In simple terms, weaning is the process of moving your baby from a totally milk diet to one that includes solid food. This transitional stage of their feeding development is important as you will need to provide them with a balanced diet to help ensure they are getting the right nutrients they will need to develop and grow.
Milk will continue to supply many of the nutrients your baby needs at this time, but as your baby starts to become more active the introduction of solid foods will become increasingly more important for the development of a healthy and balanced diet. Not only is it an essential part of this development but it is an exciting one too, for both you and baby.
The process should not be tackled in a hurry, but at the pace your baby feels happy with. You should start by introducing pureed food first, then progressing onto lumpier textures and finally pieces of food. This can be a worrying stage, so some parents like to use a baby food feeder which allows baby to suck food like soft fruit through a mesh bag as they adjust to the new food without any choking hazard.
It is important to introduce your baby to lots of new tastes during this time. Feeding baby is not just about filling them up, but also about developing their sense of taste which means they will enjoy a great variety of foods as they grow allowing you as a parent to ensure they can enjoy a healthy balanced diet. Weaning is also about allowing your baby to get used to different textures in their mouth. By introducing new textures and a baby weaning spoon, your baby will start to learn to chew and swallow allowing them to move on to lumpier textures. In turn, this helps them develop the muscles they will need for talking later on.
It’s a whole new world for baby and they will have to learn new techniques to change from the instinctive sucking action associated with breast and bottle feeding. This can be both frustrating for baby and you so be patient with your baby when you start to introduce purees. It can take up to as many as 15 attempts for your baby to accept new foods, so bear this in mind, don’t make a fuss and try again another time.
When to Start?
It’s a good question, and of course will vary from baby to baby, but as a general rule you will want to start weaning your baby when milk no longer satisfies them, this should be about 4-6 months. The Department of Health recommends weaning should start at 6 months, but look out for clear signs from your baby in case they need to start a little earlier. When they are ready they will start to be more active and use up more energy with activities like pushing their chest up from the floor, rolling over and trying to sit up. Look out for obvious signs like crying after they have finished their milk, they become irritable and chew their hands as they wait for their next feed or if they wake during the night where they had previously slept through. These are all clear signs they are simply hungry and need their milk supplemented with food.
When you start to wean your baby, try to establish a good routine. Try to feed at a set time and start with one solid feed a day and slowly introduce a second and third as baby adjusts to their new routine. They will still need milk in their diet as it continues to give baby crucial nutrients and is their main source of vitamins, minerals and fats. Milk should remain a part of their diet until at least 12 months of age.
What should I introduce first?
It is a good idea to start with gentle flavours and a smooth pureed texture. Smoother textures are important as it is easier for baby to swallow. Try introducing baby rice mixed up with some baby milk which has a familiar taste for baby and should be accepted more easily. It will take baby a while to learn the new techniques required, so do not worry if baby spits out a lot of food at first, this is a natural stage, so don’t make a fuss and keep trying.
What equipment do I need?
There are lots of great weaning products available on the market to help parents prepare their own baby food along with products to store food, transport food, freeze food and feed baby! Here’s out top 10 list of must haves for making your own baby food and for weaning baby:
1 Baby Food Mixer / Steamer /Blenders
A baby food mixer is a great product that helps blitz up food quickly and simply in only the small portions required. Many models now also have additional functions including steaming the food and cooking rice, so decide what you will need before making your choice.
2 Food storage pots
Food storage pots are a great idea for storing individual portions of baby food to freeze or take out on a day trip. This allows you to mix up a batch and use as required.
3 Baby food warmers
A baby food warmer is a handy little gadget designed to heat milk and baby food evenly. Milk and food can often contain hot spots if heated in a microwave, so this product is a great safety must have. Many products on the market heat as quickly as 4 minutes, ideal if baby is crying for their dinner!
4 Weaning spoons an cutlery
There is a large variety of spoons on the market. We recommend you start with a soft tip spoon which is soft and gentle for little mouths. Look out for heat sensitive spoons if you are worried about food containing hot spots. As baby grows, you will need to change the spoon you use and gradually progress to a proper baby cutlery set.
5 Weaning bowls and plates
Weaning bowls come in all shapes, colours and sizes! Look out for brands that offer easy scoop shapes and suction bases to help make getting the food on the spoon easier.
Whatever you do, weaning will be messy! So be prepared and pop a bib on baby before you start. There are lots of different styles on the market, but we recommend bibs with a scoop at the bottom as they can help to catch any dropped food. These bibs are often easy clean too, allowing you to use over and over again without having to use a washing machine.
7 Bottles to Cup
Your baby will also need to adjust from a bottle to a normal cup. This should be done in stages. There are plenty of bottle to cup ranges on the market specifically designed to grow with baby allowing them to adjust from a cup with handles to a sports cup and from a teat to a soft tip spout and then on to a hard spout.
8 Fresh Food Feeder
A fresh food feeder is a handy little product which allows you to put a piece of food, like fruit, into a mesh bag for baby to suck though ensuring there is no choking hazard. With a handy ring, baby can grip it themselves and enjoy the independence of feeding themselves.
9 High Chair
Using a high chair means baby is safe and secure, we recommend you ensure you buy one with a harness, is easy to clean and folds for easy storage. Using a high chair means baby can eat at the table with the family, making them feel part of the whole dining experience.
10 High chair toy
Perhaps not essential, but a high chair toy is a great distraction for baby to keep them entertained in their high chair as you prepare their food and feed them.
Remember, this exciting time should be fun for you and baby, so take your time, let your baby get messy and enjoy watching them learn to love all the new tastes and textures associated with weaning.