How do I know if my baby is ready to wean?

Weaning Illustrations 0029 Sitting Baby

Find out about the important signs to look out for when preparing to wean your premature baby.

The most important thing to look out for before weaning is signs that your baby is ready. Every baby is an individual and will be ready at different stages, especially if they were born early. Here are some important signs to look out for.

See if your baby can…

Support themselves in a seated position. Premature babies might need extra support

Hold their head in a stable position

Show an interest in other people eating

Lean forward and open their mouth towards a spoon or food

Put things to their mouth and make munching, up and down movements

Your baby might show one of these signs first, but it is recommended to wait until you see a few before starting weaning.

Your baby needing more milk, or needing more feeds in the night is not necessarily a sign that they are ready to wean. This could be a growth spurt.

You do not need to wait for your baby to have teeth or reach a certain weight before weaning.

Some health professionals say that four months corrected age is the youngest age a premature baby should be weaned.

This is because they might not be ready for anything other than milk before this time. It is also because premature babies do not often show these signs of being ready before this time.

There are different opinions about the best age range to wean a premature baby. Some health professionals say that premature babies often show these signs that they are ready for more solid foods somewhere between five to six months corrected age.

Remember – your baby will show you when they are ready. Because all babies develop differently, your baby might show these signs at different stages to others, especially if they were born early.

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Order our info card on weaning a premature baby, designed especially for unit discharge packs.

What I get asked the a speech and language therapist

When can I start weaning my baby? I feel like I'm getting lots of different advice about when to start.

"The short answer is there is no magic date or age. There are a number of things to look for that will help you decide when your baby may be ready. Watch your baby for readiness cues as they mature and develop.

"As with any new skill you will notice babies have different styles and ways of learning. Some are happy to open their mouth and have a spoonful of food put in, others like to be in control, touching and feeling food first before they put it in their mouth, and some like a mixture of both. Learning to eat is about exploring, experimenting and becoming more independent.

"You know your baby's personality best. So start slowly, respond to their cues and give them the opportunity to show you what they are ready to do."

From Annie Aloysius

Is it possible to start weaning too early or too late?

Research appears to suggest that introducing lots of different foods to your baby before four months (17 weeks corrected age) can mean an increased risk of them developing eczema. This is a skin condition causing it to become itchy, red, dry and cracked.

If you are concerned about weaning your baby and the risks of eczema, you should talk to your GP, health visitor or consultant.

If you wait until after six months corrected age, some health professionals believe you may miss a good time for your baby to begin developing key skills.

Some health professionals suggest that babies are more willing to try new flavours and textures between five and six months corrected age. After this time, they might be less willing to try. In fact, some research suggests that premature babies might be more willing to try new foods than term babies.

Some health professionals believe that waiting too long to wean your baby may have negative effects on their development and growth. This could be because the baby needs more nutrients, or because they need to learn skills involved in eating, like hand and mouth coordination, or using their mouth and tongue in different patterns to use cups and spoons.

As we have mentioned, there is not very much research on weaning premature babies. It is important to remember that you know your baby best.

Trust your instincts and work with your health professional to find the right time to wean for you and your baby.

What I get asked the a Consultant Paediatrician

How can I maintain breastfeeding until I wean my baby?

"Babies feed more as they get older. Whether you are breastfeeding or giving your baby formula, it is really important that milk feeds continue during and after the introduction of more solid foods. This is to make sure that your baby continues to get enough nutrients and energy.

"If you are finding regular breastfeeding hard, especially as your baby feeds more, you can talk to your health visitor or another health professional. They will be able to give you specific advice about how you can continue to breastfeed, for as long as it feels right and possible for you and your baby. You can also find support from NHS Start4Life."

From Keith Foote