What is weaning?
Weaning is baby’s transition from a milk only diet to solid foods. It should be a gradual process and there’s lots of differing advice out there regarding how it should be done so it can all seem a bit daunting if it's your first time. The main thing most people/organisations agree on is that weaning shouldn't be started until your baby is 6 months old (including The World Health Organisation and the NHS). Milk (Breast or formula) contains all the nutrients that your baby needs for their first 6 months of life and for the first year of their life this should still be their main source of nutrients. Weaning will help to top up those nutrients and add extra iron to their diet. Weaning is the next big milestone after birth and it’s an important one to help foster good health and a positive attitude to food.
Traditional weaning or Baby Led weaning?
The choice is yours but for me somewhere in the middle has worked best. I love the flavours and combinations you can make with purees and I love the idea of babies discovering finger foods so I’ve always included a bit of both. When it came to my baby’s first tastes they generally started with purees as it seemed to be the most logical thing for me to do. Please feel free to make your own mind up and If you want to explore BLW more take a look at the BLW website or ask some questions in a supportive Facebook group like this one.
What are First Tastes?
First Tastes are your baby’s first experiences with solid food and the very early stage of baby weaning. As a guide experimenting with first tastes can take around 2 weeks.
In the very initial stages of weaning your baby isn’t really eating much but they are getting used to new flavours and textures. In the past baby’s first food was always baby rice as it is almost flavourless and can be mixed with Baby’s normal milk.
In Baby Led Weaning, baby rice would never be considered as a first food and as there are so many more natural and nutritionally rich foods available I would definitely agree.
Starting weaning with natural foods in a slow and considered way helps you and your baby ease into a new routine more easily, gives your baby’s digestive system time to adapt and also allows you to see if anything is causing an adverse reaction (such as a rash, wind, diarrhoea or vomiting). A reaction doesn’t always mean an allergy. It could be that their digestive systems may not yet be ready for a particular food so take it away for a few weeks if you notice anything unusual and then try again.
Common food allergies
If you are worried that your baby may be allergic to a food, stop giving that food immediately and consult your GP. If you would like further information regarding allergies the Allergy UK website is fantastic. Milk protein, Eggs, wheat (gluten) and nuts are the most common allergens in the UK.
Home-made is best
I am an advocate of home-made baby food. It’s more nutrient rich and “real” tasting than shop bought purees. It’s a lot cheaper, not at all difficult to make and doesn't have to be time consuming.
In these very initial stages of weaning your baby is going to be eating so little that it makes sense to make it yourself rather than waste most of a jar or pouch of processed food (costing you 80p each time!). Processed baby food is often sweetened with fruit so your baby doesn't really get used to the natural flavour of vegetables and the transition to eating home cooked family meals may take longer to achieve.
What foods to start with
Start with simple vegetables such as Carrots, sweet potato, parsnip and fruits such as avocado, apple, pear, banana and mango. These are all foods that can be easily prepared, are not generally allergens and have an appealing taste. It may seem controversial, but even try hard boiled egg yolks as long as there are no egg allergies in your family (an allergy to the whites is more common than the yolks). For more information on how to prepare these first foods read here
What foods to avoid
Avoid soft eggs, berries and citrus fruits, Honey, salt, sugar, nuts, seeds, unpasteurised cheese and wheat based foods or other foods containing Gluten. All of these items are either known allergens or just not good for your baby straight away! I would also avoid meat, fish and lentils in these early couple of weeks. There's plenty of time to expand their tastes as they progress through weaning.
Should I start weaning early?
Don’t be tempted to start weaning too early. Babies have a growth spurt around 4 months and can start waking or demanding more milk. They are developing so much and it doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready. Ride it out for a few days and you’ll be glad you did, believe me. If you are breast feeding, a growth spurt helps to increase your supply to meet your baby’s needs so introducing foods at this stage can interfere with the natural process.
Obviously some babies may need to start weaning earlier than others i.e. if they were born pre-term or the growth spurt doesn't seem to be ending. I would always advise to discuss it with your health visitor first. If you do start earlier then only feed fruits and vegetables.
Once weaning starts, your whole schedule changes and it can be quite daunting trying to work out where to fit food in. What was once a simple milk feed + nap schedule needs to find time for food too! It can feel a bit hectic especially if you doing lots of activities each day. It may be worth finding time to relax and get organised to keep things stress free.
What time of day should I start giving food?
There’s lots of different advice on this but as these initial stages are just tasters it doesn’t matter too much. Choose a time that works for you and your baby. Try food when they are not tired, not too hungry or too full up! We always went for an early lunch option in between milk feeds and after a nap for our starting point.
First Tastes should be a fun and happy experience for your baby but if you find that they are not happy trying something new, don't fret but try again a little later. As Annabel Karmel states in her book Quick & Easy Weaning – it should not become a battle and any new flavour can take 10 times of trying.
How much food should I give?
At this initial stage your baby is just tasting foods so this could be a spoonful or a tiny bit off your finger. If they are enjoying it, let them have more but remember that food at this stage should not replace their milk feed so a few spoon-fulls is quite normal.
What equipment do I need?
Blender – Whether you are making purees or doing BLW a blender is helpful. Don’t feel like you need to get a fancy expensive one though. An electric stick blender is perfect for weaning. I would recommend getting one that is at least 600W. There are also some great mini blenders like this Tommee Tippee one or The Baby Bullet
Spoons – get some soft tipped spoons. I always liked these Vital Baby spoons or Tommee Tippee spoons as they are quite narrow and not too deep so easy for baby to eat from. You can feed your baby or allow them to feed themselves pre-loaded spoons.
High Chair – you can’t beat the Ikea Antilop as it’s so easy to clean and keeps baby upright. Super cheap too!
Floor cover – if you will be feeding on carpet it might be wise to put a sheet down under the high chair. I used a bit of oil cloth or an old shower curtain rather than buying anything fancy.
Ice cube tray – preferably a silicon one as its food safe and easy to remove the cubes. One with a cover is best but you can always pop the tray in a plastic bag if not. Don't spend much on this s you only use them for a short time.
Steamer – I use stainless steel collapsible steamer that fits inside my regular pans but you can get some multi layered steamers that allows you to cook various foods at once.
How do I store batches of pureed first foods?
Pureed food can be prepared and fed immediately or you can store fruit and vegetable purees in the fridge for up to 48 hours before feeding or store for 6 weeks in the freezer. We love this article from Made For Mums that has detailed instructions regarding storing and freezing your purees. Our reusable pouches are amazing for storing you purees.
How do I prepare and store finger foods?
You can steam, bake or roast different foods and allow to cool before offering your baby. If you have leftovers or you've made batches you can refrigerate for 48 hours or pop them in the freezer for upto a month. Freeze in small portions in a freezer safe, air tight container. Our snack bags are fantastic for storing foods in the freezer or you can use small snack pots although you may find that they suffer with freezer burn if too much air is in the pot.
Feeding when out
Try to be prepared and take food out with you so your baby can continue to try foods that are suitable for them. Pack a bib, soft spoon, fork (for mashing) and a small bowl with you. If you are taking fresh home-made food out with you ensure that you keep it in a cooler bag/box with an ice block in the summer.
Reusable pouches are great for taking your first foods out and about. You can fill with fresh puree or pop in a couple of frozen cubes of pureed food then seal the pouch. These can then be heated in hot water and squeezed onto a spoon for easy feeding.
My weaning tips
- Cook family meals without salt and steam vegetables as much as possible so you can use the same ingredients for your baby’s meals also.
- Be careful not to leave foods intended for your baby lying around the kitchen. Cool them quickly and then refrigerate or freeze as quickly as you can. If left for more than 2 hours at room temperature, throw them away.
- Keep frozen fruit and vegetables in the freezer for when you’ve run out of fresh.
- Pop mashed avocado into a reusable pouch and squeeze out all the air. Keep it chilled and it will stay fresh and a lovely green colour for 48 hours.
- Don’t go mad filling your whole freezer with cubes of pureed food. This stage will pass in a few weeks and you will want to start experimenting with more flavours and textures. Use any excess cubes mixed together as pasta sauces later or add a vegetable cube into a fruit puree / smoothie. Read how here blog post!
- Don’t stress. Your baby may love food immediately or they may take some time to get interested. You’ve got plenty of time to wean and if you focus on feeding nutrient rich foods only a little is required at first.
- Don't be tempted to reach for pre-packaged snacks like rice cakes, biscuits, crisps in these early stages. They come in very handy later on but don't fill your baby up with these high carb, low nutrient snacks.
- If you are finding the idea of weaning quite daunting, consider searching for a local weaning class. The NCT hold regular classes and there are a lot of affordable independent businesses around specialising in weaning advice. I've listed a few that I have found below but if you know of any others do let me know.
How can reusable Pouches help?
In these first couple of weeks your baby won't need a full pouch of food but you can fill them partially to cover 1 or 2 feeds. Alternatively you can pop cubes of food inside and then feed once defrosted.
Reusable pouches are fantastic because you can fill them with hot food and then plunge them into cold water to cool quickly. The air can also be squeezed out before sealing which protects the purees from freezer burn.
A pouch can easily be heated up in hot water, much easier that trying to heat up a jar or pot of food!
We recommend using our 140ml Animal pouches for weaning and for younger toddlers. They help keep your little one interested with their bright design and help to encourage speech with their familiar animal design.
We will be offering 20% off all orders in our on-line shop until Sunday 22nd October with the code "weaning".
If you have any fab tips of your own please feel free to comment and share with everyone.
Thank you and good luck!
Weaning Class links...
Gloucestershire - Baby Bright Start
London - Happy Tums
Dundee - Tiny Tastes
London - Northcote Baby
Edinburgh - Nurture Me
Countrywide - NCT
Annabel Karmel's complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner*
An alternative is the BabyWeaning.com personalised Weaning planner developed by a mum and nutritionalist. This complete guide can purchased on line for a one of fee of £8. It gives you a detailed plan of what to feed, when to feed it and gives you are menu plan for the first 3 months of weaning.