The NHS recommends waiting until your baby is 6 months old before you start to introduce foods alongside their usual milk. Babies at this age still need breast or formula milk so sometimes weaning can be referred to as ‘complementary feeding’. Weaning is important for your baby to learn how to chew and swallow food properly as so far they have just been used to drinking milk. If your baby was born prematurely then it’s important to speak to your health visitor or GP about when you should start weaning them.
Every baby is different and has a different appetite so it’s important to be led by your baby with how much they want to eat, it’s important not to force your baby to eat and listen to their cues. Your baby won’t eat a lot to start with, the idea is to build up the amount they eat slowly over time. Deciding what time of day to introduce your baby’s first food is up to you but it’s important that this doesn’t interfere with their milk feed as they still need this.
Don’t be disheartened if your baby doesn’t take to foods straight away, this is a whole new experience for them! Some babies take to weaning really well and others may take a little time to get used to it!
Getting Started with Weaning
It takes around 10 tries of a food for your baby to get used to it so don’t give up! Some days may go better than others and this is fine, just keep trying and always offer but don’t force. Your baby will need to be able to sit up properly before you start weaning to allow them to swallow safely, you will need to buy a safe highchair that your baby can be strapped into for safety reasons. You’re also going to need to invest in some weaning spoons, bibs, bowls/plates (ones with a suction pad on the bottom are great), a sippy cup and a waterproof mat to go under the highchair.
As well as sitting upright and holding their head steadily, your baby will also need to be able to coordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can see their food, pick it up, put it in their mouth and swallow it. Some people think that baby chewing their hands, waking up frequently in the night and wanting more milk are signs that they are ready for weaning but this isn’t true, these are all just normal baby behaviours.
What Foods to Wean your Baby With
Here are some first food suggestions:
- Soft cooked vegetables like carrots, broccoli, sweet potato, parsnip – these can be blended smooth, mashed or cut into sticks.
- Soft fruits like banana, pear or cooked apple, again these can be mashed or turned into a puree.
It’s usually advised to start with vegetables that aren’t too sweet, like broccoli, potato and cauliflower. This is because it will help your baby get used to eating a variety of flavours and not develop a preference for sweet foods like carrots and sweet potatoes. It’s important not to add salt or sugar to the foods that you prepare for your baby, this is because it can cause damage to their kidneys and cause early tooth decay. Cow’s milk is fine to mix into your baby’s food when cooking but it’s not suitable as a drink until your baby is a year old.
Some parents prefer to start their baby’s weaning journey with purees or softly mashed foods and then introduce more texture and finger foods later. However some parents decide to do the baby-led approach which means only offering baby finger foods and allowing them to feed themselves, rather than offering pureed foods on a spoon. There’s no right or wrong way and some parents even decide to do a combination of puree/spoon feeding and offering soft finger foods.
If you do choose to start your baby on purees then it’s important to move onto mashed and finger foods as soon as they are ready, this gets them used to different textures, how to move food around their mouths, chew and swallow safely. Giving your baby a spoon and finger foods is great for developing their hand-eye coordination so this part of weaning is very important.
Offer your baby a sippy cup of water with meal times, it’s best to avoid juice and fizzy drinks as these contain a lot of sugar which isn’t good for your baby and can cause tooth decay.
Keep in Mind
Weaning should be something to look forward to and a lovely experience for both parents and baby, but sometimes the thought of weaning can cause some parents a lot of stress and worry. This is especially so for first time parents and if you are worried about your baby choking, it’s perfectly normal to be concerned about this so it’s important to do as much research as possible before starting your baby’s weaning journey. It’s recommended for parents to do a baby first aid course so you are as prepared as possible for any worst case scenarios.
However, it’s important to be aware that gagging is a perfectly normal reflex your baby does to stop themselves from choking. It can look scary, especially the first time you witness it but try to stay calm and show your baby that you’re not panicked. Your health visitor can offer you more information on gagging and the difference between this and choking. It may be a sign that your baby isn’t quite ready to move onto more textured foods, it’s important to take things slowly and move at your baby’s pace. An easy way to transition is to start with purees then move onto a mashed texture with small lumps and then mash with larger lumps until moving up to finger foods. Introducing your baby to a wide variety of flavours and textures will help with them accepting more foods further down the line.
If your baby isn’t taking to weaning as you’d have expected, you can read a helpful guide here.
It’s also important to be aware of food allergies and intolerances, the general advice is to expose your baby to foods that are more likely to trigger an allergic response one at a time and in very small quantities. This is so if your baby has a reaction then you know exactly which food caused it. If you or your family suffer from any food allergies then it’s recommended to talk to your health visitor or GP about this before you start weaning.