Baby and Toddler Weaning: How and When to Start

Why is weaning important?

As an infant grows so will his/her nutritional needs. The Department of Health and Children recommend exclusive breast feeding for the first 6 months of life with the gradual introduction of solids combined with breastfeeding until the age of 2 years. The recommendations for the age of weaning are the same for both breastfed and formula fed infants. The exact timing to begin this process should be driven by the unique needs of the individual infant. It is important that solids are not introduced before 17 weeks as an infant’s digestive system will not be able to cope with solids before that young age. On the other side of the scale the introduction of solids should not be delayed for longer than 26 weeks of age as this may delay the learning of important skills required for the intake of solids e.g. chewing and swallowing which will go a long way in establishing an infant’s speech.

Why not too early
Not before 4 months (17 weeks)
Why not too late?
Not after 6 months (26 weeks)
An infant's kidneys and digestive system are immature and may not be able to handle food and drinks other than milkDelay the learning of important skills necessary for eating a mixed diet
Increased risk of coeliac disease. Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus and wheat allergyDue to their small stomach size, an infant cannot drink enough milk to meet their energy needs. Nutritious food is needed to meet their energy and nutrient requirements
 Iron stores from birth are used up by age 6 months. Iron must be consumed from the diet
 Research indicates that introducing gluten after 7 months (26 weeks) of age increases the risk of coeliac disease. Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus and wheat allergy

When an infant reaches 6 months, their iron stores, which they acquired in the womb, will be depleted and milk alone will no longer be sufficient to meet their increased nutritional needs. An infant’s usual milk (breastmilk or formula milk) combined with a weaning diet that includes iron-rich foods is required to insure the recommended daily amount (RDA) of iron is being met. Research shows that the more varied the diet is, the less likely an infant is to become a fussy eater later in childhood so it’s a good idea to offer a wide range of tastes and textures. It will also be easier to introduce him/her to family meals as they get older.  As an infant progresses through weaning incorporating an infant’s feeding times with family meals times will help them form positive attitudes about food and eating.

Signs an infant is ready to be weaned

  • Does not seem satisfied after a feed.
  • Starts to demand feeds more frequently over a time period that is more than a week (otherwise may be a growth spurt).
  • Shows an interest in food – reaching out, shows an interest in other people in eating.
  • Sucks fists or chews and dribbles more frequently.
  • Is able to sit up and support themselves (head control is evident).

The table below from the FSAI’s (2012) most recent guidance on infant feeding, “Best practice for Infant Feeding in Ireland”, outlines the 3 stages of weaning:

Stage of weaningFood textures appropriate during each stage of weaningSkills learned through each stage of weaning
STAGE 1 - From about 6 months of age
'First foods' should be thin purées which will increase in thickness as the infant progresses.- Taking foods from a spoon
- Moving food from the front to the back of the mouth for swallowing
- Managing increasingly thicker purées
STAGE 2 - Between about 6-9 monthsMove from thick purées to mashed foods to foods with softer lumps, and finally to soft finger foods. Infants should also start drinking from a cup.- Moving lumps around the mouth
- Chewing lumps
- Self-feeding bite-sized pieces of food using hands and fingers
STAGE 3 - Between about 9-12 months of ageMove to minced and chopped family foods. More textured finger foods should be offered.
A non-lidded beaker should be used for all drinks other than breastfeeds.
If an infant is being formula fed, they should no longer use a bottle by age 12 months.
- Chewing minced and chopped foods
- Self-feeding bite-sized pieces of food using hands and fingers
- Learning to eat with spoon
- Drinking fluids from a cup

Stage 1 of weaning (about 6 months)

The most important thing about Stage 1 of weaning is that the infant becomes familiar with taking solids from a spoon. Up until now an infant has only received liquid milk that has not required any effort in terms of swallowing. Now, however, they must use the muscles in their mouth to form a bolus of food and to subsequently swallow this bolus.

  1. FSAI (2012). Best practice for Infant Feeding in Ireland
  2. BR Carruth, Jean Skinner, Kelly Houck, James Moran III, Frances Coletta, Dana Ott. The Phenomenon of ‘Picky Eater’: A Behavioural Marker in Eating Patterns of Toddlers, Journ of the Am Coll of Nutr. 1998: 17(2):180-186

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