Ages & Stages

How to start weaning your baby

Annabel Karmel  |  1 Feb 2022


The decision to start weaning your child is a big one, and it’s difficult to know the right time to start weaning your baby, as well as working out how to start weaning.

So we’ve turned to expert children’s nutritionist Annabel Karmel (find her website here) to share her advice on knowing when it’s time to start weaning your baby.

With expertise spanning 30 years, London-born mother of three Annabel Karmel reigns as the UK’s number 1 children’s cookery author, bestselling international author, and a world-leading expert on devising delicious, nutritious meals for babies, children and families.

So read on for top weaning tips to help you decide when to begin weaning.

Over to Annabel

It’s a minefield trying to navigate all the conflicting advice on weaning out there –but it doesn’t need to be stressful. Before you begin your weaning journey there are a few questions to ask yourself:

Is my baby ready?

Our little ones may not be able to verbalise their readiness, but they do communicate to us in other ways. Some tell-tale signs to look out for include tongue-thrusting and being able to hold up their own head. Generally speaking (and in line with official UK guidance) babies naturally develop the skills they need to move on to solid food at around the six-month mark.

Ultimately though, you should take your baby’s cue; if they definitely start to show the signs of wanting solids a little earlier, then it’s absolutely fine to start before your child reaches six months – although, it is important to note that babies should never be weaned before 17 weeks. Research suggests that at this stage your baby’s digestive system and kidneys might not be developed enough to cope with solids.

If you’re unsure and want to start a little earlier than six months, check with your health visitor or GP.

As with most big milestones in parenthood, nothing is ever black and white!

Despite common conception, fist chewing, more frequent night wakings, or wanting more milk feeds aren’t actually reliable signs of readiness.

So what I would say from the outset is to listen to your intuition – mother knows best after all!

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Which weaning method will I use?

At around six months, you’ll start to introduce solid foods into your baby’s diet alongside their usual breast milk or first infant formula milk. But do you take the traditional spoon-fed route, baby-led method (BLW) or a combined approach?

As with many things baby-related, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution and there are many factors at play.

My top tip would be to follow the lead of your baby, not your peers or what’s currently on trend.

Without a doubt, both traditional weaning and BLW have their pros and cons, but you don’t need to choose one over the other. If you feel it’s right for you and your baby, you can offer your baby a variety of pureed nutrient-dense foods as well as soft finger foods from the get-go. (In fact, this is my preferred route, as well as that of the Department of Health and Social Care, the NHS and the British Nutrition Foundation.)

By taking this combined approach, your baby can explore a range of foods served up in different ways.

At six and a half months, all babies should be having soft finger foods, even if served alongside mashed or textured purees.

If you’re baby-led weaning, then you’ll still need to let your baby explore smooth textured foods such as yoghurt, as this is a sensory experience in itself.

What is important is that baby gets to be a part of family mealtimes as they learn so much from their social surroundings and from watching you eat a range of healthy foods.

There really is no right or wrong when it comes to introducing complementary foods – take your lead from your baby and remember to enjoy the weaning journey.

What is baby-led weaning and why should I do it?

Just because baby-led weaning seems to be the popular weaning route, it doesn’t mean that you have to go down this road, too. Choose the method that works for you and your baby – it’s personal choice and what your baby is ready for, developmentally.

Looking at baby-led weaning specifically, the idea is that you skip the puree phase and instead you start with soft fingers foods and small portions of family meals from six months.

This feeding method requires you to take a step back and put your baby in control. Your baby decides what to eat from what you offer, when to eat, in what order and how much. It might sound a little daunting but this process is actually intuitive for a baby – especially if they are watching the rest of the family eat.

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Benefits of baby-led weaning

  • Can impact on fussiness later in life. It is thought that babies who are given the opportunity to explore a wide variety of foods for themselves from a young age (which for baby-led weaning should be six months), could be less fussy later in life. Some research has found that babies who haven’t been offered a wide variety of foods or haven’t progressed quickly enough to textures can become picky.
  • Exploring their food is how babies learn. Babies can learn a lot from handling food; from getting to grips with different shapes, sizes, sounds, weights as well as tastes and textures.
  • Encourages hand-to-eye coordination. Regularly handling foods improves their dexterity which is a hugely important skill to master.
  • It can help with appetite control. Current research suggests that a baby is less likely to over-eat if they are allowed to choose what they eat from a range of nutritious foods. Having foods laid out in front of them also encourages babies to eat at their own pace and decide when they’ve had enough.
  • It gives them confidence in their own abilities. The more they discover for themselves, the more they realise they can control the world around them.
  • Mealtimes become a social occasion. When your baby is eating what the rest of the family is having (albeit sometimes deconstructed and minus the added salt, of course), they feel included and will mimic and copy you and the family.
  • You’ll spend less time in the kitchen. Your little one is eating what everyone else is having which means fewer meals to prep and more time to do other things. Plus, your meals will become healthier too!

Many of the positives associated with baby-led weaning can be applied to spoon-led weaning, and it’s important to remember baby-led weaning isn’t for everyone and before they’re six months’ old, babies tend not to have developed the hand-to-eye coordination needed for baby-led weaning. 

To download Annabel’s award-winning Baby & Todder Recipe app, click here.

Whilst it’s helpful to follow guidance on when to wean your baby, you’re the parent and you know your baby the best.  So trust your instinct, start slowly and enjoy this next phase in your baby’s development.

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