There are two options to weaning, baby led or spoon fed weaning. The spoon fed is a more traditional method where parents feed babies puréed food. Alternatively the baby led method means only feeding your little ones real food, this means you can incorporate baby into family meals. A lot of baby led foods end up on the floor but don't worry as your baby will still be getting all their nutrients from milk. Weaning can be quite a daunting experience for some parents, but don't panic there is a lot of guidance available now on this topic and they all get there in their own time.
As baby approaches 6 months many will no longer just be satisfied with milk alone, now is the time to start to introduce new tastes. Remember every baby is different, it is recommended that solids are not introduced before 17 weeks as your baby's gastrointestinal function won't be fully matured. Giving baby too much solid food can lead to constipation, so first foods are about gradually introducing food rather than giving a full meal.
First foods should be foods that are easily digested:
- Baby rice, which can be mixed with either breast milk or formula and you can control the texture, you can also combine baby rice with fruit or vegetable purée.
Vegetables that are easily digested are:
- Sweet potato, butternut squash, carrot, potato and swede.
- Most of these veggies are naturally sweet and purée easily into a smooth texture. You can again mix with a little breast or formula milk.
It is important you choose fruits that are ripe and soft, good first fruits to try are cooked apple and pear, or banana, papaya and avocado that don't need cooking but purée nicely.
Fresh food is always best but, as we are all busy, freezing foods for baby is fine, and you will always have something to hand if you are in a hurry.
Baby led weaning is a growing trend, instead of the traditional spoon fed route; baby learns appetite control, so they will eat when they are hungry and stop when full. Baby led weaning allows baby to explore and select foods. Initially your baby may only touch or play with the food, but soon they will be licking and tasting and finally eating foods. Babies love to pick things up with their fingers and this process can be quite messy, but I would suggest you invest in a plastic mat to put on the floor and a good baby bib!
Once baby is able to sit up unaided and can grasp and pick things up and guide them to their mouths, then they can be encouraged to start handling foods. They will not at this stage be able to chew and swallow finger foods efficiently, so they may not eat much to start with. Just start with pieces of food that are big enough for your baby to hold in their fist with some sticking out. It is important that babies are allowed the opportunity to move food around their mouths safely in their own time, so don't be tempted to put food into your babies mouth, your baby will only pick up and attempt to eat foods they are capable of managing. Some parents like to wait until baby is around 8 months old for this method as they have good fist grips at this stage.
Baby may gag on food, but this is fairly common in baby led weaning and can unnerve parents, but don't panic, it's simply a baby's natural reflex to stop them choking on food they can't swallow. Never leave your baby alone with finger foods. Studies have shown babies that have led weaning join into family meals earlier and eat a wider range of food types.
Some parents will prefer spoon led weaning as you are more in control of what they are eating and you can easily track foods they like and quantities.
Suggestions for finger foods, from 6 months and above:
- Cooked sticks: carrots, broccoli, sweet potato, courgette, butternut squash, apple and pear.
- Raw foods: banana sticks, avocado, and melon
- Cooked rice
- Fingers of bread/toast (watch they don't cram to much into their mouths, this can stick to the roof of the mouths).
- Cheese, either grated or sticks.
- Yoghurt/fromage frais - check sugar content.
- Cooked pulses
Foods baby should avoid under 12 months:
- Swordfish or marlin and shark, these are high in mercury levels
- Goats and sheep milk
- Mould ripened soft cheese
Foods that are good for purée:
- Green beans cook in plain boiled water for approx 5 mins and blitz when cooked
- Sweet potato cook in the oven with skin on for approx 45 mins, when cooked scoop out the flesh and blitz with a little water
- Peeled Apples (something like gala) for babies first taste - cook for approx 5 mins in boiling water and blitz
All these can be frozen, if you store in a small freezer bag, always write on the date when you froze it, fruit and vegetables are ok for approx 8 months, protein for approx 2 months, you can defrost the puréed fruit or veg by placing the bag in a bowl of cold water, they take minutes to defrost and no need to heat as baby food should be served at room temperature.
If baby dislikes the taste at first, don't give up, a baby needs to try something new 10 times before they enjoy the new flavour.
Introducing food to your baby:
- Always choose a time of day when baby is relaxed e.g. Not to tired or hungry.
- Most parents will choose to introduce very gently, offering baby rice with either breast or formula milk, baby rice is bland and you can make it as runny as you like. Just offer a couple of spoonfuls to start with, followed by baby's milk.
- Always wait around 3 days after offering baby a new food to ensure they have no allergic reaction to it.
- Just take things slowly, once your baby is enjoying food you can start to give some in the evening as well as the afternoon, and eventually the morning. Try giving baby a baby cereal mixed with a little fruit purée.
- Once you feel your baby is happy with taking the baby rice you can then introduce some basic fruit and vegetable puréed into the baby rice.
Mealtimes should be fun and relaxed, it is a sociable experience. It is a nice time to interact with your baby, lots of smiling and praise throughout, babies pick up on our feelings.
Expect mess, it's a messy time and you can clean up afterwards, babies love squeezing soft food in their fingers, touching and feeling is all part of the experience.
Offer small portions, they only have little stomachs!
Around 8 to 9 months old (every baby is different) baby will start to enjoy lumpier foods, they will be starting to mimic chewing patterns, they will not have enough teeth to chew yet but it's important you get baby used to lumpier foods at this stage.