Parents are being supported to safely introduce their babies to solid food through a UK government campaign that promotes NHS advice on weaning.
Weaning is a key milestone within the first 1,001 critical days. It teaches babies to move food around their mouth, chew and swallow, and influences children’s eating habits and their health later in life.
The campaign highlights there are three clear signs that mean your baby is ready for solid food, such as if they can stay in a sitting position, holding their head steady. It also includes information on when to begin introducing solid foods alongside breastmilk or first infant formula, why it’s important to wait until your baby is around 6 months old and what to feed babies at each stage.
The campaign comes as a new survey conducted by Censuswide has found that half of parents in England (50%) were confused about how much to feed their baby and what age to start weaning (47%), with many saying they had received conflicting advice on both points. It also found that nearly half of parents were influenced by behaviours that can be mistaken by parents as signs that their baby is ready for solid foods, such as seeing their baby grabbing food (47%) or looking at food (43%).
Minister for Primary Care and Public Health Neil O’Brien said: "The first 1,001 days are crucial for a child’s development and weaning can influence a baby’s eating habits and their health later in life.
"This campaign will ensure parents have the confidence to introduce their babies to solid food at the appropriate time and provide practical advice and a support hub to ensure their diets include a wide variety of foods.
"We’re committed to supporting the early years, including by providing over £300 million to create family hubs in 75 local authorities to join up and enhance services, ensuring all parents and carers can access the support they need at the time that they need it."
The survey also found that nearly half (46%) of parents believed that solid foods should be introduced at around five months or earlier. But, according to NHS guidance, it is recommended to gradually introduce solid foods from around 6 months - alongside breast milk or infant formula. This is because it gives babies time to develop properly so they can cope with solid foods.
Breast milk or first infant formula provides everything that babies need for healthy development for the first six months. When babies are around 6 months old, they start to need solid foods as well as breast milk or first infant formula to meet their nutritional needs.
With more than 1 in 4 (27.7%) children being overweight when they reach school age, according to the latest National Child Measurement Programme data, the Better Health Start for Life ‘introducing solid foods’ campaign supports parents to develop their children’s healthy eating habits at the earliest stage.
In addition to the campaign, an online weaning hub is available to support parents on their weaning journey. Packed with NHS-endorsed advice, videos and tips, plus simple healthy recipes, it puts everything parents need to know in one place.
Child nutritionist, Charlotte Stirling Reed, said: "As a mum and a nutritionist, I’m in agreement with today’s survey findings - weaning can be a very confusing and overwhelming time for parents.
"You can start with single vegetables and fruits that are mashed or blended. I’ve always found preparing food from scratch is the easiest and cheapest way to create healthier meals for my children, and have used the Start for Life weaning hub for great recipes which are really easy to make and nutritious."
GP Dr Helen Lawal said: "Weaning is a crucial milestone in the first 1,001 critical days of a baby’s life; however, today’s research results are showing that almost half of parents are introducing solid foods to their babies too early.
"The Start of Life weaning hub will help you to spot the right signs which show your baby is ready for solid foods, alongside lots of tips on essential topics like allergies, food hygiene and avoiding choking, to help you wean your baby safely."