A Guide to Weaning Success
It doesn’t seem like two minutes ago that your sweet bundle of joy was born and now they are at the stage where you are considering introducing solid food into their diet. Where does the time go?
Weaning, much like any other stage may be fraught with indecision and doubt. Even those parents who have children already and have tackled the solid food stage already find themselves right back at the beginning as at the end of the day all children are different.
Weaning can be messy (very messy) and you will no doubt find yourself attempting any number of silly rhymes and aeroplane noises to encourage your little one to try something new however you might actually find the process fun. This is a fabulous time where you and your baby get to explore a whole new experience together. You’ll experience new tastes, colours, textures and stains together. It’s most definitely an adventure.
Despite weaning being a great journey of discovery for all involved it is a process that should be approached gradually and with care.
When Should You Start Weaning?
There is no iron-clad rule that states when you should start introducing food to your baby / toddler. The NHS guidelines do however state that weaning should ideally take place after or around six months, giving children’s stomachs and their digestive systems adequate time to fully develop before introducing solids. That said some children are simply not ready at six months. If in doubt about when the right time to start weaning is for your child talk to your health visitor.
There are a number of signs and signals which might indicate that your baby is ready to start weaning. These include, yet are not limited to, chewing their fists, a break or change in night-time sleep patterns, wanting additional milk and more. If your child is over six months in age and you still aren’t sure let them have a little taste and see how you get on.
What Do I Need to Buy?
You really don’t need to spend a lot of money on fashionable equipment when you are getting ready for weaning. There are of course some fabulous looking and rather costly designer weaning tools out there however what you really need for weaning is:
- A collection of soft plastic spoons. Check your baby freebie bags from supermarkets, chemists, the midwife and more for these as you might find you already have quite the collection.
- Plenty of bibs. When starting out you might choose soft bibs although most quickly graduate to wipe cleans varieties (always a good idea when you consider the mess!)
- A blender or similar device that will whizz up foods into a smooth consistency. Again there are a number of wonderful tools specifically for weaning however a normal blender, even a hand held one will do the trick.
- A highchair or seat. It is important that your child be able to sit up properly when eating so whether you have a special seat that will tilt, a highchair or one of those chairs that attach to your own dining room/kitchen chairs you’ll be fine.
- Baby wipes and kitchen roll. Those first few tastes and spits make very little mess however as your child graduates to more colourful food and wanting the put their hands in the bowl having a good stocks of cleaning supplies close to hand is an advantage.
- Plastic bowls and plates. Once little ones want to start grabbing the spoon and the bowl there is the very real risk that bowls and plates will end up on the floor. Plastic dishes bounce much better than ceramic ones and cheap and cheerful children’s dinnerware that sticks down to the highchair is even better at reducing the mess.
Where to Start
Your baby/toddler is not going to jump straight into three square meals a day within the first week of weaning. It is important to remember that to start with they will be learning to take food off a spoon, to roll it around their mouth and to swallow it. Some might take to this straight away, some might need extra encouragement. After this it’s a case of teaching them to cope with completely new sensations and textures.
Most parents tend to start weaning / tasting off with baby rice or baby porridge, both of which are fairly bland and may be made using the baby’s milk.
The Next Stage
After testing and trying, getting used to the spoon and learning not to spit everything back out the next step in weaning is dedicated to trying new flavours, combinations and to gradually increase the portion sizes until eventually your baby is enjoying varied and regular meals throughout the day. Usually first foods include mashed / pureed vegetables such as carrot, potato, cauliflower and so on. As time moves on your little one will enjoy a range of sweet and savoury foods until eventually they will eat what you eat, only a smaller portion which has been suitably softened / mashed up.
Remember that when preparing food for babies, toddlers and children to add no salt and be aware of the salt content of ingredients such as gravy. Provided meals are nutritious and properly prepared there’s no reason why, once weaning is well established that they can’t eat the same food as you. Even better, eating with you at a table will promote good eating habits, even from an early stage.
What About Shop Bought Baby Foods?
Pre-made jars, pouches and boxes of baby food tend to have something of a bad reputation in some circles, with some believing that all parents “should” make food from scratch. Here at ParentsNeed we support all parenting choices, including whether or not you choose to enjoy the benefits of shop-bought baby foods.
Indeed, being nutritious and perfectly blended, as well as ideal for when out and about or short of time, jars and pouches (etc) are great when starting out especially if you are worried getting the consistency of baby food right. There is no reason to believe that these baby foods aren’t absolutely fine to use.
There has been a number of very public debates regarding whether or not organic food is best. Some believe it is, some don’t and of course there is the cost factor to take into account. There is no guidance to date that specifies that babies and young children should be eating organic food so unless you feel very strongly about the issue there is no reason to change your shopping habits to include organic foods.
Other than poking themselves in the eye with a soft spoon the one of the most common worries parents face when it comes to weaning, be it spoon-fed, baby-led weaning or a combination of both, is choking. Taking steps to avoid choking such as ensuring baby is properly sat up and supported, not left alone with food, that all food is properly pureed, mashed and all bones removed are all essential. If you are concerned about your little one choking have a look at this advice from the Red Cross.
Being prepared for choking in advance is one of the reasons many parents take part in a baby and children’s first aid course before or just after their children are born. It pays to be prepared for anything with parenthood. Every parent would do well to learn some basic life support procedures, which could make a big difference to the outcome in an emergency situation. Resources like ACLS provide guidance that could prove critical in a life-threatening scenario.
Monitoring What Your Child Eats
Your child’s likes and dislikes will change regularly and while they may despise mashed parsnip now it may be their all-time favourite in three or six months. Keep a basic record of the foods that you’ve tried and how well they were received. If something is refused, try it again in a few weeks or months. Monitoring what your little one has eaten and when could also be helpful in identifying any intolerances your child might have or develop. If you have any concerns about intolerance or allergies, please see your health visitor or GP.
More About Food Allergies and Intolerances
Being intolerant to a food may be very unpleasant and could cause wind, constipation, diarrhea and sickness. Food allergies are more serious in that they may cause a significant and dangerous reaction.
If someone in your family has an allergy or your child suffers from asthma or eczema it is worth being extra careful when choosing which foods you give your child and when. Many choose to avoid foods commonly known to cause an allergic reaction, specifically nuts and shellfish when their child is very young. If you are aware of allergies and intolerances in your family you will probably already be proceeding with caution, perhaps leaving certain foods until your child is a little older and monitoring their intake carefully. This is another reason why keeping a record of what children eat / try during weaning may be helpful, particularly in the diagnosis of any food-related issues.
It is worth mentioning that a child can be allergic or intolerant to a wide range of foods whether there is a family history or not so do be vigilant. If in doubt see your GP, practice nurse or health visitor.
What About Drinks?
It is important that little ones still receive their breast milk or formula until at least six months (NHS guidelines suggest that milk provides all of the nutrition babies need until six months old). It is also important to remember that when introducing foods as part of weaning that milk is still needed. Many continue with milk until their child is at least a year old, then switch to cow’s milk or a suitable substitute if wished.
It is advised that you gradually reduce bottles as you gradually increase the portions that your child enjoys as time goes one. A full drink of milk in the morning and before bed usually continues for some time.
Where additional hydration is required between feeds / meals water should be offered and water in a “sippy cup” should be introduced to have alongside meals.
Having a plan of action for what you are going to offer your little one and when is a good idea as if nothing else it will help you meal plan and shop. Don’t be worried however if things don’t go to plan straight away as with all developmental stages some grasp certain skills quicker than others and this is absolutely natural. If your neighbour’s child is eating asparagus and sweet potato and yours spits carrot and baby rice right back at you don’t be concerned. They’ll let you know when they are ready to move on.
Be prepared to be flexible and remember that weaning is a journey and a learning experience for you and baby so it pays to take it one day at a time, enjoying exploring foods and flavours together. Again, do seek out support from your health visitor if you have any questions specific to your child and their weaning journey.
How did you find weaning? Have you any top tips and tricks? If so, please comment below and share all with other parents approaching this exciting and wonderfully messy time.