and toddlers.
  • Honey should never be given to babies under one year as there is a risk of botulism poisoning 
  • Added sugar: A baby does not need sugar added to  food. It will only give baby a taste for sweet things and could damage new little teeth 
  • Sugary drinks or fruit juice: The best drinks for babies are milk either breast or formula and water.
  • Salt should never be added to baby's food: Having too much salt can be bad for baby's kidneys. salt page for more information.
  • Gluten: If baby is weaned before 6 months, foods containing gluten should be avoided. Gluten is found in foods such as wheat, oats. Baby rice, fruit and vegetables are gluten free.

Where can I learn more about weaning?

We have a Republic of Ireland leaflet (PDF, 1.2MB) and a Northern Ireland leaflet (PDF, 500KB) which provide useful information on suitable foods for weaning your baby.