When Can I Wean my Baby onto Solids?
Weaning is the process of introducing solids to your little one (not to be confused with switching from breastfeeding to bottle feeding, which is for some reason, also called weaning!) The NHS guideline for when you should wean your baby onto solids is when he is 6 months old. Babies younger than this don't have digestive systems which have developed enough to cope with solids.
More Milk, Less Weaning
Some parents notice their baby still seems hungry after milk feeds and worry that milk isn't enough for them. If this is the case with your baby, give him extra milk feeds. Don't be tempted to wean early. Pre-2003, official guidelines advised parents to wean between 4-6 months old. However, this advice was changed to 6 months after the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health conducted research into the effects of weaning at 4 months and found that it can be harmful to babies. Studies found that babies weaned at 4 months or earlier are more likely to develop allergies and suffer infections, as well as having a higher risk of developing obesity, digestive disorders, and early onset diabetes later in life. The studies also found that there was no benefit to babies to being weaned early, and that solids can interfere with the absorption of nutrients from breast milk when given to babies less than 6 months old. The research also found that babies' digestive system was too immature to deal with solid foods properly until they are 6 months old, and their kidneys might not be mature enough to deal with anything other than milk.
Six Months and Up
You may find well-meaning, older relatives, friends, (and even some health visitors who aren't up to date with current advice) encouraging you to give your baby solids before 6 months, especially if he is a big baby or seems hungrier than other babies. Some websites offer advice on when to wean your baby, with lists of 'signs' that your baby is 'ready', such as taking an interest in watching you eat, trying to grab your spoon, or an increase in size and appetite. These signs don't necessarily point to being ready for weaning however, as babies are naturally fascinated with what they see their parents doing, and many babies go through growth spurts at 4-5 months old, which will increase their size and appetite. As well as the possible harmful effects of weaning before 6 months, there is no evidence that feeding your baby solids will fill him up more than milk, and contrary to popular belief, won't make your baby more likely to sleep through the night.
Early weaning is also messier than if you wait until 6 months, making life easier for you! Babies younger than 6 months might not be able to sit up in a high chair, and will probably also enjoy trying to feed themselves with a spoon. If you do decide to wean your baby earlier than 6 months, the types of foods you give your baby are much more restricted.
Some baby food such as jars, purees and baby biscuits, are labelled 'suitable from 4 months'. This doesn't mean that it is advisable to give your baby these foods when they are 4 months old; it just means that manufacturers are allowed to label them as such.
There are some exceptions to the rule that you should only wean your baby at 6 months. Some premature babies can benefit from being weaned at 5 months, but if your baby is premature, speak to your doctor first about when you should wean him, as other premature babies need to wait until they are 7 months before weaning. Occasionally, babies with specific feeding problems can also benefit from early weaning, but this should be discussed with a doctor first.