Over the years the guidelines as to when to start weaning have changed dramatically. Your parents might tell you how they gave you rusk in your milk when you were only 8 weeks old.
And if you have older children you may remember that mums were advised in the last decade to start weaning when their babies were between 4 and 6 months old.
It is now thought that, in general, babies under 6 months have kidneys and guts that are not mature enough to cope with a more diverse diet and that early weaning can increase the risk of infections and the development of allergies like eczema and asthma.
Babies born pre-term (before 37 weeks of gestation) may not quite be ready to wean at 6 months and therefore it may be best to speak with a health visitor before solid foods are introduced.
Looking out for clues
Some studies suggest that waiting until 6 months gives a baby’s digestive system more time to mature. Having said all that, babies do develop at different rates and the Department of Health advises that if your baby is showing signs of being ready to move on from just breastfeeding or formula before six months then you could try some solids. So keep an eye on your baby at meal times and look out for clues. Your baby is ready to wean if they can:
- Stay in a sitting position and are able to hold their head steady.
- Co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth, can look at food, grab it, and put it in their mouths all by themselves.
- Swallow their food. Babies who are not ready will often push their food back out, so get more around their faces than they do in their mouths.
Don’t rush into weaning your baby. If you wait until your baby is ready they will very quickly be able to feed themselves which means you won’t have to spend as much time spoon feeding them and there will be less mess too! If you’re unsure, have a word with your health visitor.
A couple more things to think about when making the decision to wean early:
- Never start weaning before the end of your baby’s fourth month (17 weeks).
- Never put solids (baby rice, rusk, cereal etc) in your baby’s bottle.
- Remember, if your baby was born pre-term they may not be quite as ready to wean as a full term baby.
- If there is a history of allergies in your family, you may wish to delay the introduction of certain foods. Start out slowly with very basic purees and if you do decide to wean your baby onto solids before six months, don’t give eggs, cheese and dairy products, fish and shellfish, citrus fruits or any foods containing gluten.