Learn the signs that your baby is ready to move from milk feeds and onto solid foods, as well as some tips to help their weaning journey go smoothly.
If you're curious about how you can tell that your baby is ready to start eating pureed or solid foods, we've got the answers! Read on for tips on how to start weaning.
When to start weaning off breastfeeding and bottle feeds
Exclusive milk feeds are recommended for the first six months of a baby’s life. From that point, you can continue to offer breast milk or bottle feeds alongside complementary foods. If you want to stop breastfeeding altogether, you can wean your little one off breast milk and replace it with formula, water, and solid or pureed foods.
If you start weaning away from breastfeeding when your baby is younger than 12 months old:
- Give them infant formula instead of breast milk feeds.
If you start weaning away from breast milk when your baby is aged 12 months or older:
- Give them whole cow’s milk or a fortified plant-based alternative in place of breast milk feeds. Babies shouldn’t drink cow's milk from a cup until the age of 12 months.
Signs your baby is ready to start weaning
It's good to be aware that some normal baby behaviors, such as wanting extra feeds or chewing their fists, aren't usually indicators that a baby is ready to start weaning. While weaning timelines vary from one baby to the next, you can look out for some tell-tale signs to know if your little one is ready to start eating purees or solid foods.
- sit upright without your support?
- hold and grasp onto things?
- bring food to their mouth with good hand-eye coordination?
- show an interest in food and copy you when you eat?
- swallow food instead of spitting it back up?
If your baby is doing the above, then it’s a good sign that they’re ready to start weaning.
How long does weaning take?
Weaning can take days, weeks, or months. It starts when a baby begins to eat food other than milk and finishes when they no longer have milk feeds. It can be baby-led or mom-led and is a very personal process that’s different for everyone.
How to start weaning
Before you begin weaning, there are a few steps you should consider.
Get everything you need ready
Try to stock up on the baby weaning essentials before you start. These include:
- A breast pump to express breast milk and help your boobs stay comfortable as you move away from breastfeeding.
- A supportive highchair (always make sure that your baby is safely seated in an upright position in their highchair and is alert while eating).
- Baby-safe tableware and cutlery.
- Bibs and long-sleeved bib suits to catch any spills.
- A blender or baby food maker so you can make baby food at home.
Find a weaning style that works for you
The truth is, there's no right or wrong way to wean! The most important thing is that you choose a method that’s right for you and your baby.
There are a couple of different approaches to weaning a baby:
- Some parents opt for traditional weaning and offer purees and mashed food until their little one's teeth appear.
- Some go for the baby-led weaning approach – when the baby takes the lead and feeds themselves!
- And some use a combination of the two – a mix of spoon feeding and BLW (baby-led weaning).
It’s all about finding what works best for you, your baby, and your lifestyle.
Pick some suitable weaning foods
When you first start weaning, it’s a good idea to begin by offering your baby soft or pureed fruit and veg. You can then move on to chopped soft batons that are around the size and shape of an adult finger. These should be sturdy enough to be held, but soft enough to be squashed. These are known as finger foods, and it’s a good idea to move through different finger foods gradually so that your baby has time to learn new mealtime skills.
You should always consider your little one's safety when choosing weaning foods to lower the risk of choking. You can make their weaning experience as safe as possible by chopping and preparing foods as needed to make them safe.
Remember to remove tough skins, seeds, pips, and peels. You should also quarter any round and small food items, like grapes, strawberries and cherry tomatoes. It’s also a good idea to learn how to spot the difference between choking and gagging when introducing solid foods.
What are the three stages of weaning?
When you start weaning, your baby will progress through different stages as they learn new skills and discover new foods and flavors.
Stage one from six months
From six months, babies should be given a small amount of food before or after a milk feed and at a time when they're likely to not be too hungry or tired. These foods can include soft sticks or florets of vegetables like broccoli, soft fruits, and natural yogurt.
It’s a good idea to offer purees or soft finger foods just once a day to start with. You can also begin to introduce foods that have the potential to trigger allergic reactions, such as nuts, around this age. It’s important to do this in small amounts and introduce them one at a time (leaving around a two to three-day gap), so you’re able to monitor any reactions.
Stage two from seven to nine months
During these months you can:
- introduce a wider range of tastes and textures by offering lumpier foods that are flavored with herbs and spices. (Avoid adding extra salt and sugar to your baby’s meals, though.)
- start to work towards offering three meals a day
- include iron rich-foods in their meals, like legumes, dark leafy green, and whole grains
- give your little one milk feeds responsively
Stage three from 10 months to one year
By this age, your little one will be able to chew food properly. They'll also begin to develop a pincer-like grip that helps them pick up smaller pieces of food.
Between 10 and 12 months, you can continue to offer milk feeds responsively, while giving your baby three meals a day. This can include a range of family foods – not only will this make baby feel included in mealtimes, but can also save you time on meal prep.
Helpful weaning tips
So, we've covered what weaning is and how you can start weaning your baby. Let's wrap up with some of our top weaning tips for moms and dads.
- Ask your midwife or a Lactation Consultant for advice on how to wean away from breastfeeds if you're struggling with the process.
- Make sure you still give your little one lots of one-on-one time to comfort them during the process of moving away from breastfeeds.
- To make the process of weaning off breastfeeding easier, spread it over several weeks or more. You'll find that as you gradually stop breastfeeding, your boobs will start producing less breast milk, and eventually, they'll stop making it altogether.
- The truth is, mess is a BIG part of weaning and happens as a baby explores new textures and learns to use their hands and mouth in new ways – so let your baby get a little messy!
- Eat your meals when you offer your baby their food to lead by example.
- Sit your baby at or close to the table in their highchair so they feel included during mealtimes.
- If one weaning method isn't working well for you, don’t be disheartened. It's ok to branch out and try something new like different finger foods or offering food on a spoon.
- A baby can sometimes need to taste a new food up to 10 times to decide if they dislike something or not, so continue to offer foods even if they don't seem to like them. Never force them to eat something, though, and stop if they’re shutting their mouth, turning away, or arching their back.