Updated: Aug 13
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 starting feeding her baby who was born around the same time. But 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 that weaning begins 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. If you want to know why the advice is around 6 months and not earlier, you can read more about it here (blog).
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:
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 a baby is ready to start weaning, 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 to introduce foods, it’s always best to speak to a healthcare professional to explore what’s going on.
Good eating habits start from weaning, so if you're about to introduce food to your baby, why not join my online weaning workshop and increase your confidence in building healthy eating habits. You can sign up here. Or if you've been struggling with introducing foods to your baby, send me an email and we can come up with an approach that works for your family.
References & additional reading
Brown, A. (2017) Why Starting Solids Matters.
Llewellyn, C. & Syrad, H. (2018) Baby Food Matters
Naylor, A.J., & Morrow, A.L. (2001) Developmental Readiness of Normal Full Term Infants to Progress from Exclusive Breastfeeding to the Introduction of Complementary Foods: Reviews of the Relevant Literature Concerning Infant Immunologic, Gastrointestinal, Oral Motor and Maternal Reproductive and Lactational Development.
Rapley, G. (2015). Baby-led weaning: The Theory and Evidence Behind the Approach.Journal of Health Visiting, 3(3), 144-151
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