Whether you can’t wait to watch your little one dive into the world of solid food, the whole concept fills you with dread or perhaps there’s an age gap between siblings and you’re looking for some updated weaning tips, then hello and welcome! This guide will talk you through all you need to know for a smooth transition from milk to solids.
What age to wean and why
The Department of Health recommends waiting until your baby is 6 months before you start weaning them. The main reasons for this are:
- Breast or formula milk provides all the nutrients they need until this point.
- At 6 months, they are more likely to cope with solid foods as their tummies are more developed.
- By 6 months, they will be able to sit in a highchair comfortably, which makes the feeding process much easier.
- At 6 months, they will be able to move food around their mouth better and begin to chew.
As you begin weaning, it’s important to remember that the amount they eat is not as important at this stage, this will increase over time, therefore it’s a good idea to keep in mind that this is an introduction to food and they are still getting all they need from their milk feeds at this point.
Weaning is an exciting time for both you and your baby, the touch, taste and smell of new foods is brand new to them so we recommend going at your baby's pace. No two experiences are the same, and your baby will let you know when they are ready to progress to a new stage, so no need to rush.
Stages of Weaning
This is the very first step on the weaning journey where you introduce food alongside current milk feeds. With this stage it’s all about getting them used to the idea of eating, touching food or holding a spoon, how much they actually consume isn’t important. Therefore a few spoonfuls in between feeds is ideal as a starting point. Then, as your baby becomes more established with food, you can move onto the next level of weaning such as traditional, baby-led or a combination of both!
Babies are very clever at adapting and will quickly begin to mimic your mealtime traits, so if they see you eating with a fork, you can bet they’ll want their own, that's if they haven’t tried to take yours first of course!
This involves spoon feeding your baby a selection of pureed foods to begin with, leading onto mashed, chopped and then finger foods as they become more established with feeding themselves. Traditional weaning has its advantages in that it is a much cleaner affair, and you have a better idea of how much they are consuming, however having to puree foods can be time consuming if you haven’t pre prepared . . . hello batch cooking!
This technique has become quite popular in recent times, but be warned it is not for the faint hearted as this is a messy mealtime experience . . . fun, but messy. Your baby is introduced to solid foods from the offset, meaning you don’t have to spend your time batch cooking, pureeing or blending. This means your baby will join you at meal times and explore the different foods in their own time rather than working their way up to solid food. This encourages them to chew food earlier than spoon fed babies. There’s a good chance you will end up with more on the floor, or in their hair than their mouth but it is great to watch them experiment with different textures and flavours on their own. It also contributes to their fine motor skills, helping them with hand eye coordination.
The gag reflex
If this is your first experience with weaning, especially baby led then you may notice that your baby will gag from time to time, but don’t worry this is normal to a certain degree. A babies gag reflex is located at the front of their mouth so it’s not uncommon for them to retch with certain foods, this is all part of the learning curve and will get better as they understand what to do with food in their mouth. Naturally there are foods to avoid to reduce the risk of anything serious happening but if you are worried about choking then please take the time to read the NHS choking guide.
Signs your baby is ready for weaning
If you are close to the 6 month mark and you feel your baby may be ready to wean, then great, go with your instinct, don't feel you have to wait until the exact hour, as long as it is close to this time, you should use your own judgement which will therefore get the best results, after all no one knows your baby better than yourself. Signs to look out for include:
- Chewing their fists more often
- Waking more frequently during the night
- Wanting extra milk feeds
- Taking more of an interest when you eat
- Being able to sit with their head up, unaided.
Foods to introduce
Now that you’re ready to begin your weaning journey, we recommend starting with single (cooked) fruits and vegetables as their first foods, these include:
Other first foods include:
- Full fat dairy products
- Fromage frais
- Cheese (pasteurised)
- Cow's milk for cooking with, but not as a drink until they are 12 months old.
- Baby cereals such as oat and rice based formulas, this can be mixed with breast for formula milk for extra creaminess
- Soft meats such as chicken, or soft meat alternatives
As your baby becomes familiar with flavours and textures you may want to progress to finger foods (if you haven't already) keeping a healthy balance in mind, but this time, have them cut into pieces that your baby can hold themselves, this is where the fun begins! Then as your baby begins to increase their solid intake, you will gradually begin to reduce their milk intake as they move onto 3 meals a day.
Batch cooking for weaning
If you are a lover of batch cooking then weaning is no different, you can simply freeze mini portions for your little ones for on the go convenience.
Top Tip - Use ice cube trays with lids for portions of pureed fruits and vegetables, they are the perfect size for introductory foods. Then, if you breastfeed, you could also use any left over breast milk storage bags, not only are they easy to store but they are sterile too!
Weaning Do’s and Don’ts:
- Do introduce new foods slowly and one at a time, this gives them time to get used to new flavours and also makes sure they do not suffer an allergic reaction.
- Do try again if they don’t take to it first time, remember this is completely new to them so it may take a few goes to establish.
- Do enjoy it - This is a wonderful stage in their development so make the most of these next steps together.
- Don't try to wean a tired or hungry baby, this will not make for an enjoyable experience, instead your baby will most likely be irritable and less likely to cooperate, so keep your babies eating and sleeping patterns in mind and plan around this.
- Don’t be too regimented - if you have started to wean, great! If your baby is taking well to mid morning solids, great! But don’t be a slave to it, if you need to leave the house, pop to the shop or go on the school run then this is absolutely fine, you can always introduce an afternoon feed on these days.
- Don't compare yourself to others who are also weaning, as mentioned earlier, no two experiences are the same. Your baby may walk, talk or roll over before others, but every child is different so don’t be disheartened if they don’t take to it straight away.