Weaning is an exciting and important stage in your baby’s development. How much your baby eats at this stage is less important than getting them used to the idea of eating and trying new foods, so make sure you enjoy this time exploring new foods, flavours and textures together.
There are 3 clear signs, which, when they appear together from around 6 months of age, show your baby is ready for their first solid foods alongside breast milk or first infant formula. , These include: being able to stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady, co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth by themselves and the ability to swallow food (rather than just spit it back out).1, 3
If you have noticed these signs in your baby and feel ready to give weaning a go, these top tips from GP and mum Dr Pixie McKenna, author of several books on weaning and how babies develop as they grow, will help get you started.
1. Off to a good start
Allow your baby to explore what they are eating by touching and holding the food and they may even feed themselves or show you that they want to hold the spoon.1
Let your little one lead. They will tell you when they are hungry and when they are full so do not force your baby to eat.1
Babies imitate their parents so sit down as a family during mealtimes to demonstrate to your baby how to eat.1
2. Foods to begin with
Traditional weaning methods involve feeding your baby mashed, pureed or soft cooked fruits and vegetables.3
Try feeding your baby a range of flavours rather than just sticking to one, as this may help stop them from growing up to be fussy eaters e.g. rather than just feeding them sweet vegetables such as sweet potato or carrots, mix it up and get them trying savoury vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower too.1
Foods that may trigger an allergic reaction (such as peanut spreads, hen’s eggs, gluten and fish) can be introduced from 6 months but only in small amounts to help you identify any reactions.1
3. Foods to Avoid
Avoid adding salt or sugar to foods as more than 1g of salt is bad for your baby’s kidneys and too much sugar is bad for your baby’s teeth.3
Whole nuts are dangerous due to the risk of choking, therefore it is safer to have them in spreads.3
Do not give your child honey until they are over 1 years old as it contains bacteria that can be harmful to the baby’s intestines, potentially leading to a serious illness.2
Raw shellfish should be avoided as it increases the risk of food poisoning.2
Avoid cheese that is made using unpasteurised milk as there is a risk that these cheeses carry a bacteria called listeria.2
4. Preparing Food Safely
First step is to always remember to wash your hands before prepping the meal and keep the surfaces clean.1
Cut small and round foods, like grapes, into small pieces. Remember to cut them length ways to prevent choking.1
Make sure the food has cooled down before feeding it to your baby.1
Remove any pips and stones from fruit or bones from meat and fish.1
Always wash and peel fruit and vegetables.1
Eggs that are stamped with the red lion (UK and EU laws) are considered to have a low risk for salmonella, so are safe for babies.1
Do not reheat food more than once.2
Please note your baby may gag whilst adapting to solid foods and this is different from choking. If your baby is gagging you may notice watery eyes, pushing of their tongue out of their mouths or retching to bring the food forward.1 The difference between choking and gagging is that with choking, they would either be coughing uncontrollably or there will be no sound coming from your baby at all. This is because their airways are blocked and as the chest and ribs are pulled in they will be struggling to breathe. There are techniques to help overcome the choking such as back blows, chest thrusts and abdominal thrusts to dislodge any objects blocking the airways and depending on their age the technique will vary. And if those all fail then immediately call for help.4
5. Tools for the Job
A high chair is important as your baby needs to be in an upright position - you may want to put a mat under the high chair to stop the mess going everywhere!
Bibs – you can get ones that wipe clean or collect the food for easy cleaning.
Weaning spoons, which are normally soft for their gums.1
Introducing an open cup without a valve will benefit your baby on learning how to sip.1
Food on the go – as parents you will always be juggling a million and one things at the same time so it may not always be easy or convenient to prepare your food, so don’t feel guilty if you need to use pre-prepared pouches or jars.
Baby wipes – weaning means food getting everywhere! But fear not, to help limit any mess, take the time to investigate which baby wipes are right for you and your baby.
6. Nutrients and Vitamins
It is suggested that babies that are breastfed should be given a daily supplement of vitamin D from birth. However, babies that have ≥ 500 ml of formula should not be given vitamin supplements as formula milk is fortified with vitamin D.1
It is recommended that all children from ages 6 months to 5 years be given vitamin supplements A, C and D daily.1
7. Vegetarian and Vegan Diets
If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet it is important your baby receives the following nutrients:
Vitamin B12. This is normally found in animal foods, eggs, cheese and milk but, if your baby is vegetarian or vegan, they will need to take supplements of this vitamin or foods fortified with B12 such as yoghurt and milk alternatives, such as soya and coconut drinks.
Omega-3. This fatty acid is found in oily fish like salmon but, if your baby does not eat fish then you can get a great source of Omega-3 from ground flaxseeds, ground walnuts or ground chia seeds.5
Iron. Your baby can get this through lentils, beans, chickpeas, dried fruit and wholegrains.5
Calcium. The usual source of calcium is through milk and dairy products which is important for the development of teeth and bones. You can give your baby alternatives such as soya, oat or almond milk and also bread, almond butter, green leafy vegetables, beans and lentils.5
Protein. A great source of protein can be found in beans, chickpeas, lentils and soya products. In addition, seeds and nuts offer protein but ensure they are ground or as a spread for those children under five years.5
Iodine. Natural sources of iodine in our diet comes from foods such as fish, cow’s milk and other dairy products. However, for those babies who follow a diet that does not include these foods, iodine can be found in plant foods such as cereals and grains, or an iodine supplement can be given.5
8. Feeding in Stages
It is important to understand how your baby’s needs evolve as they grow and develop:
In the beginning, babies will not need three meals a day, so just feeding them different foods in small amounts will be enough to help them get started.
Ensure your baby is not tired before eating, and take your time.1
Offer food before their usual milk feed because if you do it after, your baby may be full.1
Don’t stress as it can take many attempts before your baby will accept something new with a different texture.1
7 to 9 months
During these months your baby will slowly begin to have three meals a day and also their usual milk feeds.1
Progressively begin to increase both the amounts and variety of food you offer to your baby. This will help ensure they are getting all the necessary nutrients.1
As your baby begins to eat more they will naturally adapt their milk consumption and may want less during their feed. If they are formula fed, a rough guide would be to feed 600 ml a day.1
10 to 12 months
Your baby should now be having three meals a day whilst still having their usual feeds. If they are breastfed, they will still be adapting their milk intake and formula fed babies may drop to 400 ml a day.1
Note that babies who are formula fed and consume less than 500 ml a day may need to take a vitamin D supplement.1
Hopefully by this stage weaning is now becoming a more fun and enjoyable experience for your baby, whilst they hold, chew and swallow a wider variety of tastes and textures.1
9. Real Food = Real Poops
Please do not be alarmed if one day your baby’s poo is one colour and the next day another. This is absolutely normal as changes in colour, smell and texture can be expected due to their digestive system adapting to the world of solid foods. At first, it may be thicker, darker and smellier but will slowly begin to change as they try new things.
Breastfed babies’ poo is typically runny and does not have a strong smell.
Formula-fed babies’ poo might be dark brown, solid and smell.7
Infant formulas can make your baby’s poo green but this depends on the formula.7
It is always important to change your baby’s nappy as soon as possible if it is dirty as leaving it on your child may cause your little one to feel uncomfortable or their skin to become irritated. WaterWipes with Soapberry have been developed specifically for your growing baby using a drop of fruit and soapberry extract. Suitable for exploring babies, Soapberry is a naturally powerful cleanser and is kind on sensitive skin.
10. Other concerns?
Allergens - If either of the baby’s parents have food allergies, speak to your GP before you start weaning.
Stressed? – If you have a lot going on and situations have changed, you may want to avoid weaning until things have settled so you can enjoy the process.8
Should I refuse feeds during weaning? – Refusing could help increase your baby’s concentration on the weaning process. However, if your baby wants a feed you may do so, but continue to work on distracting them with new foods and activities.8
Which first, purees or finger foods? - It is completely up to you so it’s just a case of trial and error.3
Weaning may take a while so don’t force it. Let your baby go at their own pace, stay positive and keep praising them as you go along. Next thing you know they will be joining you at the dinner table and requesting their favourite meals.