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When and How to Wean Your Baby

By: Catherine Gough - Updated: 15 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Weaning Solid Food Baby Food Solids Baby

For the first six months, milk alone provides a perfect diet for babies. But as they grow, their bodies need other nutrients. Weaning is the process of moving a baby gradually on to solid food.

When to Introduce Solids

It’s best to wait until a baby is six months old before introducing solids, although some parents start a little earlier. Signs that a baby is ready to wean include:
  • Needing more bottles during the day
  • Waking up more often in the night for feeds, when they had been going through
  • Taking an interest in food that other members of the family are eating
If the baby is younger than six months, talk it over with a health visitor first – particularly if he or she was premature. Experts advise that starting too early can put an immature system under strain and trigger allergies.

Equipment

A few basic items will be useful:
  • Plastic spoons – these are gentle on a baby’s gums
  • Plastic bowls – the type that stick to a high chair tray with a suction cup can help reduce mess
  • Bibs – the ‘pelican’ variety is good for catching spilt and dropped food
  • Ice cube trays – these are great for freezing small amounts of food
  • A ‘mouli’ for pureeing food, or a hand blender
After the age of six months, there’s no need to sterilise feeding equipment as long as it’s thoroughly washed in hot soapy water. But equipment for milk still needs to be sterilised for up to a year, because milk is such a good breeding ground for bacteria.

Getting Started

At first, milk will continue to be the baby’s main source of food. Introduce solids gradually, starting with bland tastes, as part of a feed. Choose a time when the baby is not too tired and start with milk as usual. Pause about halfway through and introduce a little food on a spoon. The baby will probably be bemused at first and may only take a tiny bit or spit it out. Carry on with the milk feed and have another go at the same time the next day. As he or she begins to get the hang of it, increase the frequency and volume of solid food until the baby is eating solids three times a day.

Good First Foods to Try Include:

  • A little baby rice thickened with the baby’s normal milk
  • A puree made from fruits and vegetables like carrots, potatoes, apples or pears
The food should be very liquid at first.

A Wider Variety of Foods

Gradually introduce different tastes such as sweet potato, cauliflower, butter beans, lentils, banana, squashes, broccoli and yoghurt. Finely minced meats and fish (after six months) are good too. Look out for adverse reactions, particularly if there’s a family history of allergies, eczema or asthma. Some foods should not be introduced before a certain age:
  • Milk – avoid cow’s milk as a drink until one year
  • Salt – try to avoid altogether
  • Sugar – avoid or use in very small amounts
  • Other dairy – six months
  • Citrus fruits and strawberries – six months
  • Gluten – at least six months
  • Eggs – at least six months and then cook thoroughly
  • Fish – at least six months; take particular care with shellfish
  • Honey – one year
  • Nuts – three years (ground) and five years (whole and chopped)

Cooking in Bulk

As babies only eat tiny amounts at first, it saves time and waste to prepare purees in bulk and freeze them in ice cube trays. Cubes can be then be turned out and stored in labelled bags in the freezer. Defrost and thoroughly re-heat before serving.

Textures and Finger Foods

As they get older, babies will enjoy more textures as well as a wider range of tastes. Mash less thoroughly, so there are some bigger lumps of food. Between about 7 and 9 months, the baby may also be ready to try finger foods. Try putting small pieces of soft food like sticks of banana, cheese, cooked carrot, green beans and sweet potato, cooked pasta shapes, meat, fish and mini sandwiches on the baby’s tray. Harder foods like crusts, bread sticks, baby rusks, slices of apple and raw carrots are great for biting on when the baby is teething, but always stay close by in case the baby chokes.

Family Meals

Many parents like to blend or mash up the family dinner for their baby as he or she gets older. This is a great way to introduce babies to a wide variety of tastes and join in the family meals, but be careful to check the ingredients and avoid salt altogether.

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