As they grow and become more active though, milk alone will not provide them with all they need and they need more nutrient-dense solid foods.
Weaning isn't just about filling their tummies up, it is also about:
- Laying the foundations for healthy, balanced eating for the years ahead.
- Learning new social skills and becoming more independent – picking up a piece of food and eating it is one of the first things your baby will learn to do for themselves.
- Learning to talk. Chewing and swallowing will help develop the muscles your baby needs for speech development.
When should weaning start?
- It's really important to remember that each baby is an individual and will not necessarily be ready to start weaning at exactly the same time as others.
- In the UK and the Republic of Ireland, it is recommended that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months (26 weeks) of life and solids should then be introduced at around six months.
Why six months?
It is at this point your baby is most likely to be ready developmentally to start on solids.
What if my baby seems ready before then?
Some babies may be ready to start weaning slightly before this and you should consult your health visitor if you think this may be the case with your baby. Weaning should not commence before the end of the fourth month (17 weeks).
Babies do go through growth spurts, when they demand more milk. If your baby is extra-hungry at three or four months, this is probably the case. Do talk to your health visitor for reassurance.
Signs your baby is ready for weaning
Your baby will tell you when they are ready for weaning. Signs to look out for include:
- Your baby can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady.
- Your baby can coordinate their eyes, hand and mouth so that they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouths all by themselves.
- Your baby can swallow food. Babies who are not ready for weaning will push their food back out so they get more round their faces than they do in their mouths.
- Note: It is rare for these signs to appear together before six months.
The role of milk during weaning
Milk continues to play a really important role in ensuring your baby gets all the nutrients they require right the way through early childhood.
How much milk to give
From the start of weaning, your baby should continue to get 500-600ml (about a pint) of breast or formula milk each day up until their first birthday.As the amount of solid food your baby eats increases, the amount of milk they drink will reduce, but remember to make this a gradual process and follow the pint-a-day guide. Your baby can reach this goal by using their usual milk in weaning foods such as with cereals
or in sauces.
Which types of milk are suitable?
- Breast milk is suitable for your baby throughout weaning.
- From six months of age, if you're not breastfeeding, you can give your baby a follow-on milk, such as SMA Follow-on Milk, and from one year a toddler milk such as SMA Toddler Milk as their main drink. These milks are specially formulated with important nutrients such as iron to complement the weaning diet and to help ensure all your baby's nutritional needs are met.
- It is really important that cow's milk is not given as a drink until your baby is 12 months of age. This is because cow's milk has low levels of iron and certain vitamins. It is perfectly acceptable to use it as an ingredient in making up foods for your baby to eat, but it should not be offered as a drink.
- From one until two years of age the cow's milk you give your baby should be full fat whole milk. Semi-skimmed milk should not be introduced until two years and skimmed not until five years.
Foods to avoid
When you start weaning your baby at six months, there are a few foods that are not yet suitable for your baby to try. Have a look at the list below to make sure you know which these are.Talk to your health visitor if you are considering weaning before six months, as there are additional foods you will need to avoid, such as those containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley and oats), fish and eggs as well as the ones below:
- Safely-cooked eggs can be introduced into your baby's diet from six months. However, raw and less well-cooked eggs may still contain salmonella bacteria which can cause food poisoning and should be avoided.
- Peanuts in the form of smooth pastes or spreads can be given to babies from six months unless there is a family history of allergy (asthma, eczema, hay fever as well as food allergy), in which case they should be avoided until three years of age. If you suspect your child may have an allergy, seek the advice of a healthcare professional.
- Whole nuts shouldn't be given to children under the age of five years because of the risk of choking. Chop or grind them instead, or use foods such as tahini and smooth peanut butter.
- Honey should be avoided until your baby is at least one year old as a baby's stomach is still vulnerable to the botulism-causing bacteria that can sometimes be found in honey.
- Cow's, goat's and sheep's milk are not suitable until one year of age, and if you choose to use them at this age, make sure they are pasteurised.
- Paté should be avoided for the first year due to the risk of listeria food poisoning.
- Raw shellfish can be a high food poisoning risk, so you should avoid giving them to babies and young children.
- Mould-ripened soft cheeses, blue vein cheese and unpasteurised cheeses should also be avoided for babies before six months due to the risk of listeria food poisoning.
- Unprocessed bran is not suitable to include in the diet until a child is five years of age, as it can interfere with the absorption of important nutrients.
- Shark, swordfish and marlin are not suitable for babies and children due to possible high levels of mercury contamination in these foods.
- Salt should not be added into your baby's diet and foods high in salt should be given sparingly. A baby's kidneys are still not mature enough to cope with a lot of salt and up until a year their daily salt intake should not exceed 1g/day (this is 1/6th of the recommended adult daily maximum intake).
- Sugary foods should only be given in very limited amounts from one year and sugar should not be added to your baby's food. Sugar contains calories but lacks other nutrients and can have detrimental effects on dental health.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: Breastfeeding is best for babies. Good maternal nutrition is important for the preparation and maintenance of breastfeeding. Introducing partial bottle-feeding may have a negative effect on breastfeeding and reversing a decision not to breastfeed is difficult. You should always seek the advice of a doctor, midwife, health visitor, public health nurse, dietitian or pharmacist on the need for and proper method of use of infant milks and on all matters of infant feeding. Social and financial implications should be considered when selecting a method of infant feeding. Infant milk should always be prepared and used as directed. Inappropriate foods or feeding methods, or improper use of infant formula, may present a health hazard. This is not a breast milk substitute.
Read more like this
About SMA and the SMA careline
SMA's top baby recipes
The four stages of weaning
The benefits of SMA Toddler Milk
The benefits of SMA Follow-on Milk
Mother & baby