Your baby has started giving you that intense stare as you’re tucking into a piece of toast or trying to grab your mug as you drink. They might be putting everything into their mouths and chewing furiously. And a friend has started feeding her baby who was born around the same time. But is it really time to start introducing solids? How do you know if your baby is actually ready to start weaning?
The World Health Organisation and the UK Department of Health both recommend introducing solids at around 6 months of age unless you’ve been advised differently by your healthcare professional. Every baby is different, and these recommendations are just that - recommendations - it’s not possible for national guidelines to take into account your individual circumstances and baby’s development.
However most babies will be developmentally ready around 6 months of age. And when you hit this stage there are 3 key signs to look out for before you start introducing solids:
1. Can sit upright and hold head steady
This is important as it allows baby to remain in an upright position whilst they are eating, enabling them to swallow food and avoid choking. Babies are usually near to 6 months when they can do this well - they might still need a little support in a high chair, with some extra cushioning. If their head is drooping forwards, or they are in a semi-reclined position (such as in a bouncer) then they are more likely to choke and find it difficult to manage swallowing.
2. Has good hand-eye-mouth coordination
This is more than just chewing on objects that they happen to come across, and is actually quite a complex series of smaller events that lead to a baby being able to look at something, pick it up and direct it straight into their mouths. Grasping something with the palm of the hand typically happens between 4 and 6 months, whilst using their thumb and first finger in a pincer grip might not occur until 8 or 9 months. This sign is particularly important when thinking about baby-led weaning, or even offering baby the spoon to feed themselves, so that they have some control over when food goes into their mouths and how much of it they are eating.
3. Is able to swallow food
Sounds obvious, but actually swallowing the food once it is in their mouths is a whole other skill that babies need to develop, and very young babies will just to push out anything with their tongue. This tongue-thrust reflex is thought to be a bit of a safety mechanism to protect babies, and it stays in place until around 4-6 months of age.
There are other signs that can occur around the same time which you might hear talked about as signs of readiness - waking in the night, chewing fists, showing an interest in what you eat, wanting more milk feeds. These are all normal baby behaviours, and I imagine that most babies have done all of the above well before 6 months of age. On their own, they aren’t signs that your baby is ready for you to be introducing solids, but may occur alongside the 3 main signs listed above.
What strikes me from this is that all of the signs seem to develop in the same time frame - around 6 months. They might not appear all at once, and may take a few weeks until you see them all displayed consistently, but once you do, you can be pretty sure that your baby is developmentally ready to have solid foods. The human body is so clever and well designed that it gives us the signs - we just need to take note and look out for them.
If you are seeing all of the signs above and your baby is younger than 6 months, or you aren’t sure whether you should be introducing solids, it’s always best to speak to a healthcare professional to explore what’s going on.
I support parents with introducing solids to their babies, in a way that feels right for them and support good eating habits from the start. I run an online weaning workshop that gives you the confidence to feed your baby, and answers all those questions about what foods are safe to give and how to prepare them so that your baby doesn't struggle. You can sign up here and join other parents, like Fabi, who felt relaxed about introducing solids to her little one.
After the workshop, you'll get access to my FREE private Facebook group, for ongoing support on your weaning journey. You'll be able to get your questions answered by a children's nutritionist and find out what's normal for weaning babies.
I work with a lot of parents who aren't sure when to start weaning, and are confused by all the conflicting advice they've been given. Often mums who have had their own food issues in the past can find it more difficult to approach the idea of introducing solids to their baby as they want to make sure their little one doesn't develop food issues too. Working 1:1 with a children's nutritionist can really be beneficial if this sounds like you - we can spend time building your confidence and easing your anxieties around food. You can book a call with me here and I can help you to really enjoy food with your baby.