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Weaning is an exciting time for you and your baby. At six months, you can finally start introducing them to the world of solid foods. You’ll still need to give them breastmilk or formula breast milk and feed your baby responsively until they are at least a year old. After that you can give them normal full fat milk. You may continue to breastfeed your baby for as long as you wish.

Learning to eat

Just as your baby started being able to feed from the breast or bottle so he or she will develop and become ready to eat solid food. This is a gradual process and shouldn’t be rushed. The key to this is to be patient, and to follow your baby’s cues to allow them to develop. Keep encouraging them to try a wide range of different foods, until they get used to them. Try not to give up if they don’t like something first time around, sometimes it can take many goes before they get used to the flavours and textures.  By their first birthday, your baby should be enjoying the same food as the rest of the family, but you need to maintain caution on sugar and salt levels. Developing a healthy approach to eating from the very start will improve their health for the rest of their life.

When to start weaning

At about six months old, your baby might start showing signs that they’re ready to start eating solid food. Being able to sit up and hold their head steady, good hand eye coordination, and being able to look at food, pick it up, and put it in their mouth – are all signs that your baby might be ready. Waking up in the middle of the night however, is not necessarily a sign of hunger, and eating solid foods won’t help your baby sleep through more if they’re not already. Milk has many more nutrients for babies than any of the types of foods you can give them before 6 months, so starting solids early will not help them to sleep longer or return to sleeping through the night.

Weaning at six months: the advantages

Medical evidence now suggests that waiting until six months can have great health benefits.

  • It’s enough time for your baby's digestive system to develop enough to cope with solid foods.
  • Chewing skills are more developed, so your baby can have mashed foods, before moving on to food with lumps and bumps. You can also add in some soft finger foods, like bread soldiers
  • Chewing develops facial muscles which are later used for talking

You’ll also find there are more practical benefits if you wait until your baby’s six months old. Having more control over their body will mean they’ll be able to sit up in a high chair, which makes feeding so much easier.

Weaning early: the issues

Giving your baby solid foods before six months is not recommended. But if your GP or health visitor has said to do this sooner, there are some foods to avoid. Also, babies under four months should never be given solid food, as they will not be able to digest it and it contains less nutrients.

If you decide to wean earlier, here are some things to remember:

  • Younger babies need puréed foods and certain foods need to be avoided
  • All food will need to be puréed to a completely smooth, thin consistency until your baby is six months old
  • This may make it more difficult for them to progress onto mashed food, or food with lumps and bumps
  • If you wean at under six months, you’ll need to make sure your baby is well supported in a baby chair, your lap, or that they’re sitting up supported by cushions on the floor

How to start weaning

The best way to start weaning is by finding a pace that suits both you and your baby. It’s better to build up gradually from one ‘solid’ feed a day at first, to breakfast, lunch, tea and snacks by the time your baby’s between 9 and 12 months. Some babies will take longer to do this than others and you need to maintain the amount of fluids and milk they get, alongside solid foods.

You might have tried some of these already, but here’s a list of our handy hints:

  • Find a time that suits you: It’s best not to give your baby solid food immediately before their regular milk feed – you don’t want to fill them up and reduce their milk intake, as it’s important that milk is the main part of their diet until they’re a year old.
  • Choose a time when they’re awake and alert, but not expecting a milk feed: An hour or two after their morning milk feed at breakfast or the middle of the day can work well.
  • Be safe and comfortable: At around six months, your baby will be able to support themselves enough to sit in a high chair, safely strapped in. Don’t leave them alone in their high chair, or leave them to feed herself – there’s a very real danger that they could choke.

Other things that you can do to prevent choking are:

  • Remove any stones or pips
  • Halve or chop small fruit; e.g. cherry tomatoes, grapes
  • Cut large fruit into slices rather than chunks.

 

Ask your health visitor for advice on how to deal with choking. If your child has special needs and you need expert advice, ask to speak to a speech and language therapist.

Spitting and refusing

When you first introduce solid food to your baby, it’s a completely new experience for them. As well as the unexpected taste and texture, they have to learn to move the food around their mouth and swallow it. Many babies initially react by spitting their first mouthfuls of food straight back out again! Don’t worry, this is very normal, and you should gently keep trying every few days until they get the hang of it. They’ll need to try different flavours repeatedly before they get used to them.

Your baby's appetite

Healthy babies know their own appetite, so just a few teaspoons of food may be enough to begin with. Never force your baby to eat if they don’t want to, and contact your health visitor if you’re worried.

What to start with

A 6 month year old baby can start with mashed food or finger food, like cooked carrot sticks, broccoli, cauliflower florets, or pieces of peach.

You don’t have to buy any special foods for weaning your baby – lots of everyday foods are just fine. Remember not to add any sugar or salt to your baby’s food – salt can damage their kidneys.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Baby cereal mixed with your baby’s usual milk
  • Well-cooked vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, carrot, parsnip or cauliflower
  • Well-cooked scrambled or mashed boiled eggs
  • Peeled, mashed or small pieces of soft banana
  • Peeled, cooked fruit, such as apple or pear

What can my baby eat?

The table below shows foods which are unsuitable for babies under 6 months, and tells you when they may be introduced. It’s important you don’t introduce any of these foods before 6 months, in case your baby has an allergic reaction.

After 6 months you may gradually introduce these foods, one at a time, checking for any reaction. If you think your child is having an allergic reaction, you should seek urgent medical attention. 

Common symptoms of an allergic reaction include one or more of the following: coughing; dry, itchy throat and tongue; itchy skin or rash; diarrhoea and/or vomiting; wheezing and shortness of breath; swelling of the lips and throat; runny or blocked nose; sore, red and itchy eyes.

Cows’ milk is not a suitable drink for babies under one year old. Full fat cows’ milk can be added in small amounts to weaning foods from six months. Cows’ milk does not give all the nutrients that children aged under one require. It’s also low in iron and high in sodium, and lacks the essential energy levels that babies under one need.

Click on an item below to find out details on when they can be introduced:

Dairy products

(Includes cheese, plain fromage frais, custard, milk sauces and plain yoghurt.)

Not recommended for babies under 6 months.

For babies over 6 months - Cows' milk may be used in cooking but not to drink until at least one year old. Goat's and sheep's milk is not suitable for under 12 months and must be pasteurised after 12 months.

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Cereals that contain gluten

(For example: wheat, rye, barley and oats. Avoid rusks, pasta, bread, flour, and breakfast cereals containing gluten, including porridge)

Not recommended for babies under 6 months.

Suitable for babies over 6 months.

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Follow-on-formula, second-stage formula

Not recommended for babies under 6 months.

For babies over 6 months - Not recommended or needed, continue breastfeeding or using first formula as there is no medical or nutritional benefit

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Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit) and juices

Not recommended for babies under 6 months.

For babies over 6 months - Juices should be provided in a 50:50 dilution and kept to meal times.

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Soft berries (raspberries and strawberries)

Not recommended for babies under 6 months.

Suitable for babies over 6 months.

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Fish and shellfish (for example prawns)

Not recommended for babies under 6 months.

For babies over 6 months - Children under 16 years should avoid eating shark, marlin and swordfish.

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Eggs

Not recommended for babies under 6 months.

For babies over 6 months - Eggs can be eaten, ensure they are always well cooked.

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Peanuts or food containing peanuts e.g. peanut butter

Not recommended for babies under 6 months.

For babies over 6 months - Yes, peanuts can be eaten.

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Whole nuts and seeds

Not recommended for babies under 6 months.

For babies over 6 months - Yes, only nut pastes or betters or finely chopped to avoid choking. Not whole peanuts or nuts.

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Soya products (for example tofu, soya yoghurt)

Not recommended for babies under 6 months.

For babies over 6 months - Yes, soya can be eaten.

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Liver and liver products (for example pate)

Not recommended for babies under 6 months.

For babies over 6 months - Yes, liver can be eaten.

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Honey

Not recommended for babies under 6 months.

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Feeding and allergies

Babies are more likely to develop allergies if there’s a family history of eczema, asthma or hay fever. If you’re concerned your baby might develop a food allergy, it’s a good idea to introduce them to foods that are most likely to cause food allergies one at a time. Just make sure you start with a small amount, and not before your baby is six months old. These foods are: whole nuts, nuts, seeds, egg, milk, soya, wheat (and other cereals that contain gluten such as rye, barley and oats), fish and shellfish and any other milk other than breast milk or infant formula.

If your baby develops an obvious reaction just after eating a food for the first time, for example, swelling or redness around the lips, you should report it to your health visitor or GP who will advise on whether any further investigations or precautions are necessary.

A severe and immediate allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis, which requires urgent medical care, is obvious. Medical staff will advise on how to check for possible causes and avoid repeat episodes. Some foods, such as honey, should be avoided altogether until your baby is over 12 months old.

Sometimes mothers remove foods from their baby’s diet for various reasons. This is not always wise. It’s always better to talk things over with your health visitor or GP before making any substantial changes to your baby’s diet.

You may have heard the previous advice to avoid giving a child foods containing peanuts before three years of age, if there was a history of allergy in the child’s immediate family (such as eczema, hayfever, food allergy or other types of allergy). The advice has now changed because the latest research has shown that there is clear evidence to say that introducing eggs and peanuts as soon as you start weaning will reduce the chances of your child developing a peanut or egg allergy. If your child already has a known allergy, such as a diagnosed eczema or a diagnosed food allergy, you should talk to your GP, health visitor or medical allergy specialist before you give eggs, peanut or foods containing peanuts to your child for the first time. 

If you’re introducing nuts, peanuts or seeds from six months, they should be in paste form or very finely chopped to avoid choking.

For the most up-to-date advice on weaning your baby, ask your health visitor for a copy of the revised NHS Health Scotland leaflet, Fun First Foods. This booklet helps parents to introduce foods in a way that suits their child. It provides tips, advice, recipes and information on weaning.

Ready prepared foods

Baby foods can be expensive to use every day, although it’s possible to get healthy and interesting products. Read the label to check for added sugars, these may be in the form of concentrated fruit puree or fruit juice. Also check for starch and water – both bulk out the food but add little in the way of nutrition. Some babies who have a lot of pre-prepared ‘baby food’ which is mostly pureed, take a while to get used to ‘real’ food with its variety of tastes, textures and lumps.

Organic food

Some sources indicate that organic food may be better for us and so for our babies. But it’s still not clear whether organic food is actually healthier, and it’s certainly more expensive. Whatever you choose, it makes sense to buy the best and healthiest food you can afford.

Vegetarian diets

Babies do not need meat or fish to stay healthy, but you need to make sure they’re getting enough protein, iron and other nutrients from the rest of their diet. Make sure they get a good variety of foods, including pulses, eggs, milk, grains and cereals.

Vegan diets

A lot more care needs to be taken with a vegan diet, which cuts out animal products such as eggs and milk. Although it is possible for your baby to develop healthily on such a diet, you should ask your health visitor or GP to arrange for you to speak to a dietician if you’re thinking of weaning your baby onto a vegan diet.

Feeding your growing baby

After 6 months, you can start introducing your baby to foods they can pick up and eat by themselves. Some babies seem to enjoy food better this way – they prefer picking things up and feeding themselves to taking food from a spoon. Getting your baby to feed themselves can also make weaning easier.

Here are a few suggestions for finger foods – all should be cut up into a shape and size your baby can hold easily to chew, gnaw or suck at:

  • Slices of bread, toast, chapatti or naan
  • Slices of eating apple or pear
  • Sticks of carrot or celery (part boiled)
  • Tiny sandwiches with grated cheese, cottage cheese or mashed banana
  • Fingers of cheese on toast or pizza
  • Cubes of cheese
  • Cooked pasta shapes
  • Cooked vegetables
  • Grapes, which should be cut in half to reduce the risk of choking

Well cooked eggs and peanut butter are also suitable for weaning. Your child should try them on early on in the weaning process to prevent allergies.

Vitamins

Ask your health visitor about vitamins for you and your baby. It is recommended that babies and young children have vitamin drops (A, C and D). If you qualify for Healthy Start (external website), you can receive these vitamin drops free of charge.

More information

For more information about weaning, you can speak to your Health Advisor, or you can visit FeedGood for more information on feeding.

This article was created as part of 

Last updated: 8 Nov, 2018


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