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When to start weaning: what is the right time to start giving your baby the first food

There has been quite some debate over the right moment to start weaning and introduce solids. The truth is, not one baby is the same and it really depends on how fast your baby develops certain skills.

Weaning when to start giving your baby the first food

What is weaning?

Until your baby reaches the age of 1 year, milk will remain the most important source of food. Whether it’s breastmilk or formula, it’s still the best way for your baby to get all the nutrients to grow. The process of supplementing milk with other food is called weaning. Your baby will still rely very heavily on milk, but other foods become part of the daily diet as well. At around 6 months old, babies will start getting a deficit in iron. This is when you’ll want to supplement the milk, which remains the main food source, with other foods. However, you could already start before the 6 months

When is the best time to start introducing solid food?

Generally it has been concluded that anywhere between the ages of 4 and 6 months is ok to start. The European Food Safety Authority has written much on the topic. Here you can read their reports and conclusions. It is widely agreed upon that starting before 4 months is not recommended because babies’ digestive systems are not ready yet. They also don’t have the motor skills to start eating before that age. If you’re unsure about when to start solids, it’s always best to consult your paediatrician.

When are babies ready for solids: what are the signs?

There is nothing wrong with giving it a try if you think your baby is ready. The signs for readiness depend on whether you want to spoon feed or go the baby-led weaning approach. In any case, it's important your child can sit - this can be assisted sitting. More on baby led weaning below.

If you go for the spoon feeding method, it's important to look at your baby's reaction to food. Offer them a spoonful of vegetable puree and see how they react. If they seem interested and try to eat it, you can offer another spoonful or more the next day. If there’s no interest at all, you might want to wait a few days or even weeks to try again.

One week can sometimes make a lot of difference. The point is, don’t feel pressured into starting very soon or waiting as long as you can. Your baby is unique and no one knows your baby better than you.

How to introduce solids

If you feel like your baby is ready to start solids at 4 months old, start with some very simple vegetable purees. At this point it’s all about getting used to having something other than milk going into the mouth and their digestive system. At around 5 months old you could start introducing fruit as well. We prefer starting with vegetables since they’re not as sweet as fruit. Since babies have a natural preference for sweet tastes, the introduction of fruit should generally not be an issue. That’s why we want them to be accustomed to grassy, earthy or even bitter flavors early on as well. But again, these are not rules set in stone. You can introduce fruit first or at the same time as vegetables, both are perfectly safe and acceptable.

If you want to go with the Rapley or baby-led weaning method

If you want to start with the Rapley method however, which doesn’t serve purees but lets the baby feed itself with grabbable pieces of food, you will generally start at about 6 months, when your baby is more likely to be able to sit up straight with support, and keep its head up. Here as well, 6 months is not a magic number. Look at the signs rather than the age. We highly recommend you to read more into these methods before starting. There are plenty of great books on the subject that will help you start in a safe and healthy way.

Do babies need solid foods every day?

For the first year of your baby's life, milk will remain the most important source of nutrition. However, there are many reasons why serving other foods, aside from milk, is important. Making sure your baby gets enough iron and some other nutrients is one of them, but also practicing motor skills required for eating, training the taste palate and getting used to mealtime routine. When it comes to food allergies, science shows early exposure can even be beneficial in preventing allergies.
Does this mean your baby needs to eat every single day? No. The most important is that your baby drinks enough milk. Babies can have varying appetites. Some days it seems like they won't ever stop eating, and other they are just not interested. Don't force it. Monitor the milk intake and try again the next day. We do recommend setting a feeding routine and trying to stick to eat. This way, baby knows when to expect food and when to expect milk.

How many times a day should I feed solids?

In the beginning of the weaning process, you start with once a day. This will be no more than one or two spoonfuls - if you're lucky! When this is going well, you can add a second meal. At around 8 to 9 months, you can add a third meal. Gradually, after the first birthday you'll be in a routine that resembles that of an adult - breakfast, lunch, dinner plus one or two healthy snacks in between. Again, still making sure your baby has enough milk, and later also water, throughout the day.

Food before one is just for fun? Not at all! Here’s why:

In year one milk remains the most important source of nutrients for your baby. This doesn’t mean that solid food is not important during the first year. It is very important for a number of reasons: developing motor eating skills, such as chewing, swallowing, drinking from a cup, hand-eye coordination. It allows them to get familiarised with different flavours and to develop a food preference. Read our article on picky eating prevention and the importance of the first year of eating. Another very important reason is the introduction of allergens, since science shows that an early introduction of food allergens might actually decrease the risk of allergies. An added benefit as well is your baby getting used to the mealtime routine. Sitting in a high chair at the table with her family, and enjoying eating together. And last but certainly not least, most definitely also for nutrition! A balanced diet can really deliver the necessary nutrients for your baby’s development so she can grow up healthy and strong.

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