We weaned Pumpkin last year, starting just before she turned 6 months old. I remember feeling very confused, not knowing whether she was eating enough, did she have enough variety and so many other questions. The lovely people at HiPP have answered some common questions which many parents have.
Weaning is an important stage in your baby’s development – it helps them to develop the skills needed to really enjoy eating food in later life – although it can be a messy business!
Below are some common concerns shared by mums during this time:
1. When do I start?
The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age and it is advisable to wait until then; however some babies may be ready earlier than this. Signs which suggest they might be ready include;
- Hungry even after a feed
- Showing an interest in food
- Sitting without support
- Puts toys/fist in their mouth
Weaning should never start before 17 weeks, even if these signs are present and should have started by six months. If unsure, get a professionals opinion.
2. How do I start?
The key is to prepare. You don’t need much equipment but you will need:
- Small baby bowls – or you can use cups, plastic lidded pots or ramekin dishes
- Small, shallow, rounded baby spoons
- Baby wipes, muslins or tissues
- It’s easier if you can sit your baby somewhere such as a bouncing cradle or reclining highchair suitable for a young baby
- Some suitable starter food.
Try to pick a time when it is quiet and your baby is content – after a feed is usually good. Spoon a tiny amount of food out into a bowl and place your baby in a chair or on your lap. At this point a bib might be useful! Put a small amount of the food onto a plastic spoon – and offer it to them.
At first your baby will still be getting all of its nutrition from milk so don’t worry if they aren’t interested or don’t have too much.
3. Organic, non-organic, healthy, home-cooked – ARGH! What to choose?
Home-cooked baby food is often seen as the ‘gold-standard’ but some parents just cannot afford the time needed to do this. In this case shop-bought can be a good option as it is designed specifically for babies.
The decision regarding organic or non-organic is a matter of personal choice however we at HiPP strongly believe organic food offers babies a better start.
The most important thing is that you are happy with what you choose – and remember you don’t need to stick rigidly with one thing.
Obviously, foods for your baby should be healthy – with low levels of salt and sugar, no artificial colours or preservatives and plenty of fruit and veg.
4. How is this baby-led weaning different to conventional weaning?
Conventional weaning works on a principle of offering smooth, runny foods from a spoon to babies from the start; initially offering small amounts but increasing these as weaning continues; then introducing textures to provide a gradual transition from milk to family meals.
With baby-led weaning (BLW) the focus is on letting the infant learn to feed themselves from the start by offering a range of soft, well-cooked fruits and vegetables as finger foods and letting them suck, chew and swallow them at their own pace.
The benefits of BLW are that babies do it themselves, creating less stress for parents and the infant and the self-feeding encourages better hand-eye coordination. The downsides are that progression can be slow, which can cause babies to lack vital nutrients they are no longer getting enough of from milk.
The benefits of conventional weaning are that you as a parent can control the amounts eaten by your infant, and be confident that they are receiving the optimal nutrition they need to grow.
5. My baby is at weaning age but is showing no interest in foods
All babies are different. By six months most babies are starting to show an interest in foods. If they are not then try offering foods before a feed when they will be might be a little hungrier. Alternatively you can hand them a spoon and let them explore to gain an interest. Make sure they are at the table when others eat so they can learn from what others are doing.
Due to the increased amount of certain nutrients needed past 6 months it is important weaning has started by then. If you are concerned that this isn’t happening then contact your health visitor.
6. How do I move from smooth to lumpy foods?
Around 7 months is the time when lumps can start to be introduced. At first, start with softer lumps by mashing ripe fruit, cooked veg and fish. Some babies don’t like the lumps at first and can spit them out or look like they are gagging on them – but persevere as they will get used to them. Try fork-mashing foods first before trying foods with specific lumps in.
7. How much should they be drinking now that they are weaning?
Once weaning starts more fluids are generally needed.
Once your baby is starting to have 3 ‘meals’ a day the amount of milk given, and number of feeds, can start to be reduced and non-milk drinks given. As a guide, 6-month old babies will generally still need around 500-900ml of milk a day.
From 6 months unsoftened tap water is ideal for babies. Once weaning is well-established a milk feed can be swapped for fruit juice at a mealtime. It should be well diluted (one part juice to ten parts water) and given with a meal – as the vitamin C will help to absorb iron in the foods.
8. How much food should they be eating?
Babies are born with the ability to ‘self-regulate’ their intake – this means that they will know when they have had enough! Offer food three times a day as well as usual milk feeds and let them guide you. If they are giving obvious ‘enough’ signs, such as closing their mouth or pushing the spoon away repeatedly, then they have had enough.
9. How will I know about any allergies?
It is normal to worry about your baby having an allergy but luckily these are quite rare, however you should not be avoiding any foods for fear that they may cause an allergy unless your GP or dietitian has specifically asked you to.
If you feel your baby might have an allergy or intolerance then it is important to note down what was eaten and what symptoms occurred. Do not feed your baby any product with the suspect food in it until you have sought reassurance from your doctor.
10. Can I wean my baby onto a vegetarian diet?
Yes, babies can be weaned as vegetarians – however it is important to make sure the diet is well-balanced. This means making sure that they will be getting all of the nutrients which usually come from meat such as protein, iron and vitamin d, from other sources.
Weaning infants should, as a guide, be getting two servings of protein rich foods per day such as lentils, beans, tofu, soya or egg. If possible these should be eaten with a vitamin-C containing food or drink to help absorb the iron in these foods.
Thanks to HiPP for that fab weaning guide. Stay tuned for a review of their Stage 1 foods.