Ever been confused about weaning, when to start and how to do it? This weekend, the Better Health Start for Life Weaning campaign was launched, aiming to tackle confusion among parents about weaning.
The campaign comes as new research by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) found 40% of first-time mums introduced solid food by the time their baby is five months old, earlier than the NHS recommendation of around six months, and almost two-thirds (64%) say they have received conflicting advice on what age to start weaning.
The campaign includes an online Start for Life Weaning Hub featuring tips, advice guidelines from the NHS all in one place for ease to better support parents and reduce confusion and is backed by experts, including GP Dr Zoe Williams and nutritionist and author Charlotte Stirling-Reed.
When is my Baby Ready for Weaning?
The official NHS guidance recommends solid foods should be gradually introduced from around six months – alongside breast milk or infant formula.
The introduction of solid foods or infant formula before six months can reduce the amount of breast milk consumed and is associated with greater risks of infectious illness in infants.Giving solid foods to breastfed infants before six months may also reduce breast milk intake without increasing total energy intake or increasing weight gain.
Generally, if a baby is showing these three signs, it means they’re ready for weaning:
- They can stay in a sitting position, holding their head steady
- They coordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at food, pick it up and put it in their mouth
- They swallow food, rather than push it back out
By around six months of age, infants are usually developmentally ready to accept foods other than breast (or infant formula) milk.
TV doctor and GP Dr Zoe Williams said of the campaign: “The research released confirms that with so much conflicting advice available, weaning can be a very confusing time for parents. That’s why it’s so important to have all the information and NHS advice in one place.
“For most healthy babies, the easiest way to cut through the confusion is to wait until your baby is around six months old – this gives them time to develop properly, so they can cope with solid foods.
“When you do eventually start, there will be days when your baby eats more, some when they eat less, and then days when they reject everything! Don’t worry – this is perfectly normal.”
Campaign spokesperson and nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed (the nutritionist behind Joe Wick’s ‘Wean in 15’) also spoke about introducing solid foods and the campaign. She aims to promote NHS advice and bring awareness of resources to support first-time mums.
“I know lots of parents may feel nervous and overwhelmed at the thought of introducing their baby to solid foods, but this research just goes to show you’re not alone,” says Charlotte.
“The Start for Life weaning hub is a great tool to make parents feel confident about how to wean their baby.
“It’s so important to teach little ones about food in a fun and relaxed manner as we want them to grow up enjoying mealtimes, so the weaning hub is designed to help parents enjoy this milestone by having lots of helpful advice all in one place.”
Helping Parents With Weaning
Weaning is a key milestone within the first 1,001 critical days, influencing children’s eating habits and their health later in life and improving babies abilities to move food around their mouth, chew and swallow.
Health Minister Maria Caulfield, said: “The first 1,001 days are crucial for development and impact a child’s health for the rest of their life.
“Every child should have a solid foundation on which to build their health and I am determined to level up the opportunities and support for all children, no matter their background or where they grow up.
“This campaign will ensure parents have the support and confidence to introduce their babies to solid food and ensure they have the opportunity to thrive and achieve their full potential.”
The Start for Life Weaning hub also contains over 120 healthy and easy to prepare recipes and meal ideas which cover every step of the weaning journey, such as blueberry porridge and fish curry.
With more than 1 in 4 (27.7%) children being overweight when they reach school age, the Better Health Start for Life Weaning campaign will play a crucial role in supporting parents to get their child’s diet right at the earliest stage, encouraging healthy food variety and developing good food habits.
More Weaning FAQ’s
Saidee Bailey, Director at Perfect Start Pregnancy, talks about the first stages of weaning as she dispels the myths surrounding the subject and offers her expert advice.
What do people mean when they say baby led weaning (BLW)?
Baby-led weaning basically does what it says on the tin. Your baby is in control from day one of weaning, no purées or mush to contend with just suitably sized pieces of food that baby either eats if she likes it or doesn’t if she doesn’t fancy it.
Why is BLW so great?
It is thought that weaning a child in this more natural way promotes the establishment of much less fussy toddlers, lowers the risk of obesity and also the risk of eating disorders in later life.
Are fruits and vegetables the best first foods?
Before most babies hit six months their nutritional needs are met by breast milk and formula (just not in quite the same way), babies do not need vitamins and minerals from food. After the age of six months, baby’s need for additional protein, iron, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin K and the B vitamins increases, however, the best sources of these are not typically fruits and vegetables.
Therefore once weaning is established, baby does need a bit more than the typical gentle weaning foods like carrots and pears. To ensure optimum growth, and protection against deficiencies, mums in the UK should consider weaning to foods like meat and eggs, in addition to the wonderful colours and flavours found in fruits and vegetables. The Canadian government even recommends meat and eggs as standard for baby’s first foods, something the La Leche League have done for some time.
Some babies are at a greater risk of nutrient deficiencies before six months, even if mum is exclusively breastfeeding. Mums who have had pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes, or had a low birth weight/premature, should consider talking directly to a professional before embarking on weaning.
Do babies need water with their meal as soon as they start onto solid foods?
It is generally an accepted rule that formula fed babies should be offered water when solids are introduced, and breast milk-fed (around 88% water) babies, if you are feeding on cue, do not need or are not in any rush to take on extra water with meal times.