Weaning your premature baby: When is the right time?

It can be confusing working out whether your baby is at the right age for weaning.  Should you go by corrected age, or uncorrected?  What if your baby has developmental delays, or additional medical needs?

The short answer to ‘when do I wean my baby’, is ‘when they are ready’.  In many ways, this is the same advice as for any baby.

I have seen some advice out there suggesting that premature babies should be weaned at 4 months.  I have never been able to find any evidence for this, but I imagine the reasoning is the idea that there is a sensitive period for learning the skills of dealing with solid foods, and that premature babies cannot lose time.  This means that children are most able to learn to deal with solids within a certain time frame, and likely to find it more dfficult after this.

This is true, to an extent, and we will talk about this more in future posts.  However, like so many things in a child’s development, you cannot make them ready for the next developmental stage, and we can create problems if we push too fast.  Following through on the principle of cue-based feeding that we discussed around introducing oral feeds, we can use the same principles to think about weaning.

So when is your baby developmentally ready?

Babies who are weaning are learning how to chew.  This involves skills of the jaw and tongue.  These jaw and tongue skills are fine motor skills, requiring a lot of coordination.

Your baby will not be ready to develop the fine motor skills they need in their mouth for chewing until they have an underlying amount of stability in their body.  The easiest sign to look out for is that they are starting to sit.

When they start to be able to reach for things, and move them around, in the sitting position, this is a sign that they can both sit and do something else at the same time, which is essentially what we are asking them to do with their mouth.

So as a general rule, sitting is a good indicator of weaning readiness.  This still applies, even if your child is developmentally delayed.  Until your child is sitting, they will not be able to develop their chewing skills, and so they are unlikely to be able to move beyond pureed (smooth) foods.

But…….

The other consideration here is the introduction of flavours.  In some ways, this is the more important consideration in the first instance.  Children who cannot sit are unlikely to be able to make the transition onto more complex textures BUT the period of time during which you can establish tolerance of diferent flavours is somewhat limited.  Of course, we can learn to like new flavours during our whole lifetime, but the period between about 6 months and about 18 months is really important.  After this time, many children go through a typical developmental phase of ‘fussy eating’ ( which I will write about), and it can be much harder to establish newer foods.

So, my advice ……

  • As a rule, look for sitting, and reaching whilst sitting as indicators of readiness for weaning
  • However, if your child is slow to develop these skills, then focus on the introduction of a wide range of flavours through purees.  Do not aim to progress onto more complex textures until your child has developed their gross motor skills.

Posts from Find the Key Speech Therapy are intended for information.  They are not intended to, and cannot take the place of advice from an appropriately qualified Speech and Language therapist who knows your child.  Find the Key Speech Therapy does not take responsibility for the use of any advice without appropriate professional guidance. 

 

 

 

 

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