Written by our Registered Nutritionist and mum-of-two, Rhiannon Lambert.
What is weaning?
Weaning is the process of introducing your baby to solid foods alongside their milk. Focusing on a variety of foods and textures is essential, then as your baby grows and develops this will eventually lead to a completely solid foods diet. It is important to emphasise that weaning does not replace milk in the initial months! Your baby has never swallowed food before, imagine having to learn how to chew food for the first time or swallow lumps instead of liquid. It's a big transition and an exciting one for you and your baby.
When is your baby ready to wean?
Typically, most parents and babies will begin their weaning journey from around the 6 month mark. However, according to the NHS, there are 3 main things you need to look out for to know when your baby is ready for their first taste of food, alongside their normal breastmilk or formula. These are as follows:
Babies should be able to
- Stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady
- Swallow the food given to them rather than spit it back out
- Coordinate their hands, eyes, and mouth so that when they look at food they pick it up and bring it towards their mouth
Although most begin weaning at 6 months, it’s important to remember that all babies will be different and the time that they are ready will inevitably vary between individual children. If you’re unsure whether your child is ready or if you have any concerns, it’s always best to seek specialist advice from a healthcare professional.
What can you do to prepare in advance?
Whilst your baby might not be quite ready to have solid foods right now, this is a good opportunity for you to make sure that you have everything ready for when they are! If, like me, you’re constantly on the go, being prepared can make a huge difference in helping make your baby’s transition to foods as straightforward and as simple as possible. As a registered nutritionist and a mum to a toddler and an 8-month old, here are some of my pre-weaning top tips.
- Water cup without a valve
- As with adults, it’s really important that your baby remains hydrated, and as they will be having less breast milk or infant formula, having water as an option alongside food is a good idea. I love using trainer cups with a free-flow straw as this helps transition from suckling on the breast or from a bottle.
- In the initial stages of weaning you should give babies cooled down boiled tap water to make sure that this is sterile and safe for little tummies to drink.
- Soft-ended cutlery
- When starting to wean your baby, it’s likely that they will not have any teeth (or will have very few) in the beginning. When looking at cutlery these should have a soft end, rather than metal, as babies tend to bite down hard with their jaws when putting it in their mouths. Having the soft ends on spoons and forks helps to protect soft gums and any new teeth if they have them.
- It may also be useful to have a selection of smaller and larger size options depending on what you’re serving and your baby’s preference, to help them to develop their feeding and self-feeding skills.
Fun plates or bowls
- This is not a necessity, but having a variety of crockery, with different sections or bright and colourful patterns, just makes meal times a little bit more engaging and interesting for your little ones, and helps them to develop that positive attitude and relationship towards their food.
- Make sure to keep plates away from babies in their highchairs or at the table as quite often babies will simply pick them up as they think it’s food to try, so will either put it in their mouths or throw them on the floor. You can now get plates and bowls that have suction on the bottom to help them stick to the table and stay in one place to stop this from happening, so these may be a good option should you wish.
- Large ice cube trays
- As the first initial textures that your baby is introduced to should be smooth, it’s a great idea to blend up lots of different veggies at home to make quick and easy veg purées, ready to pop in the freezer so that they are there when you’re ready to begin. When you come around to using them, you can simply reach in the freezer and get them out the night before, or pop them in a bowl of hot water if you want them a bit sooner, to defrost.
- It should be noted, however, that you should never microwave these purées to defrost them, as this can cause the uneven heating of the food and lead to hotspots which may burn your baby's mouth.
- Veggie purée pouches available
- If you have limited time to create your own purées on those busier days, then there are ready-made pouches available, like the Little Freddie veggie pouches, that may be a nutritious, delicious, convenient, and time-effective option. To help your little ones to experience a variety of flavours and textures, it’s good to have a mix of pouches and homemade options.
Bibs and floor matts
- I’m sure it’s no surprise that I say be prepared for mess when starting to wean your baby! Babies love to explore new foods with their hands as it gets them used to the textures and helps them to develop the skill of putting things in their mouths. Mess is a positive thing, so don’t worry too much and make sure that you’re equipped with bibs, matts and wipes too.
- For my toddler and now my youngest son too, I love using the wipe clean all-in-one bibs, as these are super easy to put on and off and are quick to clean and can catch any dropped food.
- I also always make sure to pop down a floor mat too under the highchair to catch any spillages, and this massively helps with the cleaning up process too, especially in rooms with carpeted areas or rugs.
- Create a rough menu with a list of veg and fruits
- Having an idea of the sort of food that you want your baby to try, ahead of starting your weaning journey, may really help with your time management and the planning of meals in your household. Sometimes it’s not always possible to give your baby similar foods to what the rest of the family are eating so having a backup of a variety of fruit and veg or purée pouches is really important.
- What style of weaning?
- Have a think about how you wish to wean too. Do you want to go for a more traditional method with baby rice, or perhaps you want to try baby-led weaning with finger foods or veg only for the first week or two? There are many styles to adopt!
We know that weaning can sometimes be an overwhelming situation as there’s a lot to think about, but I hope with these top tips it can make embarking on this journey that little bit easier, leaving you feeling a lot more prepared and what you can expect. This is a time of huge growth and development for your baby, and it’s important to do what works for both parents and children alike. Go at your own pace and try not to compare yourself to other families as everyone’s weaning experiences will be different.