One of the milestones that are on every parent’s mind is when to start weaning their baby onto solid foods; what to do, what to buy and what to expect.
We all have visions of our little ones eating hearty healthy vegetable-laden meals with us at the dinner table but how do we achieve children who eat well and enjoy a range of foods.
The WHO (The World Health Organisation) recommends babies have breast or formula milk (1st stage, from birth) only for the first 6 months of life. From 6 months onwards you can start to introduce foods alongside their normal breast or formula milk making it complementary weaning. They will continue to be offered the normal milk feeds alongside their new foods.
So why wait until 6 months of age? Babies are more likely to be able to sit up and hold their head up independently which is super important for swallowing and digesting. At six months and beyond babies have developed good hand-eye coordination to be able to see and hold their food and also hand mouth coordination to be able to hold food in their hands and put it to their mouth. At this stage, they are also more likely to swallow food rather than use their tongue to push it back out.
From six months on most foods can be offered to babies including; meat, fish, vegetables, fruit and foods which contain gluten such as bread. Additionally, at this stage babies can usually tolerate more mushy or lumpy textures which can be great for developing their senses and those little tastebuds!
If your baby is younger than six months and displaying behaviours such as chewing their fist, wanting more milk feeds or waking more frequently in the night these are not necessarily signs of hunger or an indication to begin weaning but are normal baby behaviours. Starting solid foods does not make babies more likely to sleep through the night and often offering the additional breast or a little extra formula milk can help.
If your baby was born premature or has diagnosed GERD or reflux please speak to your GP about when to start weaning your baby.
What might you need? A highchair which is easy to clean with good safety straps, some soft baby feeding spoons, baby bowl (suction bases are great to avoid it being thrown across the room!), baby cup – open or free-flow without a valve is good for helping babies learn to sip water with their meals and better for their teeth. Silicone pelican bibs are a must for catching crumbs, and a messy mat for under the highchair to save the floor!
It’s great to start with some single fruits or vegetables which can be cooked and then blended, mashed or given as sticks. Make sure foods are cooled down completely before being given to your baby. This can be given once a day, they will only need a small amount and at a time of day when your baby is content and happy so a new experience will not be too overwhelming. Some ideas could be:
- Sweet potato
- White potato
You can also offer a baby rice or porridge mixed with water, breast or formula milk. Offering foods which are less sweet like cauliflower, spinach and courgette is also a good idea as well as helps your baby to adjust to these other flavours too and can help to prevent children from being fussy eaters in the future. Don’t worry if your baby pulls a face or refuses it the first time continue to offer these other foods. It can take at least ten exposures to get used to a new flavour and the look of disgust is just because it’s new!
Some foods can trigger allergies and these should be introduced in small amounts so you can lookout for a reaction. But they can still be introduced from 6 months. Once introduced if they are tolerated well you can continue to include them as part of your baby’s diet to minimise the risk of sensitivity developing.
- Cows milk (cooking or mixed with food)
- Eggs (eggs without the red lion stamp must not be eaten raw or lightly cooked, they should have hard solid yolks)
- Foods with Gluten such as Barley, wheat or rye
- Nuts or peanuts (should be crushed or ground)
- Shellfish (cooked through thoroughly)
- Fish (no bones)
What’s to drink? From six months of age on you do not have to sterilise baby’ drinking water through boiling it first. Therefore water from the tap or a filter such as a Brita is safe. Do not give babies softened or bottled water. Fizzy drinks, fruit juices, milkshakes and squash contain a lot of added sugar and can lead to tooth decay so should be avoided. Cow’s milk is not suitable as a drink for babies under 12 months of age but can be used for cooking or mixed with food from 6 months of age.
Honey is not recommended for babies under 12 months, it contains a bacteria which can lead to infant botulism which can cause your baby to become very unwell. When cooking for your baby salt and sugar do not need to be added; the sugar can lead to tooth decay and a diet high in salt is not good for babies’ kidneys.
Spoon feeding, finger foods or Baby-led weaning? Parents find their own rhythm and preference when weaning their babies and you will too. Some parents like to offer first foods through spoon-feeding blended or puree foods, some will offer finger foods baby can hold and eat as part of baby-led weaning which gives baby the freedom to pick up, hold and develop the skills of feeding themselves. You may opt to do a bit of both; there is no right or wrong way. Offering your baby the spoon so they can practice feeding themselves is also great too. Moving onto soft finger foods and lumpier textures quite quickly can help your baby develop different tastes and textures as well as learning how to chew, move food around their mouth and swallow.
As your baby grows to the 7-9 month mark you can begin to expand to two and then three meals a day as well as expanding the food groups. Including fruit, vegetables, starchy foods, protein foods and dairy. You can check out the NHS website here for more advice on weaning from 6 months on and some great recipe ideas!
Choking can happen when hard foods, bones and small round foods get stuck in the throat. Some tips to keep babies and children as safe as possible:
- Small round foods like grapes and cherry tomatoes should be cut into small pieces
- Peeling the skin of fruit and vegetables or foods like sausages (although these are high in salt so should be given infrequently).
- Remove pips and stones from fruit
- Remove bones from meat and fish
- Soften hard fruit and vegetables such as carrot and apples when first giving them to your baby
- Whole nuts and peanuts should not be given to children under 5
- Never give raw jelly cubes to eat as these can get stuck in the throat
Make sure your child is sitting up properly in the highchair and never leave them unattended when eating.
If you think your child is choking; if they are coughing noisily then ensure they are sat up, get down to their level to make eye contact with them and try to remain calm. Talk loud and clearly to your baby encouraging them to cough and you can also cough to show them how to do it.
If your baby is doing a silent cough and cannot breathe properly then take them out of the highchair. Shout for help and call 999 (on speakerphone whilst also tending to your child if alone). Support their chest and chin with one hand and deliver 5 sharp back blows between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. Hopefully, this will dislodge the object – if it doesn’t then you continue to deliver back blows in sets of five whilst being guided by the operator and waiting for emergency medical help. If the object remains lodged in the child’s airway and they begin to deteriorate and become unconscious the 999 operators will guide you to deliver CPR.
You can take our FREE baby Care Workshop which covers all the necessities when it comes to taking care of your baby during the first few days!