Just when you and your baby are in a confident routine with milk feeds, along comes weaning, a whole new adventure for all of you!
Weaning is the transition from milk to solid food.
At around six months of age, your baby will start to need nutrients not available in adequate amounts in their milk alone, so at this time it is important they are introduced to solid food that starts to meet their additional nutritional needs while breastfeeding continues up to two years of age or beyond.
When to begin
The Department of Health and the World Health Organisation recommend nothing but breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life and continuing to breastfeed up until two years of age or beyond, and at Organix, we support this.
As long as mums are eating a healthy diet, their milk will provide enough energy and nutrients for growing and developing until little ones reach six months.
It’s important to trust your instincts and tune in to the signals from your baby, they’ll let you know when they are ready to start weaning – all babies get there in their own good time.
Signs your baby is ready
There are three signs that tend to appear together at around six months. The important thing to remember is that if your baby is ready for solid food all three signs will be there. Your baby is ready if they can:
1. Co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth, can look at food, grab it and put it in their mouth all by themselves.
2. Stay in a sitting position and can hold their head steady.
3. Swallow their food. Small babies instinctively use their tongues to push foreign objects out of their mouths, and until this reflex fades, they are likely to do the same thing to a spoon or a piece of banana.
Parents often assume their babies are ready for weaning if they put their fingers in their mouths constantly (it’s more likely teething) or watch mum or dad intently as they eat (chances are your baby just finds this fascinating!).
When I first gave Anwen a tiny taste of mashed banana, she seemed puzzled, and pushed it in and out of her mouth. If, over a couple of days, your baby is still pushing the food out they may not be ready. You can talk to your health visitor to check if your baby is ready to wean.Frankie & baby Anwen
Ways to wean
When you know your baby is ready for weaning it’s time to think about how you want to wean.
There are two popular ways – the puree method, in which you start by blending up everything and feeding it to your baby on a spoon. You can also offer a little baby cereal or rice mixed in a bowl with your baby’s usual milk. This means your little one can learn eating skills, like how to move food around their mouth, before moving on to foods that have more texture.
The other is baby-led weaning (BLW) where baby is encouraged to explore and pick up food with their hands to feed themselves.
Rather than feeling that you have to decide between the two, why not combine them to get the best of both worlds. You can start off with puree, then when you feel ready, pop some finger foods in front of your baby so they can squash and squeeze them.
Give your baby a spoon to play with too. At first they’ll be happy to hold it in their hands or bang it on the table, but soon they’ll want to dip it in the puree or yogurt and get it to their mouths. Messy but great fun!
We ended up doing a bit of both with our second child. We gave Dylan baby porridge and purees, but his older brother also gave him food off his plate so he had finger foods too.Mike & baby Dylan
All about milk
Whichever way you decide to wean, either breast milk or formula continues alongside solid food as it still provides most of the nutrients your baby needs.
This is why weaning is sometimes called complementary feeding – the food complements the nutrition from milk.
How much milk
As the amount of food your baby eats increases, the amount of milk they take will decrease. Between 6 to 12 months, your baby should be having regular breastfeeds, or around 500ml of formula a day and after 12 months continue breastfeeding on demand.
It is also a good idea to introduce a cup from six months as babies can now have sips of water at mealtimes.
Follow on milk isn’t necessary, and after 12 months and up to two years, around 300ml-400ml (2 cups) of whole cow's milk, or breastmilk if you choose to continue, will provide enough calcium. You can use cow’s milk in recipes before this, just not as a drink until after 12 months.
Foods to avoid
At six months, all foods can be included with just a few exceptions as they can cause food poisoning or serious illness: these include honey, raw shellfish, and soft unpasteurised cheeses.
Avoid sugary foods and drinks, and don't add salt to foods.
Nut butters are fine from six months, but whole nuts are a choking hazard and should be avoided up until the age of five years old.
Coeliac disease is an illness that affects those people that suffer from an allergy to gluten, a protein found in wheat and rye.
If there is a history of coeliac disease in your family, or a family history of allergies you should talk to your GP or health visitor for advice on weaning your baby.
Watch out - Salt
Too much salt is not good for babies' kidneys and should never be added to your baby's food. Did you know? Babies under seven months should eat less than 1g salt per day.
Watch out - Sugar
Sugar encourages a sweet tooth, can cause tooth decay, and should never be added to your baby's food. Milk, fruits and vegetables contain natural sugars, but also essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fibre.