The official advice from the Department of Health states that babies should start to be weaned from milk alone onto solid foods at around six months.
This is based on research reviewed by the World Health Organisation that shows that, until six months, babies need nothing other than breast milk (or infant formula). This gives a baby’s digestive system time to develop so that it can cope with solid foods (including baby rice and purees).
Weaning guidelines have changed several times over the years. In the 1970s, studies showed that most babies in the UK started solids (usually in the form of rusks or cereal added to the bottle) between three and four weeks old. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the NHS advised weaning after three months, then in 1994, guidance changed to recommend four months as the youngest weaning age.
The current advice to wean at around six months came into effect in 2003, when the UK government fell in line with the World Health Organisation’s global policy recommending exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. This is because evidence suggests that as well as providing all the energy and nutrients that a baby needs in his first few months of life, breast milk promotes sensory and cognitive development, leads to slower, healthier weight gain, reducing the chance of obesity later on, and provides greater protection from infectious and chronic disease.
In addition, weaning before six months is not recommended as most babies’ digestive systems and kidneys are not fully developed, which could lead to problems such as food allergies in the future.
The Department of Health also points out that whether your baby is breastfed or has formula, waiting till he is truly ready for food at around six months means he will be able to feed himself sooner, and with less mess, as he’ll be able to swallow properly.