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The Introduction of Complementary Foods (Weaning)

Weaning means introducing a range of foods gradually until babies are eating the same foods as the rest of the family. Until
6 months
, babies need only breast milk or infant formula milk. This is to reduce the risk of:

  • Asthma and allergies

  • Bacterial infections

  • Choking (most babies under 6 months old have a 'tongue thrust and reflex' and cannot swallow solid food easily, leading to an increased risk of choking.

  • Diarrhoeal infections

  • Obesity

Introduction of food is not recommended before the age of 4 months because an infant's digestive system is not able to cope properly with solids before this age. It is, however, important to start at around 6 months. By 6 months, breast or infant milk will not be able to satisfy most babies' nutritional needs and it is important from a developmental point of view to start giving other foods.

Weaning Myths

  • Baby seems hungrier. Before 26 weeks this is not a helpful sign. It may be a growth spurt and it usually best to increase the amount of milk given for a few days.

  • Baby is not sleeping through. There is no evidence that giving solids increases sleep.

  • Baby seems unsettled and is putting their fist in their mouth. This may be a development stage or teething rather than a sign of hunger.

How Should Parents Wean?

Start off by offering a small amount of mashed vegetable, fruit or cereal mixed with milk after a milk feed, or in the middle of one if this works better. If the food is hot, allow it to cool, stir it and test it before giving it to your baby. Some babies take time to learn to eat new foods. Your baby will be finding out about different tastes and textures and learning that food doesn't come in a continuous flow. Be patient, let your baby touch the food if they want to and be prepared for some mess!

  • Start off by offering just a few teaspoons of food once a day

  • Use a little of your baby's usual milk (breast or formula) to mix the food to the desired consistency

  • Allow your baby to feed themselves using their fingers

  • As soon as they show an interest, give your baby an range of food and textures to taste

  • Don't force feed your baby if they don't seem to want it - wait and try again later

  • If you are using a spoon, wait for your baby to open their mouth when the food is offered

  • Let your baby touch the food in the dish or on the spoon

  • If you are bottle feeding, don't add any foods, including Rusks, cereal or sugar

Acceptable First Foods

  • Cereals such as baby rice with milk

  • Mashed, cooked vegetables such as parsnip, potato, yam, sweet potato or carrot

  • Mashed banana, avocado, cooked apple or pear

  • Pieces of soft fruit or vegetables small enough for baby to pick up

  • Use mashed up family food when you can. It's best to cook your own food for your baby as this way you'll know the ingredients of the food and you'll be getting your baby used to eating what you eat

  • Don't add salt or sugar to food for your baby

What 'Finger Foods' Can Be Given?

After 6 months it is fine to offer SOFT finger foods - e.g. sliced banana, well cooked vegetable, toast fingers etc.

Foods Which Should NOT Be Given At First

Most foods are fine from 6 months, however if weaning early, gluten free, dairy free and egg free foods should be avoided. Salt should not be added to any infant food. Whole nuts should not be given until the child is around 5 but nut products can be given at 6 months (unless the child is at risk of an allergy when 3 is recommended).

Should Infants Be Given Drinks Other Than Milk During Weaning?

This is not necessary for breast fed infants as breast milk is a drink as well as a food. However it is helpful if parents introduce a cup of water to their child at this age. Babies fed on infant formula will need additional water which should be given in a cup.

Fruit juice is not usually necessary but can make up part of a balanced diet. If fruit juice is given, it should be diluted with water to a maximum ratio of 50 percent fruit juice. Keeping fruit juice to mealtimes and further diluting with water is better for dental health although dilution will reduce the nutritional benefit. Vegetarian children, in particular, may benefit from Vitamin C in fruit juice helping them to absorb iron which is less bio-available from non meat food sources.

How Much Milk Should Babies Be Drinking?

Breast milk or infant formula should still be the main source of nutrition for infants up to the age of one. Milk intake will decrease gradually as solids increase. As a general rule solids should be offered after a milk feed at 6-9 months and can be offered before a milk feed from 9 months. This is to ensure that the introduction is gradual or 'complimentary' to breastfeeding/formula.

Follow On Formula

If formula feeding, it is not necessary to introduce follow-on milk formula at 6 months. Although promoted as being higher in iron they have no nutritional advantage over regular infant formula. Follow-on formulas are a clever way of infant feeding companies beating marketing laws on the advertising of breast milk substitutes as this law only bans the advertising of basic infant food.


It is normal for your baby to spit and dribble the food out at first. Your baby will take time to learn to take food from a spoon and may cry between spoonfuls as they have been used to a continual flow of milk. If your baby is nearer to 6 months old when they start to wean, they may move through the puree stage more quickly.

What Equipment Do I Need?

Simple things such a fork, sieve and spoon are all that is needed to prepare most foods. You will also need a plastic spoon and shallow plastic bowl which can be sterilised.

Safety Tips

  • Never leave your baby alone with food

  • Never add solids to a bottle

  • Sterilise all feeding utensils and bowls until your baby is at least 6 months

  • Always wash your hands before preparing food or feeding your baby

  • Ensure all work surfaces are clean before you prepare food

  • Store food at the correct temperatures

  • Throw away any half eaten food

  • Do not re-heat food more than once

Can I Freeze Food?

When preparing your own foods for weaning it is easier to prepare larger quantities. Most foods will freeze except bananas, melon, baby rice. After food is cooked, divide it into suitable sized portions, cover and leave to cool thoroughly before freezing. Never put warm food into the freezer. For young babies, freeze in small quantities in a sterilised ice cube tray. Once frozen, transfer into bags labelled with the date by which the food should be used. As your baby gets older, freeze food in plastic dishes - e.g. yoghurt pots covered with foil - again, label with the date by which the food should be used.

In a freezer marked **** foods will keep for the following length of time:

  • Fruits and vegetables  -  6 months

  • Fish, chicken and meat  -  4 months

To thaw frozen foods, do not defrost in a microwave.  Instead........

  • Remove from freezer a few hours before it is required, or;

  • Heat gently in a heatproof container in a saucepan of hot water

How Do I Reheat Food?

  • ALWAYS reheat food thoroughly AND

  • ALWAYS test the temperature before giving it to your baby

Warning! Using a microwave to reheat food for your baby can cause uneven heating and hot spots, therefore if you use a microwave always stir food during cooking to ensure an even spread of heat and ALWAYS check the temperature before giving it to your baby.

Can I Use Commercial Baby Foods?

There is a wide variety of jars, tins and packets of baby food available. These can be useful if you are out for a day or on holiday but try to use home prepared food most of the time. If you do use jars, tins or packets, follow the storage advice on labels carefully.

How Quickly Should I Be Making Progress?

After a few weeks of having solids at one meal, try offering a second meal, then a third after another 2-3 weeks. This will encourage your baby to fit in with your family meal times.

Gradually make the food thicker and lumpier.

By the age of 7-9 months

  • Start to introduce finger foods. Try foods which are soft or easy to chew, e.g. banana, pear, melon, cooked carrots, bread

  • Start to introduce a wider variety of foods, e.g. breakfast cereals, pasta

  • Try giving finely minced food

By the age of 9-12 months

  • Start to give chopped food and harder finger foods, e.g. raw vegetables, apple, sandwiches, bread sticks

  • It is important that by this age your baby is having a balanced diet so try to include foods from each of the following groups daily:

Meat and alternatives:

Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, pulses, Tofu, nuts (finely ground), seeds, soya products

Bread and Cereals:

Bread, rice, cereals, pasta, chapatti

Fruit and vegetables:

Apples, bananas, fruit juice, carrots, cauliflower, tomato
Milk and milk products:

Milk, cheese, yoghurt, fromage frais

By the age of 1 year

Your baby should be joining in with family meals, three times a day with drinks and snack between.

Related Documentation:

Fun First Foods