Weaning (British meaning – starting to give your baby food as well as milk) is a really fun and exciting time for parents and babies. But even for second-time-round parents, a quick refresher of all the recommendations, dos and don’ts and ‘rules’ of this milestone is helpful.
Just a reassuring word from someone who has done it all before and is doing it again can be good. So here it is.
Quick disclaimer, I am not a health professional, I am just a mummy who is about to start weaning her second baby. I also don’t tend to follow the million and one rules and regulations certain baby websites, parents, food companies and so on decide to create when it comes to weaning.
Who would have thought that the simple subject of giving our little people their first tastes of ‘real’ food could be so controversial and filled with rules!
So here are my TOP TIPS:
- When to start weaning – personally I have waited until 6months with both my girls, because I like to know they will cope well with any food from the start, but it really does depend on you and your baby, many people start a bit earlier. Look for cues that your baby is ready; wait until your baby can sit up in a highchair, until they can guide things to their mouth and when they start grabbing food out of your hand it is a good signal they are ready.
- Don’t worry about mess – starting to give first tastes is all about experimenting and learning, so in reality not a lot of food actually goes down the hatch! The majority will be all over your baby’s face & body, the highchair, the floor and the walls (if they are a really good aim). A good highchair (keep an eye out for my highchairs post, coming soon) and a wipe clean mat on the floor are all good ideas as well as lots of good bibs.
- Big brothers/sisters are a big help – babies seem to learn the quickest through watching their older siblings, so sitting them down together at meal times so they have a good (sort of) example and so the older ones can help to feed and encourage the baby are great ideas.
- Some babies like to do it themselves – a lot of babies like to hold the spoon and my eldest was one of these, so I let her! It sounds simple, but the amount of people I see trying to stop their baby from getting the spoon, or giving the baby an empty spoon to hold while they ‘sneak’ food into the baby’s mouth, baffles me some what. I know it can be messy but you are teaching them to eat, so if they want to do it themselves from the start then fantastic! See BLW below too.
- Variety and flavour – would you eat the things you are feeding your baby? Now I am not saying give them some spicy chilli and a glass of wine! But don’t be surprised if the mashed up, luke warm carrot doesn’t go down so well. Mix things up and give some different, tasty, healthy options.
- BLW – I LOVE Baby Led Weaning (BLW) which is basically the idea that babies can have ‘normal food’ from the start so you just hand them the same food you are eating in suitable sized pieces and they feed themselves. Although I do a mix of both BLW and some purees/pots/pouches I think there is a lot to learn from the BLW ethos, so check it out.
- Everything doesn’t have to be home made – so weaning is one of those areas where parents like to compete in the ‘I am earth mother extraordinaire’ games and you here many a parent brag about the reams of homemade (ice cube trays full of) stuff they have made for their little darling. But the truth is, there are a lot of really good pots, pouches and trays of baby food available now, so don’t beat yourself into a mush (get it! 😉 ) over making everything yourself.
- Don’t eat it all up! / how much to feed them – while I am a very non-interfering and non-judgemental person when it comes to others’ parenting methods, I always sigh when I see parents trying to force those last few bits of the jar/pouch down their baby, or insist they eat everything on their plate. Base how much you feed them, on their appetite, not the size of the packet. As a rough guide babies tend to eat the following amounts: 4-6months = few mouthfuls a day / 7-9months = 3 different meals a day but amount guided by baby’s appetite / 12months+ = 3 meals a day with 2-3 healthy snacks.
- First foods – Vegetables are the best first foods (eg. cooked carrot, potato, sweet potato, broccoli, butternut squash) then fruit is good next (eg. avocado, banana, pear). But after those first few tastes move onto everything (only couple of rules, see below). Include all food groups: cereals (eg. bread, pasta, rice twice daily), fruit+veg (in all meals), protein (eg. meat, fish, beans, eggs twice daily) and dairy (eg. yoghurt, cheese once daily).
- When to feed – choose times when they are alert, not too hungry but not full either and when they are happy. Don’t try to substitute milk feeds with solids, instead offer a little milk first, if they are so hungry they are upset or frustrated, or give milk feed after they have tasted some new yummy food.
- Drinks– once you have started giving solid food, babies can have cooled boiled water as a drink with their food, give it in a ‘sippy cup’ – a cup with a lid and a free-flow opening, so they don’t have to suck to drink and therefore begin to learn to drink from a proper cup. Avoid giving juice as it offers no benefits and can create bad habits. Cows milk isn’t suitable as main drink until 1yr but you can use it in cooking before then.
- Food safety – bit of a no-brainer; wash your hands and equipment and sterilise before feeding. Throw away any unfinished served food as bacteria can be transferred from babies mouth to the food. Heat food well, watch out for hotspots, ensure food is thoroughly defrosted if frozen and always check the temperature of food before serving.
- Cutting down the milk feeds? – Breastmilk/formula is still an important source of nutrition for baby until they are 1year old. They still need milk and food is about fun at first. Don’t force dropping of milk feeds, still feed on demand. Naturally baby will start taking less and drop feeds by themselves.
- Food is FUN! – these first few months are all about fun, learning and good habits. Don’t worry if things don’t get off to a good start or if they just play with the food, remember that children learn through play! Even if you feel a bit anxious when giving them new food to try, do it with a smile, your baby will read your body language so give lots of encouragement.
- The rules I DO follow – so, while I don’t follow a lot of the excessive rules floating around today there are a few key things I would recommend: No Salt in baby’s food, No Honey until baby is 1year old, Halve grapes and other round food before giving to baby, Serve eggs well cooked, Give full fat dairy and ensure water given for drinks is cooled boiled water.