Weaning: do most parents introduce solids earlier than six months?

Deciding when to wean your baby off milk and on to solids is, like most parenting decisions, an absolute minefield. Annie Ridout couldn’t decide whether four and a half months was too young for grub, so she asked The Early Hour readers for their advice…

When looking for reasons your baby isn’t sleeping – every parent will do this at some stage – something that often pops up is: he may be hungry for more than milk. This will start from the age of about four months and last until he’s six months (if you follow NHS guidelines and wait until then to introduce solids).

As a parent, you’ll be torn between following the official guidelines, going with your own instinct and listening to your mum as she suggests what he needs is a good steak and chips. And what’s probably right is to pay attention to the health and nutrition experts, then go with your gut. No one knows your baby like you do; certainly not a generic website.

So when my son, aged four-and-a-bit months started waking every few hours at night, when he’d been sleeping from 7pm-4/5am for a while, I wondered if he might be ready for weaning. He was 10lb at birth and is now a very big baby. Does that mean he’s hungrier? I asked the older women in my life and they said yes. So I gave him some pureed broccoli and whatdayouknow? He slept through.

But then the next morning I gave him porridge and he was instantly sick. It felt wrong. So I stopped with the solids and he continued sleeping through – on and off. The issue is that you never know what the issue is. In this instance, it wasn’t that my milk wasn’t satisfying him – it was teething, or a growth spurt, or a combination, or something else entirely.

The NHS guidelines say that three signs your baby is ready for solids are:

1. They can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady.

2. They can co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth, all by themselves.

3. They can swallow food. Babies who are not ready will push their food back out with their tongue, so they get more round their face than they do in their mouths.

A week after he turned five months, I decided to try him on solids again. He was sitting up, and I felt there was no harm in trying. So I gave him kale, broccoli, courgette and rice purée (the same meal we were eating, but minus the rather spicy jerk chicken) and he devoured it. The next morning, I tried ground oats cooked with water and mixed in some pear purée. Again, he was into it. So we’ve now firmly begun our weaning journey. Beware the nappy changes…

I wonder if lots of parents start weaning ‘early’ (before the recommended six-month-mark) but keep it schtum? While having a panic about whether now was the time to wean or not (when he was four and a half months), I took to Instagram to ask our followers what they thought about early weaning – and their responses were interestingly varied. Here’s my original post, followed by their comments…

Weaning. When did you do it?? I know the NHS guidelines say wait until six months, as that’s when their digestive systems are fully matured – but isn’t it different for different babies? For instance, if they are really big/hungry? Also, I’ve found articles from a few years ago saying that breastmilk may not contain enough iron after four months and so weaning then could be best for babes. And there’s evidence that introducing certain food types before six months could help prevent allergies developing. But there’s also evidence to the contrary. So, what do you all think? And what did you do about it?

  • finlay_fox DO IT! Mine were 5 months.
  • sarah_gane I started at about 5 months as I felt she was ready for it. My daughter is now 6 months and on 3 meals a day – she loves her food! I do a combination of BLW and mashed meals, but have a greater success when I let her hold the spoon.
  • yet_another_mother I think the best guideline I read that eased my mind was when a baby can sit up by themselves they are ready. (Something to do with preventing gastroenteritis.) Your breast milk will have enough of everything that baby needs, don’t worry about that. We did all BLW at 6 months and Thea took to it great, loves her food.
  • endofthenight23 You should be led by the baby for sure, but if they can’t sit up and put food in their mouth then they’re not ready. NHS guidelines in this instance are based on solid science, there is no reason a big or hungry baby would need food before a smaller one: breast milk responds to demand and size doesn’t indicate the maturity of their digestive system. The iron research has been debunked recently, the risk that a baby may not be getting enough iron is much smaller than the risk of weaning too soon which can lead to gastro-intestinal problems now and in the future.
  • imagine.sew.beautiful My youngest was ready at 5 months but I waited until 6 (out of pure laziness on my part!!). We do BLW also for laziness! I think there’s so much advice / opinion out there that whatever you decide you’ll be right! On The Wonder Weeks FB group, some were advised to start at 4 months, others advised later. Don’t think you can get it wrong to be honest.
  • lcarmella_ I started around 4 months because Aiko was still hungry even after using hungry baby milk … when you think your baby is ready go for it.
  • yesjess24 I started at 4 months. He was super interested in anything I ate so we decided to try. He loved it. Started slowly with fruit and veg. His fave was always avocado!
  • nicole_pj My eldest was 6 months as I was dreading it, yet another thing to get my head around. My youngest is only 2 months but I’m looking forward to weaning so she can participate in meal times so may start a little earlier. We did mostly BLW so there’s no danger of them having something out in their mouth they can’t cope with.
  • onemotherowl I just introduced foods when my girl showed interest. For her, that was at 4 1/2 months. We started with baby rice cereal (perhaps an American thing, not sure I’ve seen it in shops here?) then added puréed fruits like bananas, apples then veg like avo and puréed peas then experimented with most fruits/veg after that. She loved it all and kept right on with mama’s milk till 15 months, though by 1 year, she was down to just night feeds anyway.
  • mothersmind Bubba number one was 5 months, number two was just shy of 6 months (big brother gave her some broccoli and that was the processes started). Bub 2 was much slower, she was more of a milk monster!
  • eclipsestem My main rule is that they can sit up properly by themselves in the high chair, which came later than six months for our two. Both boys started consuming rather than playing with food at 8 and 10 mths. For anyone reading and worrying, they really will eat when ready. One kiddo was tiny (8mth eater) and the other huge (10mth eater). And there’s no better plan than BLW. On allergy advice, gosh that’s a hard one. Both of our boys have severe food allergies (multiple anaphylactic shocks), one had 5 food allergies until 3yrs. A friend’s child is under the care of a lead researcher in the ‘earlier exposure/less allergies’ camp, but every child differs – it didn’t fare well for that child, his mother was humorously up in arms. Overall my take is, don’t delay foods after 6mths, if they have a reaction they’re that bit stronger to fight it/cope with the medication. Thanks to our bad run we also make sure baby is well and there’s a spare pair of hands around incase we need a Dr or A&E trip.
  • rupertandmummy I started weaning with Rupert at four months – he was desperate to eat and try things, he kept grabbing food off my plate and eating it! Think his first taste of food was a swiped handful of cake whilst I wasn’t looking! I started with breast milk and baby rice and moved onto puréed veg… I used a super book called “200 recipes for feeding your baby” by Fiona Wilcox which I found comprehensive and easy. It must have worked as Rupert will try almost anything now and eats a good varied diet. Good luck!
  • luluadamsfitness I started at 4 months…check out the book Nourished Beginnings by @raisinggenerationnourished its amazing! Lots of bone broth used which my little one adores x
  • carlymnorth We started our son at 16 weeks as he’d started to not like his milk anymore and I was struggling to get anywhere near enough down him. We’ve been doing it for 3 weeks and he has baby porridge with a variety of puréed fruit for breakfast and some form of vegetable for tea. It took a week or so for him to understand swallowing but he’s doing great now and has actually picked up with his bottles again. I was panicking about doing it so early, but his porridge alongside increasing his water intake seems to be working well.
  • birthbabydoulas There are a lot of myths around weaning so it can be hard to know what to do. There are guidelines around if you want to do Babyled Weaning – they must be able to sit independently is the first and most obvious and this can happen at a different age for different babies. The NHS guidelines suggest from 6 months but your baby may not be ready then. Some babies may seem ‘interested’ in food but in general babies are interested in everything. They will equally eagerly watch you eat crisps as they will watch you smoke a cigar. It is not a sign they’re ready to wean. The myth of ‘hungry’ babies needing to be weaned earlier is a myth too esp. if you’re breastfeeding as the NICE recommendations are to breastfeed as long as you can really – the breast milk provides what your baby needs up to 1 year
  • _maria_wyatt_ I started both boys at 4.5 months and they were super content and slept through soon after. Mashed banana and avo were a fave in this house too but we started with milky mashed cereals till 6 months. Good luck!
  • salusnutrition I think a mixture of purées/spoon feeding and baby-led weaning is the best compromise. In terms of establishing good taste preferences, 4-5 months is ideal but overall in terms of nutrition & overall development, 6 months is also fine. Be led by your baby, allow them to try lots of variety and don’t obsess too much over quantities as at this age, the main source of calories/vitamins/minerals is still breast milk or formula. Allow your baby to yell you they are full and don’t want any more – overriding their appetite regulator is something you want to avoid for the long term. In terms of iron, babies are born with good stores which eventually start to reduce at around six months so this is where diet can top up but they need a very small amount relatively. Hope this helps!
  • whatwouldsarahdo Check out the book ‘baby pip eats’ by @amieeats, it’s a godsend for the weaning/ start-eating phase.
  • emma_in_elwood We started with teeny tiny tastes of food from shortly after 4 months. The advice in Australia is that starting a bit earlier helps keep iron at optimum levels. Also there is a very early window where you can feed small amounts of allergy foods to babies that can actually help them avoid developing allergies. We did peanut and milk at 5 months, egg and soy at 6 months. My little one took really well to food and was def ready.

When did you start weaning your baby? Did you wait until six months or get stuck in early?