Ask all the parents you know this question, and you will get such a wide spectrum of answers, you’ll probably wish you never asked in the first place.
What's the official advice?
There is still some debate about the optimal time to introduce babies to solid food. The AAP Breastfeeding Committee (Policy 115 (2): 496.), the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF strongly recommend exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of life. WHO states that at six months, other foods should complement breast-feeding for up to two years or more. However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has stated that for infants across the EU, complementary foods may be introduced safely between four and six months. Many people, including GP’s and paediatricians often recommend to introduce solid foods between four and six months. However, it’s also know known that an earlier introduction of solid foods before six months does not actually increase a baby’s caloric intake or growth, and the solid foods won’t match the nutritional value of breast and formula milk. Introducing solid food too early will put a strain on your baby's immature digestive system and increase risk of allergies. Therefore, sticking with breast milk or formula milk exclusively until six months will provide your little one with optimal nutrition.
How do I know when my baby is ready?
Most babies will be telling you in a hundred of their own cute, little ways that they are ready for some proper food before they are six months old. So what should you do?
If your precious little one is older than four months, and is showing the following characteristics to you, then they might be telling you that they are ready for that exciting big step to solids!
- He or she can sit up all on their own, and is holding their head all by themselves! This is very important for weaning, because if they can do this unassisted, then they can chew the food and swallow properly with less risk of choking than if they are flopped to one side or leaning against something.
- Loss of the tongue-thrust reflex. Sorry, what?! This is a baby’s natural reflex, which makes them stick their tongue out. It’s there to help them to suck milk and prevents them from choking. This is because the tongue thrust forces objects outwards of their mouth, rather than backwards. This reflex gradually goes away between 4 and 6 months as they develop and grow. If your baby is still doing this, then they might not quite be ready for solid foods, as he or she will automatically push it back out of their mouth (warning: messy).
- Your little monster is watching you eat, all wide-eyed and dribbly. They are gawping at your food with interest as if they would also like to be eating it.Then again, it can be easy to assume your baby is interested in putting food in their mouth, when actually they just like putting everything in their mouth.
- If your chunky monkey is now double their birth weight (or more!)
- If they are telling you that they’re ‘full’ by turning away from breast/bottle. This is actually your baby’s first step in beginning to self-regulate their eating and preventing overeating.
- Some babies who previously slept through during the night may start waking up again sporadically. However, this alone isn’t a reliable indicator and can be because of other developmental phases such as teething, or a growth spurt.
- They can hold an object between their thumb and forefinger. This is also important for your little one, as they are showing that they are developing independent skills to be able to grab and hold food, and to be able to eat it by themselves. This is especially so for baby led weaning, so that your baby can start to feed themselves and learn quickly and naturally
What other things can affect my decision to wean?
As parents, we all know the constant guilt and gut-wrenching worry that we are doing the right things for our baby. It never goes away, no matter how old they get, so you have to learn ways to cope with it. Although no one in the world knows your little one like you do, they will always find ways to surprise you. So be prepared to make mistakes here and there and not overthink them. You are doing your best, and your baby is doing great! Other people (very often our parents) will have their own opinions, and it’s hard not to be completely influenced into starting early when everybody else seems to be doing it.
It’s up to me!
If you really are unsure, then the best thing to do is to pay your GP or paediatrician a visit for a little bit of advice. It’s important not to rush it, if they aren’t sitting up by themselves or they aren’t interested in food, just be patient and enjoy this moment.
So, don’t worry. It will only be a few weeks before they have mastered all those things and are ready and raring to eat! When you begin weaning your baby, you’re making a big commitment to changing your routines and everyday lives, so you need to ensure that you are both ready!