2. Getting started with weaning

Hero image mum and baby

Find out how you can tell if your baby is ready to start weaning, how you can begin weaning together, and how they should be sitting.

How do I know if my baby is ready to begin weaning?

Every baby will be ready to start weaning at a slightly different time. It is helpful to look at your baby's cues.

Wait until you see three or four of these cues before you try weaning:

1. Your baby can sit up by themselves, needing only a little support.
2. They can hold their head up easily and keep it upright while sitting.
3. They explore objects with their fingers, hands, and mouth.
4. They reach and grasp for food and/or open their mouth when food is offered.
5. They are beginning to bite and chew toys.

You know your baby best, so trust your instinct, go slow and go steady. They have learned so much in such a short space of time. You and them are a team. You have got this!

Dolly, mum to her son, born at 31.5 weeks

Mistaken cues

The following behaviours are sometimes mistaken as cues that your baby might be ready to begin weaning. However, there is no evidence to suggest that they are cues, so it is best not to use them:

  1. Your baby is drinking more milk - this may be a sign they are going through a growth spurt and need more milk rather than solids. It's OK to give more milk when your baby asks for it.
  2. Waking up more at night - this may also be a sign of a growth spurt (see point above) or moving to a new developmental stage. Studies show that weaning doesn’t help babies sleep longer at night.
  3. Your baby reaches a certain weight - there is no specific weight that your baby needs to be to start weaning.
  4. Your baby has teeth - there is huge variation in the age at which babies’ teeth come through but this is not connected to their readiness for solid food.

Important dates

Around five months corrected age is the youngest age a premature baby may show cues that they are ready to begin weaning. Before this time, they probably won’t have developed all the skills they need to eat solid foods.

By around six months corrected age many babies are ready to begin solid foods. Go by your baby’s cues and if they are not ready by this time it’s OK to leave it another week or two. If your baby is still not showing readiness cues to wean by seven months corrected age, contact your Health Visitor for advice.

Good to know

Young babies often show an interest in other people eating before they are ready to start weaning themselves. If this happens before 5 months corrected age it is not a useful cue, but after 5 months corrected age, it can help to show that your baby is ready to start weaning.

How do we start weaning?

It's helpful to choose a time in the day when your baby is well rested and calm - a good time can be after a nap. If they are tired, or unwell, they may not be able to cope with something new like weaning. Also, if they are too hungry they may get frustrated, so a little while after a milk feed may be a good time. Make sure you have plenty of time.

Try to be somewhere without lots of distractions. This will help you and your baby to focus on learning about eating together.

Your baby will be learning lots of new things when they are weaning so it helps if they can concentrate. If there are many other things happening in the room this can distract them so they lose their concentration.

It is helpful if you can keep a calm atmosphere in the room, put your phone to one side, and switch off the television and other screens so you can give your baby your full attention.

Exploring food is an important part of learning about how to eat it. Offer your baby some food to touch, smell, and taste during the mealtime.

By ‘offering’ we mean ‘put on your baby’s plate’ so they can pick it up and explore it. They may do this by:

  • looking at it
  • feeling it with their hands
  • and finally, trying some in their mouth.

The early stages of weaning can be messy, so be prepared by eating somewhere where mess and spills are OK, or putting down a towel or plastic mat that you can clean up easily later.

It is best for you and your baby to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting food on. A soft silicone bib with a pocket can be useful as it can catch the food before it goes on the floor.

Good to know

Wait until the end of the meal to clean your baby's face and hands.

It doesn’t matter if your baby has a bit of food on their face during the meal. In fact, it is important for the development of your baby’s senses to feel food on their hands and face during a mealtime. If their face and hands are wiped often during a meal this can be a distraction when they really want to be involved in the food. It could also make them upset if they are hungry and want to eat.

Whether you start weaning by offering spoonfuls of smooth food or encourage your baby to try feeding themselves is a matter of choice. Both methods are discussed below in the section on textures.

Remember: Always stay and watch your baby while they eat to ensure they are safe.

There is no need for complicated equipment or expensive gadgets. It is good to keep in touch with other parents during weaning to share tips on how to prepare food simply with usual kitchen equipment. You can join our peer-support group on Facebook for advice from other parents.

I think one of the biggest things to remember is that every prem baby does things in their own time. Some may be ready earlier than others and that's completely normal.

Fiona, mum to Niamh, born at 28 weeks, Conor born at 29 weeks, and Aoife, born 33 weeks.

How should my baby be sitting for weaning?

Once you think it is time to start offering your baby solid food, there are several ways to support them with seating. When sitting it is important for them to have their body straight and head upright. Also, if possible, it is good for your baby to be at the same level as other people so they can watch others eating.

Before your baby can sit on their own, you can put a rolled-up towel around their trunk (middle) to help them stay upright, or support them firmly on your lap.

The importance of sitting or being supported to sit when weaning:

  • It allows your baby to reach their hands out in front of them and bring them together, which is important for picking up objects including food.
  • It helps your baby to see what others are doing because watching and copying is an important part of learning.
  • Being upright and able to look round at other people helps babies to learn about communicating with others.
  • Once your baby can sit in a highchair, you can face them during the meal to watch and help them eat.
  • Being upright makes eating safer and reduces the risk of choking.

If you have your baby sitting on your lap, it is best to:

  • Make sure their back is supported against your body.
  • Support their middle so they can keep in an upright position.
  • Let them explore food on the table/plate in front of them with their hands, they probably won’t be eating much food at this stage.

Good to know

Term babies can often sit at around five-six months whereas preterm babies usually take a month or two longer. However, if your baby is not able to sit by themselves by seven-eight months corrected age (without a towel or you to support them) ask your Health Visitor or GP for advice.