Starting out on the weaning journey is an exciting milestone. This is a well-trodden path and you may feel nervous, but a little planning and understanding of what to expect should help.
As a rule of thumb, most health professionals in the UK advise breast or formula to be the single food for the first 6 months. Obviously, there’s a lot of differences between babies (and Mums!) and you need to be comfortable with what you’re doing. So let’s have a look at some physical indicators to take into account to ensure you’re doing this at the right time for you and your baby. Physically baby should be able to hold their head up and sit up. They should be interested in food – typically when you’re eating they may reach for it and watch you whilst your eating and drinking. On a different note, this is why you keep hot drinks well out of reach. Baby should also be able to pick up food and put it in their mouth and move the food around the mouth without spitting it out and be able to swallow. You can expect some food to be spat out as they further develop the physical swallow reaction and lessen the tongue thrust which aids breastfeeding. You can always check with your healthcare practitioner at the baby clinic to advise you.
If you’ve waited until these developmental changes you may not have to puree food and move to mashed and lumpy food from the start. This is because baby can chew and move food around the mouth much more easily. However, you may feel more comfortable starting with purees you will be amazed at how quickly your little one develops onto less processed food as the weeks pass.
The first question you can ask yourself is if you want to start with baby-led weaning, (BLW) or spoon-fed with puree or mashed food, or a mixture of both. There’s no right or wrong way with this, whatever suits you, baby and family is most important.
If you’re going to use puree/mash it’s a good idea to have a spoon each or you load a spoon with puree or mashed food and hand it to baby.
Soft food that can be held and sucked, such as cooked broccoli or carrot is good for BLW. Do not incorporate any hard, raw foods eat this stage. Never add salt or sugar to your baby’s food and if you need to occasionally use ready-made baby food do check the label as some can be really quite high in sugar and/or salt. One other food item to exclude is honey as it is not pasteurised and can sometimes carry bacteria. Only give honey after 12 months. Do keep going with breast or formula feeds and don’t use cows’ milk as a drink. Cows’ can be added to food as an ingredient much like unsweetened yogurt – good in mashed potato, or mashed root vegetables. Make sure you try little tastes at the normal milk feed time so that they’re more interested in food.
If baby turns away from food, gets fidgety, or firmly closes their mouth then it’s time to stop and move onto a different activity. This is as much about learning from tastes and textures as it is to learn to walk.
Use a high chair with a footrest, this stops baby sliding, is more supportive for the correct sitting position and is reassuring for baby. Other items to consider are soft weaning spoons, unbreakable dishes and a drinking beaker with or without a spout, but not with a valve. Depending on preferences, some prefer to place food onto the high chair tray, others prefer to use a bowl with suction underneath to prevent the whole lot landing on the floor. Whichever way, I’d make sure there’s some floor protection with a messy mat/floor protector for your peace of mind too!
The experience should be relaxed, wait until it’s the right time for both of you. A tired or anxious baby or mum is not a recipe for success.
Keep the atmosphere calm, have time to enjoy the meal together and perhaps have some music playing in the background. This can form the basis of a general routine to signal to your baby that food is going to happen! Distractions such as the tv (or your phone!) are best avoided, simply enjoying the meal together is key. Both – or more of you eating is good and shows baby that eating in company is pleasurable and can be fun too. It’s a new learning experience for baby and can be tiring so all the energy available is needed to concentrate on all those lovely new flavours and textures.
What foods and expectations:
The experience of introducing foods to baby will sometimes be great, sometimes not so. New tastes can take time for your little one to get accustomed to. Sometimes it may take 10 or more tastes before liking a flavour, so common sense suggests that you try and expose baby to a flavour many times. It’s important to take it in your stride as part of the learning experience for both of you and accept any rejection calmly! Using non-sweet vegetables is a good idea initially. When you think about it, breast milk is quite sweet, so following through with more sweetness gives baby a narrower experience. So while sweet potato, banana, pear and apple are lovely make sure there’s also cauliflower, broccoli, beans, avocado, fresh orange, a little spice, such as paprika, nut butters and some herbs too. Introduce one food at a time, a different one each day. When you think baby is ready to move onto an additional flavour on the plate then you can start doing this, leading quite nicely to a full meal. Adding additional flavours can usually be done after about two weeks from the start of weaning.
After 6 months the iron store held by a baby is pretty much depleted so there’s a nutritional consideration outside of the tasting and texture experience too. Iron is found in eggs, beans, meat, oily fish and nut butters. Follow your health practitioners advice for supplements which is often vitamins A, C and D from 6 months to 5 years.
Allergens are something that parents can have concerns about. Advice at one time used to be to avoid foods that are listed as the more common allergens such as egg or nuts. It’s now thought allergies are more likely to develop if introduced after 12 months. The advice now is to introduce foods when weaning after 6 months, but to do this as single flavours sso you can gauge any reactions. If your baby has been diagnosed with an allergy, eczema, asthma, or if there’s a family history of allergies, eczema, hayfever or asthma, it’s important to consult with your GP or health visitor when introducing new foods.
However, you choose to wean make it an enjoyable experience for you and your baby, relax and you will both love the experience and both you and your family will enjoy a varied lovely diet that will establish good eating habits for your baby.