When is the best time to start weaning?
With thanks to Sarah Almond-Bushell, MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD, MBDA, Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist
I’m sure you will have heard 6 months but actually that’s only half the story. Because each and every baby is different, they all develop at their own rate and so 6 months is only the ‘average’ age to start weaning. The actual guideline says ‘around’ 6 months.
What you need to look out for are three signs of being developmentally ready. Once all three are there, you know your baby is ready for solid food. For most babies this coincides with their 6 month ‘birthday’.
The three signs to look out for are:
- A steady base – this means they can sit up well and hold their head steady.
- Have good hand eye coordination. This means that they can bring toys up to their mouths to explore.
- The absence of the tongue thrust reflex. This is when their tongue doesn’t stick out when they bring a toy to their mouths.
My baby is showing all the signs and she’s only 4 months, should I start?
You can if you want to, however when you say 4 months she must be more than 17 weeks old. Research has shown that weaning before 17 weeks of age can cause a host of medical problems and shouldn’t happen.
But what if you get to 6 months and they still aren’t showing the three signs of readiness? Well this is where you might want to have a chat with your health professional. Because the nutritional stores your baby was born with will have run out, we nearly always advise you to start weaning anyway. This is because breast milk and formula alone are no longer nutritionally sufficient.
You’ll need to start with smooth purees and shouldn’t attempt baby led weaning as you really need those three developmental milestones to have been reached for non pureed foods as they present a choking hazard.
What happens if you start weaning before they are developmentally ready?
Your baby will likely push most of the food back out if their tongue thrust reflex is still there, or she might struggle to grab foods and bring them towards her mouth if she hasn’t yet mastered hand-eye coordination. They may seem uninterested in weaning, or they might get frustrated and cry. It’s not a problem, and it’s quite OK to stop and come back to it in a few weeks time.
I had this exact situation with my daughter. We were advised to start weaning at 17 weeks due to faltering growth caused by severe eczema and reflux. She clearly wasn’t ready, she couldn’t move the food round her mouth, her tongue kept pushing the spoon away and she got frightfully upset. We just stopped and came back to it at 26 weeks, and even then she still wasn’t 100% ready.
I have a handy checklist that contains three single activities you can do with your baby at home to see if they are developmentally ready. If you’d like a copy delivered directly to your inbox, here’s the link: https://the-childrens-nutritionist.ck.page/ready-for-weaning
Sarah is a NHS Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist with over 20 years of experience. She advises on weaning babies, managing toddler fussy eating and help parents improve their children’s diets whether they have food allergies, constipation, weight issues, or just want to be healthier. She often writes for Mother & Baby or The Guardian or Made for Mums, and is an expert consultant for many baby feeding brands and nurseries.
You can sign up for a free Weaning Week workshop with Sarah on Wednesday 6th May here
Disclaimer: The views and advice given in this article are those of the guest writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Weaning Week or any other organisations represented on this platform