Feeding a growing and increasingly hungry baby can be one of the biggest challenges parents face every day, especially when trying to provide healthy meals quickly. To help make weaning that little less daunting here are some weaning basics!
What is Weaning?
Weaning is the gradual introduction of foods to a breast milk or infant formula fed baby, and involves exposing them to a variety of different tastes and textures.
During the initial stages of weaning, the focus shouldn’t be on how much your baby is eating, but rather getting them used to food and the idea of eating, as they will still be getting most of their nutrients from milk. As your baby eats more though, the proportion of energy from food will become more than that from milk.
When to Start Weaning your Baby
In the UK mothers are encouraged to breastfeed exclusively for their baby’s first six months of life, this is because breast milk protects babies from infections and diseases, in addition to providing health benefits for the mother too. If mothers cannot breastfeed then other alternatives may be explored, for example using formula milk.
Weaning should start when your baby is around six months old, provided they can hold themselves steady in a high-chair (or for a few seconds when sat on the floor), are able to bring objects to their mouth, and have lost their tongue-thrust reflex (see the video below). This can be tested by placing a clean finger or baby spoon onto their lower lip; if they reactively stick their tongue out, then they are not yet ready to be weaned.
How do you to Start Weaning?
From around six months of age your baby can be offered foods of a pureed or mashed consistency, progressing to foods with some lumps at around 7 months, as well as soft finger foods; for example cooked pieces of broccoli, parsnips, peppers, courgette and avocado, as well as banana, kiwi and pineapple. Starting with green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach can be helpful in order to encourage your baby’s bitter and sour taste buds to develop. Their sweet taste buds are already mature, meaning they will naturally accept sweeter foods such as fruit more readily.
Following vegetables and fruit, you should offer your baby foods such as porridge as well as mashed potato and soft bread sticks, in addition to soft pieces of foods rich in iron and protein, for example; slow cooked beef, dark chicken, turkey, fish (with no bones), eggs and lentils. Full fat, unsweetened and pasteurised yoghurts may also be offered however full fat cow’s milk shouldn’t be offered as a drink until your baby is 12 months old; it can however be used in cooking, on cereal or to mash up food. Baby rice can be useful to thicken purees if they come out too runny.
Initially babies need only to be offered food once a day, but you should build up to three times a day to mimic your own three meal a day meal pattern by 7 months of age. By the time babies are around 12 months old they should be eating at least three small portions of healthy family meals plus 3 small snacks in between. If foods are rejected, and the bitter vegetables will be, at least initially, keep offering the food as it may take several attempts for your baby to eat and enjoy it.
What about Fluid?
Regarding fluid, it’s good practice to offer a small amount (no more than 50ml at a time so the cup doesn’t become too heavy) of water with a meal from a free-flowing cup to teach your baby how to sip. If your baby is under 6 months old the water should be cool-boiled. Breast-fed babies should continue to be offered regular breastfeeds but you may want to encourage a routine in order for weaning to progress. Formula fed babies should be offered around 500-600ml of infant formula across 3-4 feeds.
Foods to Avoid
To reduce the risk of choking babies shouldn’t be given whole grapes, hard and small pieces of fruit or vegetables such as raw apple and carrot (these should be grated initially), whole nuts and popcorn.
Baby’s should also not be given honey before the age of 12 months, as although very unlikely it may contain the food poisoning bacteria botulism which can make them extremely ill, and you shouldn’t add any sugar or salt to any of their foods; remove their food portion from the pan first if you wish to add these to your meal.
Sugary foods such as biscuits and cakes are unnecessary and salty foods such as bacon, ham, bread and cheese should also be limited.
Breastfed babies require daily vitamin drops containing 8.5 to 10mcg of vitamin D. Formula fed babies only require this if they’re having less than 500ml of formula a day (as it is already fortified).
From the age of six months, babies should be given vitamin drops containing vitamins A, C and D, unless, as mentioned above, they’re having 500ml of formula a day. These vitamins should continue until children are five years old.
When did you start your weaning journey?
Thank you to Sarah from Children’s Nutrition for proof-reading this blog post for me.