Current NHS guidelines
Recommend that a baby should only be fed breast milk or infant formula milk up until the age of six months. Health experts agree that six months is the best age for introducing solids. Before this your baby’s digestive system is still developing, and weaning too soon may increase the risk of infections and allergies.
They state that if for some reason a parent wants, or needs, to wean their baby earlier, then four months or 17 weeks is the absolute minimum age to introduce solids.
These guidelines apply to full- term babies and do not apply to babies born prematurely.
Experts at special care baby charity Bliss recommend that babies who are born prematurely should be weaned between the ages of five and seven months (calculating from your baby’s birth date, not the date on which she would have been born if she had reached full term).
Very occasionally a Premature baby may benefit from being weaned before the age of five months, but this should be discussed with your healthcare team first.
If your baby has particular feeding problems, such as reflux, or a medical condition that makes feeding difficult, the health professionals you see may sometimes – but not always – advise to wean before six months.
The change to six months was introduced after Worldwide research endorsed by numerous health bodies, including the Department of Health and the World Health Organization, showed that certain problems could occur.
Details are below:
• Your baby’s risk of developing allergies and infections may increase and she could go on to have digestive problems and obesity later on in life.
• It may affect the amount of nutrients your baby absorbs if you are breastfeeding.
• Your baby’s digestive system and kidneys may not be developed enough to cope safely with solid food.
Foods to avoid before six months old
If your baby is over 17 weeks and you would like to begin weaning, then there are certain foods that you should avoid until she is over six months.
They are as follows:
• Dairy products made with cow’s milk: yoghurts, cheese, fromage frais, etc.
• Citrus fruits, including fruit juice.
• Foods containing gluten: bread, pasta, rusks, etc.
These are in addition to the other foods listed further on in the weaning chapter of my book, that are to be avoided completely while your baby is less than one year.
There are a few signs to let you know that your baby is physically ready, on top of being the correct age:
1: She can stay in a sitting position and hold her head steady. This can be in a high chair, bouncy chair or Bumbo, not necessarily unaided.
2: She can swallow food. Babies discover their tongue from a young age and love nothing more than poking it out all day long. This is called the extrusion reflex. If she is still doing this a lot then it may be more difficult to get the loaded spoon into her mouth!
3: She has good hand–eye coordination. This is more essential from when you begin offering finger foods, unless you plan to wean using the baby- led weaning method.
Some signs that your baby may display but that do not indicate that she is ready for solids based on these reasons alone are:
- Having doubled her birth weight. Many babies have generally done this by six months as a rule of thumb anyway, even most premature babies. Some babies manage to do this long before six months so this is not a reason on which to base the correct time to wean.
- Chewing her hands/fists. All babies do this from around 12 weeks when they develop the hand–eye coordination to be able to purposefully move their hands to their mouths. They are merely exploring their hands, just as they like to explore any rattles or toys that you give them.
- She watches you eat and follows your food. This is just her becoming more interested in anything and everything that moves around her. You wouldn’t offer her a cigarette if she was staring intently at somebody who was smoking, would you? So why offer solids for this reason?
- Wanting extra milk. This could be because she’s having another growth spurt.
- Begins to wake in the night after previously being a good sleeper. This is more likely to be due to teething pain. Contrary to popular belief, weaning your baby will not make her sleep any better if you are already having disturbed nights when you get to the weaning stage.
It is more likely that your baby has slipped into bad habits if she is not sleeping well at night- time, or that she is not getting an adequate amount of milk or sleep during the day to enable her to be settled at night.
If you already have an older baby who hasn’t had a structured feeding and sleeping routine from an early age, then I would advise you look at her feeding and sleeping routine before you resort to weaning, particularly if your baby is under six months, and you are hoping weaning will solve all of your baby’s sleep issues.
It’s important that you ensure she is getting enough milk and sleep, and is able to settle herself to sleep, before beginning to wean.
Weaning will only cause more problems if you don’t, because she may decrease her milk intake, which in turn will affect her sleep even more. A few ounces of milk is more likely to fill her up than a few spoonfuls of purée.
Once you are sure your baby is showing all the signs and is ready to begin weaning then heres wishing you lots of luck. It’s a great experience for you and your baby…
More info on weaning for the first year plus a 15 day start up guide can be found in chapter 6 of The Blissful Baby Expert
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