Weaning is the process by which babies who were fully reliant on milk are introduced to solid foods.
It starts with the first mouthful of food and ends with the last feed of breastmilk or formula milk (1).
When and how solid foods are introduced is vital to establishing healthy eating habits and limiting fussy eating.
This article provides successful weaning tips, including foods to choose and avoid, proper timing and potential concerns.
Small amounts of solid food can provide these nutrients.
- Sitting up well
- Good head control
- Can hold food in their mouth and is willing to chew
- Can pick up food and put it in their mouth
- Is curious at mealtimes and keen to get involved
It is rare for babies to be ready for solids before 6 months.
If you think your baby is showing signs that they are ready for solids but aren’t yet 6 months old, speak to your pediatrician for advice.
Summary Solids should be introduced at 6 months of age when babies require additional nutrients that cannot be obtained through milk alone.
Weaning is typically divided into two main approaches: traditional and baby-led.
There is no one correct way to start your baby on solids. That said, knowing the advantages and disadvantages of each approach can help you make the best decision for you and your baby.
You can also mix these methods to determine what’s most appropriate.
In this method, babies are encouraged to self-feed from the start. You can introduce solid foods as finger foods and allow your child to explore solids at their own pace.
- It encourages independent eating sooner.
- Babies may be more likely to decide when they are full and less likely to be overweight in the long term ().
- It reduces the need for separate cooking, as family meals are usually appropriate.
- Your whole family can eat together.
- It increases concerns around gagging and choking. However, if offered appropriate foods, your baby’s risk of choking should not be higher than under a traditional approach ().
- It’s difficult to know how much food your baby has eaten.
- It can be messy.
- It may be more difficult to identify food allergies, as several foods are often introduced at once.
In this approach, you feed your baby and gradually introduce it to more solid foods. You’ll begin with smooth purees before moving to mashed and chopped foods, then finger foods and finally small bites.
- It’s easier to see how much your baby has eaten.
- It’s less messy.
- Making separate meals and having to feed your baby can be time-consuming.
- There may be a higher risk of overfeeding, as you might struggle to read your baby’s fullness.
- If babies get too used to smooth purees, it may be difficult to move them to other textures.
Summary Baby-led weaning encourages infants to feed themselves, whereas you feed your child a progressively more solid diet under the traditional method. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages.
First tastes are important for developing good eating habits and exposing your infant to a wide variety of flavors.
When introducing new foods, remember that the amount eaten is less important than the number of foods tried. In the beginning stages of weaning, your baby will still get most of its nutrition from breastmilk or formula.
Try to make this a positive experience for your baby by allowing them to play with, touch and taste new foods.
Around an hour after a milk feed and when your baby isn’t too tired is often a good time to try food. Mixing foods with a little breastmilk or formula milk can improve acceptance.
Appropriate first foods include:
- Soft, cooked vegetables: Broccoli, carrot, potato, sweet potato, butternut squash, pumpkin, peas — pureed, mashed or served as finger food
- Soft fruit: Banana, mango, blueberries, raspberries, avocado, cooked pear or apple, plums, peaches — pureed, mashed or served as finger food
- Cereals: Oatmeal, rice, quinoa, millet — cooked, mashed or pureed to a suitable texture and mixed with a small amount of breastmilk or formula milk
Start with a few spoonfuls or a couple of bites once a day for about a week to gauge whether your baby wants more or less.
New foods can be introduced every day or so, and you can also combine foods. For example, try mixing infant rice cereal with pear — or banana with avocado.
You can also start offering sips of water in a cup to get your baby used to it.
Summary First tastes are all about experimentation and introducing your baby to a wide variety of foods. You can give your infant fruits, baby cereals and cooked, soft vegetables.
Once your baby is around 6 months old and regularly eating solid food, you can offer a wider variety in order to slowly build up to three meals daily.
Make sure to offer different textures and watch for signs that your baby is full.
You can begin including:
- Meat, poultry and fish: Ensure these are soft and easy to manage. Remove any bones.
- Eggs: Make sure they’re cooked well.
- Full-fat dairy products: Plain yogurt and cheese are good options.
- Gluten-containing grains and cereals: Choices include pasta, couscous and barley.
- Pulses: Your baby might like butter beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas.
- Finger foods: Try rice cakes, breadsticks and cooked pasta, as well as soft fruits (banana, pear, mango, avocado) and soft, cooked vegetables (carrot sticks, sweet potato wedges, broccoli).
- Nuts and seeds: Ensure these are finely ground or given as a nut butter. Whole nuts should not be offered to children under 5 years old. Watch closely if there is a family history of nut allergies.
At around 7–9 months, many babies can manage three small meals each day. Try to include a source of protein, carbs and fat at each meal.
At around 9–11 months, many babies can manage family meals cut into small bites. They should also be offered harder finger foods, such as raw pepper, zucchini, apple, carrot, crackers and pita bread.
By this age, most babies can manage three meals daily and possibly a dessert, such as plain yogurt and/or fruit.
At 1 year old, most babies can eat what the rest of the family eats and join family meals. At this stage, many babies can consume three small meals plus 2–3 snacks daily.
Remember that each baby is different — your baby may eat more or less depending on its own needs.
Summary Once your baby is trying various types of food, you can gradually give it more solids. At 12 months, babies should be eating three small meals and a few snacks each day.
Although it’s important that your baby eats a wide variety of foods, there are some foods that should be avoided, including (12, , ):
- Honey: Never give honey to infants under the age of 12 months due to the risk of botulism, a serious form of food poisoning.
- Undercooked eggs: These may contain Salmonella bacteria, which can make your baby ill.
- Unpasteurized dairy products: Pasteurization kills bacteria in dairy products that may cause infection.
- Sugary, salty or highly processed foods or drinks: These usually supply very few nutrients. Sugar can damage teeth, and babies’ kidneys cannot cope with too much salt. Avoid adding salt to family meals.
- Whole nuts: Do not give to babies and children under 5 years due to choking risk. Consult your pediatrician before introducing nut products if there’s a family history of nut allergies or if your child has other allergies.
- Low-fat products: Babies need proportionately more fat in their diet than adults.
- Cows’ milk: You can add cows’ milk in small amounts to foods. However, it should never be used as a main drink or given in large amounts as it does not provide enough iron or nutrients for your baby.
Summary Although it’s important to expose babies to a wide range of foods, there are certain foods you should never give your baby. These include honey, undercooked eggs and whole nuts.
Certain practices can ease the weaning process. Here are a few tips:
- Babies naturally prefer sweeter tastes. Therefore, try to offer vegetables prior to fruit to limit the chances that your baby will reject vegetables.
- Offer plenty of variety. Try to avoid giving the same foods repeatedly. If your baby doesn’t like certain foods, keep introducing it and try mixing that food with a well-liked food until your child becomes familiar.
- Do not force your baby to eat more than they want to, as they usually stop when they have had enough.
- Make mealtimes relaxed and allow your baby to make a mess. This encourages babies to experiment more with food and create a positive association with eating.
- Plan ahead by freezing batches of food in ice cube trays or small containers if you don’t want to cook every day.
- Try to include your baby in family meals. Babies are more likely to eat foods that they see others around them eating (4).
Summary Certain practices can help make weaning more successful, such as including your baby at family meals, offering savory foods before sweet ones and allowing your baby to make a mess.
Although weaning should be fun and engaging, there are a few risks to be aware of.
Although a varied diet is important, there a chance that your baby may be allergic to certain foods.
The risk is much higher if there is a family history of food allergies or if your child has eczema ().
Despite popular belief, there is no evidence that delaying the introduction of certain foods after 6 months of age will prevent allergies ().
Meanwhile, there is some evidence to suggest that introducing almost all foods between 4 and 6 months of age may reduce the risk of allergies and celiac disease (, ).
In fact, several observational studies found that introducing a variety of foods earlier than 6 months may prevent food allergies — especially in higher-risk children (, ).
If you have any concerns about food allergies, be sure to talk to your pediatrician.
Choking can be a significant concern when starting a baby on solid food.
However, it's important to know that gagging is a completely normal part of learning to eat. It acts as a safety reflex to prevent babies from choking ().
Signs of gagging include opening the mouth and thrusting the tongue forward, spluttering and/or coughing. Your baby may appear red in the face.
It is important not to panic or get very anxious when a baby gags.
However, choking is much more serious. It occurs when food blocks the airways, meaning that your baby cannot breathe properly.
Signs include turning blue, silence and inability to make noise. Your baby may also start coughing or — in severe cases — lose consciousness.
Here are some helpful tips to reduce the risk of choking:
- Sit your baby upright while eating.
- Never leave your baby unattended while eating.
- Avoid high-risk foods, such as whole nuts, grapes, popcorn, blueberries and meat and fish that could contain bones.
- Don’t give too much food at once or force-feed your baby.
If your child does choke, you should be aware of appropriate next steps. Taking a first aid course can be helpful.
If you feel that your child is choking and isn’t able to cough up the food, call emergency services immediately.
Summary Food allergies and choking are common concerns during weaning. That said, certain practices — such as introducing foods individually and avoiding certain high-risk foods — can substantially reduce the risk.
Weaning is a vital process in which your baby transitions from breastmilk or formula to food.
Whether you choose baby-led or traditional weaning, or a mix of both, you should begin giving your baby soft fruits, veggies and cereals at around 6 months.
You can then progress to other foods.
Keep in mind that you’ll want to avoid certain foods and keep an eye out for allergies and choking.
To improve the chances of successful weaning, make mealtimes relaxed and enjoyable, allow your baby to make messes and include them in family mealtimes as much as possible.