All About Weaning
What is weaning and how is it done?
Weaning is the process by which babies transition from being
fully reliant on milk to consuming solid foods.
There are two weaning methods: the traditional approach consists of stages from purée to solid food, whereas the baby-led weaning approach skips the purée and mash stages and encourages the exploration of foods in their solid form straight away.
There is no right or wrong method for weaning, both can lead to happy and healthy children, so each parent should make their own informed choice about which approach is right for them and their baby. Weaning is an exciting journey whichever path is chosen.
When should I start weaning my baby?
The World Health Organisation advises that weaning does not begin
prior to 6 months of age. This ensures that the baby’s digestive system
has developed fully enough to cope with solid food, whether that be
purée, cereals or finger foods.
Swallow food – babies who are not ready will normally push the food back out with their tongue
Chewing fists – this is not an indication of readiness for weaning and can signal teething, tiredness and other factors
Waking in the night when they have previously slept through – this does not necessarily mean that they are hungry. Babies experience significant developments between 4 and 6 months which can lead to sleep regressions
Wanting extra milk feeds – just like in the early baby weeks, this is often a sign of growth spurts and other factors
Big babies – this does not necessarily mean they need solid foods sooner than other babies
Remember, research has shown that it is what is inside that counts and babies should have a fully developed digestive system before embarking on their weaning journey. However, if you have concerns or questions please do seek advice from your Health Visitor.
Foods to avoid
Weaning is an exciting time to explore the vast
array of flavour and textures that food offers.
However, there are some foods
that need to wait to be introduced:
Honey – due to the risk of infant botulism, honey should not be introduced (cooked or uncooked) before 12 months of age.
Whole nuts, whole grapes and other foods shaped like a wind pipe are choking risks and should not be offered uncut until at least 5 years of age.
Low fat foods – babies need a high fat diet as fat is a great source of calories and vitamins.
Unpasteurised or blue cheeses – these pose a small risk of food poisoning so avoid these until after your baby has turned 12 months.
Some fish and shellfish should be avoided until 12 months, for example shark, marlin and swordfish, due to the fact that they contain high levels of mercury. Shellfish can carry a risk of food poisoning so please ensure that you cook these fully.
Drinks – although it is recommended to introduce a drink of water from 6 months, juices and squashes are not advised due to the high sugar content which can lead to weight gain and tooth decay.
What do you need?
First of all, I’d equip yourself with some long-sleeved cover-all bibs
to protect your baby’s clothing, and also a floor mat. Even if your baby
starts off tentatively investigating the tiny florets of broccoli you offer,
it won’t be long until they are covered in spaghetti bolognese and
grinning up at you in thanks and admiration at your wonderful cooking!
Obviously, a highchair is also a must. I’d recommend one similar to the IKEA Antilop, due to the fact that it’s very easy to wipe clean, unlike some of the more padded chairs that have lots of creases and crevices for crumbs and sauce to get into! You may also want to equip yourself with a full sleeve bib as these are fantastic for catching food that your baby may have otherwise dropped on the floor in their excitement at your culinary skill!
As you progress with your weaning journey, you’ll find that suction plates are a fantastic way to help focus your child on the variety in front of them. Initially, most babies are more than happy exploring food from the highchair tray, but as they grow up, having some structure and sections in front of them can help focus them on the food; I’ve no idea why this seems to work, but it does for many babies and parents!
Finally, get yourself plenty of exciting recipes to try out, but remember… it’s not just going to be for your child, as you’re also going to benefit from these tasty treats too!
What is traditional weaning?
Traditional weaning takes babies on a structured journey from puréeto solid food,
rather than diving straight in with solid food via the Baby-Led Weaning approach.
Introduction to purée at 6 months
The first step in the traditional weaning journey is to explore a range of
flavours in purée form. Research shows that introducing a variety of
vegetables for at least two weeks before offering fruits helps little ones’
taste buds to develop an appreciation for a full range of flavours.
Pre-made purée can be purchased in pouches or jars, but it is also very easy (not to mention cost efficient!) to make your own: simply use a hand-held blender to create your purée from cooked vegetables/fruit to create a consistency similar to cream. It can be useful to add some of your child’s normal milk (breast or formula) to help create this consistency and ease the introduction of new flavours. Steaming vegetables is usually recommended over boiling to ensure that the flavours and nutritional value remain. You will no doubt make more than your baby will eat, which means you can portion up leftovers in ice cube trays (or purpose-made silicone trays) and refrigerate or freeze to save you time on other days.
At this stage, babies still get their nutrition from milk so relax and enjoy exploring a range of different flavours with your little one. It can take 10-15 ‘taste sessions’ for your little one to get to grips with a particular flavour. Remember they have only tasted milk before, so the flavours of broccoli, parsnip and cauliflower are all new – a potentially Oscar-winning facial expression does not necessarily mean that they do not like the flavour!
It is often recommended to introduce one new vegetable at a time, over a couple of days, to check for any reactions and to allow taste buds to adjust to these new sensations. Ella’s Kitchen’s The Purple One book provides a handy guide to stagger the introduction of a variety of vegetables and acts as a useful reminder of different vegetables for anyone who feels stuck in a cooking rut or hasn’t considered introducing avocado, aubergine or swede.
Top Tips for Stage 1
Introduce this new experience at a quiet time of day when stimulation is at a minimum and there is time for both of you to relax and focus on this new activity
Steam the vegetables to retain as much flavour and nutritional value as possible
Add some of your little one’s normal milk to the purée to help create a smooth and runny consistency
Use ice cube trays to create and store portions of your homemade purée to make future mealtimes quick and easy
Offer a drink of water alongside their food to help get them used to the idea of drinking something other than milk at meal times
Stick to vegetables for a few weeks to ensure that your little one adjusts to savoury flavours before introducing the sweeter taste of fruit
Re-visit each vegetable several times to allow your little one the change to get used to the flavours
Have a camera handy to capture the facial expressions at this amazing milestone: the start of your little one’s weaning journey and lifelong relationship with food.
There is no ‘right or wrong’ timeline for when to move onto this second stage, but once your little one has got to grips with eating purée, you can start exploring lumpier consistencies – normally before 9 months. Around this time, you’ll also start offering foods at each meal time. There is no rush to do this – build it up gradually over the first few months, being guided by your little one. Don’t panic i your little one eats more or less at different times of the day or on different days – they are still getting a lot of nutrition from their milk so continue to try and relax and enjoy the weaning experience with your little one!
In addition to varying the texture, you can also vary the flavours for your little one to explore: meat, fish, hard-boiled eggs and yoghurt are all flavours that you could consider incorporating into meal times.
At this stage, you could also combine flavours, for example carrot and swede mash, potato and cauliflower mash or chicken and sweet potato mash. Most babies love the chance to explore new flavours, so why not also introduce herbs and spices? A pinch of cumin to carrot and swede mash or a pinch of cinnamon to apple and pear can help make these combinations even more exciting!
Top Tips for Stage 2
Use a fork or masher to prepare your little one’s meals, instead of the hand-held blender, to create a lumpy and thick consistency
Have fun experimenting with different flavour combinations
Add herbs and spices to make meals even more tasty and exciting!
Ensure that milk and food times are spaced so that your little one isn’t full from milk when food is placed in front of them, but also that they’re not so hungry that they would rather have milk than food
Once your little one is merrily exploring different lumpy textures, you can begin to introduce minced or chopped foods, as well as offering some soft finger foods like steamed carrot sticks. You may find that your little one begins to work on their ‘pincer grip’ around this time as well, so offering chopped foods alongside strips of chicken which they can hold in their fist will also challenge your little one to develop this fine motor skill.
At this stage, you can begin to offer your little one a few different foods at the same time on their EasyMat; the sections of the mat separate items for your little one to see easily and explore at their leisure. You could use the three sections to offer different food groups such as proteins, carbohydrates and fruit or use one section for a dip, as some babies love to dip at this age.
By 12 months of age, your little one will probably be feeding themselves fully, whether that’s by hand or with some cutlery. As with the weaning process in general, there is no right or wrong way to transition to cutlery – a lot of parents find that their little one takes over the spoon-feeding when they are ready and leads the way, but this can happen at different stages for each child. The sides of the EasyMat are perfect for little ones who are learning to use cutlery as the walls are high enough for them to scoop their spoon against to capture the tasty food you have served them and the suction pads ensure that the mat stays in place too.
You may find around 12 months that your little one also benefits from a couple of snacks a day in between their meal times.
Top Tips for Stage 3
Use a fork or masher to prepare your little one’s meals, instead of the hand-held blender, to create a lumpy and thick consistency
Remember that for the first few years of a child’s life, whole nuts, grapes and other foods of a similar shape to the windpipe are a choking risk, so always remember to cut these to keep your little one safe.
Continue experimenting with a range of foods, covering all food groups and exploring flavours as much as possible.
Experiment with different sizes and shapes of food to engage your little one and encourage the development of their pincer grip.
Begin involving your little one in the cooking process: talk to them about what you are doing and giving them little jobs. Stirring cake mixtures, placing pizza toppings onto dough and practicing cutting soft items like bananas are a great way to involve your little one, build their skills, enjoy meal preparation together and help your little one to develop a lifelong healthy relationship with food.
Baby Led Weaning
So what is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is just that: baby-led. It’s the term given to the weaning method whereby you skip purée and mash completely and offer your baby ‘real’ food from the get-go – allowing them to explore, learn and eat in their own time. This approach encourages your child to learn to use their jaw and tongue muscles before learning to swallow. Some babies begin eating straight away, while others take longer; your baby will do things as and when they are ready, and we need to trust in them. Babies are pretty amazing and tend to do things at the perfect time for them if we just relax and let them lead the way – making sure a camera is on hand for the great photo opportunities that weaning provides!
I wish you the very best of luck in your weaning journey. If you need any support, please do feel free to ask questions either on my Baby-Led Weaning App Support Group on Facebook, or message me directly via my main Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook Facebook page, but please remember to relax and be led by your baby. Enjoy the experience, because despite the mess, it’s wonderful seeing your baby exploring this new and exciting world of food!
How can you start?
From six months of age, your baby can eat the same food as you, except for honey and whole nuts. The best way, in my experience, is to begin by offering a different vegetable each day for the first two to three weeks and then introduce a different fruit a day. This helps you to identify any reactions to certain foods easily; also, start exploring a range of savoury flavours before you introduce sweet ones.
On my ‘Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook’ app, I have laid out a monthly guide and routine section for parents who wish to follow a more structured approach, whilst still allowing their baby to lead the way in terms of when they eat and how much they take.
Don’t prepare too much in the beginning, as it’s unlikely to be eaten; a couple of sticks of veg will be enough for your little one to explore and you can increase if needed. Having spares on your plate is always useful though, just in case!
Always eat alongside your baby so they can watch and learn from you, as well as learning to enjoy the family mealtime atmosphere. You can enjoy your meal whilst talking to your little one about the flavours on their plate, the colours and the textures.
Are there any downsides to Baby Led Weaning?
Nevertheless, it would be unfair of me to present
baby-led weaning as a completely positive and joyful experience.
As with everything, there are the potentially ‘bad’ and ‘ugly’ sides…
Food Intake – Will My child get enough to eat?
Due to the fact that Western society has been using spoon-feeding for so many years now, we are used to seeing babies consuming and swallowing food from six months. Many baby-led weaned babies do so too; however, many also don’t. For some babies, it can take a little longer for them to decide to swallow – and that’s OK! Until 12 months of age, milk is a baby’s main source of nutrition, so they have plenty of time to explore, experiment and discover food on their own. This can be tricky for parents for a couple of reasons: firstly, you panic that maybe they should be eating, or maybe they’re going hungry; secondly, the food you’re preparing may morph into a delightful piece of art – smeared across your child’s highchair and the surrounding floor – but again, that’s OK! Baby-led weaning is just that – baby-led – so although this may be seen as a ‘bad’ thing, it’s something that we can relax about and hopefully go with the flow (being guided by our little ones).
The Mess!! Baby Led Weaning is a Messy Business
There is no doubt about it BLW allows your baby more freedom to explore with their food, and this inevitably this can make mess. The highchair, the floors and perhaps even the walls will become splattered and covered with remnants of food as your child explores their way through the tasty treats you’ve lovingly cooked for them. In excitement, your child may swing spaghetti as if it’s a lasso, and it will produce the ugliest splatters of sauce across your room.
Im pleased to say that there are now some excellent products that can help during these stages suction plate such as EasyMat and EasyMat Mini which are both designed to reduce mess, as unlike traditional bowls, plates or mats, these innovative happy-face plates come with an integrated mat that features corner suction pads. This means that they stick to all surfaces (except unfinished wood), cannot be tossed to one side by excited babies the Mini also comes with a free carry case and a protective lid. This means that you can load up the mat before you leave the house; then slip it into your bag, so it is ready to easily feed your little one on the go!
In short, buying anything that will help you to just relax and enjoy watching your little one explore their way through this new world is a good thing.
Is there an increased chance of
choking with Baby Led Weaning?
Often people say that a bad aspect of baby-led weaning is the risk of choking. Many people confuse choking and gagging, but a quick Google will inform you that no matter which weaning method you choose, the risk is the same. Babies have a gag reflex that is further forward than ours in order to help them learn to re-work food in their mouth before swallowing. This will be the case whichever method you choose, but the fact that baby-led weaning helps your child to develop their jaw and tongue muscles means that they should hopefully get over this stage of weaning much more quickly than if they were only used to swallowing smooth purée – so really, although people raise these as ‘bad’ sides to baby-led weaning, statistically there is no more chance of choking than there is with traditional weaning.
Baby-led weaning is about having fun – and although that comes with a messy side, it’s still beautiful seeing your child covered in a spattering of tomato sauce with bits of onion and mince in their hair, with a great big smile on their face as they enjoy their homemade meals alongside their loving parents.
If you need any support, please do feel free to ask questions either
on my Baby-Led Weaning App Support Group on Facebook, or message me
directly via my main Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook Facebook page.
BLW Information supported by Natalie Peall, author of Baby Led Weaning Made Easy