Weaning: What You Need to Know Before You Begin

Make the switch to solid foods easier for you and your baby with these essential weaning tips

Baby being feed

Until the age of six months, babies get all of the nutrients they need from breast milk or formula. But after that, you can start to teach them how to chew and swallow, opening up a whole new world of exciting tastes and textures. This process of gradually transitioning your little one to solid foods is called weaning. 

When Should I Start?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life, followed by breastfeeding and the addition of complementary foods until the baby is a year old. At that time, mothers should have a conversation about weaning with their child’s primary care doctor, if they haven’t already, says Stephanie Bosche, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner at Tri-County Pediatrics in Philadelphia. 

It is possible to start the weaning process sooner, however, if mom needs to return to work or feels like it’s the right time for her to stop breastfeeding. She will, however, need to introduce formula as a replacement for breast milk. “Emotionally, this can be very difficult for some mothers, if they feel like they ‘have to’ introduce formula, but it is necessary for the infant to have the right nutrition,” Bosche says.

How Does It Work?
Be patient when starting the weaning process. It will be emotional for both you and your baby, so it’s important to limit the number of other changes in your baby’s life as you introduce weaning. Major changes like moving or going on a family vacation may mean it’s not the right time to start.

Even if your baby picks up bottle-feeding immediately, your body will need time to adjust. If you spread weaning out over several weeks, your body will naturally adjust to making less and less breast milk, and you’ll avoid painful problems like engorgement (when milk builds up in your breasts from not feeding often enough), and clogged milk ducts (hard, tender lumps that form in the narrow milk ducts of the breast).

To start the weaning process, drop the least preferred feedings first. These are usually the ones during the day when your baby is less hungry or is distracted by the world around them. Consider having your partner offer a bottle, or give your baby the bottle in a different location, or hold them in a new position while they feed. The new experiences may be exciting enough to distract your baby from the fact that they’re not nursing. Once they’re used to having a bottle at one feeding, try it at another one too. Just remember, each time you eliminate nursing from a certain time of day, your baby has to adjust. It may get easier, because they’re already comfortable with it at midday, but some babies are much fussier when being given a bottle in the morning. Much of this has to do with their temperament, so be patient and see what works best. 

Your baby may need additional attention during the weaning process. Snuggling or reading to your baby during the time that they would normally be nursing can ease the transition to the bottle and be a good substitute for the intimacy breastfeeding provides.

What Foods Can They Eat First?
Begin by mixing a teaspoon of one of the following foods with either breast milk or formula:

  • Mashed (sweet) cooked vegetables like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or carrots 
  • Mashed fruit like apples, bananas, or pears
  • Baby cereals
  • Blending fruit and vegetables is also a good way to introduce solids

Aim for a few mouthfuls every day.

Once your baby has adjusted to solid foods, you can try a broader range of foods:

  • Meat or fish (make sure to remove all bones)
  • Well-cooked eggs
  • Pasta and noodles
  • Finger foods to play with, such as cooked vegetable pieces or soft fruit

Aim for three meals each day.

What Foods Should Be Avoided?
Babies under 1 year of age should avoid the following foods:

  • Honey
  • Peanut butter
  • Salt, spices, and garlic
  • Sugar
  • Caffeinated foods and drinks