You’ve only just got breastfeeding sorted and now you’ve got to think about weaning your baby. Panic not: we’ve asked nutritionist and mother-of-three Mary van der Westhuizen (pictured, below) to answer the most common weaning-related questions.
The Department of Health recommends that babies are weaned at about six months. Until then it is thought that breast milk and formula meet the nutritional requirements of most healthy babies. However all babies are different. You shouldn’t weant your baby before 17 weeks but it could be that they’re ready before six months or slightly later.
What are the signs I should be looking out for?
- Your baby can sit up well without support
- They have lost their tongue-thrust reflex (i.e. does not automatically use the tongue to push solids out of the mouth). It takes a while for some babies to overcome this reflex; you may need to get them used to food gently with a really slow introduction of purees.
- Baby is looking at you enviously as you eat and seems keen to join in, tries to grab your food
- Baby is able and keen to chew
- Baby is developing pincer skills (forefinger and thumb)
Is it dangerous to start weaning too early/late?
Weaning your baby before she is 17 weeks old may increase the risk of allergies and some other diseases. Be careful about waiting much beyond six months as this is when your baby’s iron reserves naturally start to decline and iron-rich foods become more necessary.
Should I be doing baby led weaning?
Baby-led weaning (BLW) is an approach where a baby is offered a variety of finger foods at each meal (instead of spoon-fed purees given by an adult) so that the baby can feed herself. BLW is thought to encourage healthy eating habits including reduced fussiness and may encourage a baby to regulate her own appetite as she can stop eating when she is full which is often difficult for a baby to do when she is being spoon fed. Research doesn’t support any of these perceived benefits. Whether you choose BLW really depends on what type of person you are and whether, as a mother, you like to have control over how much your baby is eating or whether you feel you can hand that control over to your baby.
What do I need to start weaning?
Apart from plastic weaning spoons, all you really need is a steamer or pan for cooking vegetables and fruit etc and a blender (hand-held or a food processor is fine) if you are going to offer your baby purees. And a bib!
If you’re up for investing in some kit, I’d recommend the Beaba Babycook (pictured below).
Should I be making all my purees from scratch?
It’s great if you can! Home-cooked food is much more nutritious for your baby. A University of Glasgow study published in September 2013 in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood tested over 400 baby food products and packaged purees from leading manufacturers and concluded that shop-bought options are HALF as nutritious as home-cooked equivalents.
Shop-bought purees are HALF as nutritious as home-cooked equivalents.
In particular, the low protein content (often as little as 8%) of some of the shop-bought meat dishes may be insufficient to meet the needs of a growing baby.
That said, don’t worry if you don’t always have time to cook for you baby. The stuff you buy in the shops won’t do them any harm!!
When should I start introducing cheese? And meat?
Provided baby has no allergies to dairy then pasteurised cheese is ok to introduce from 6 months. The same applies to meat. But this is assuming baby has taken well to the milder flavours and easier textures of fruit and veg as his first foods. So although can introduce meat and cheese from 6 months, it realistically won’t be until 6.5/7 months if you only start weaning at 6 months. Oh, and keep red meat lean.
My baby wretches and spits out the puree. Any tips?
Perhaps try finger food instead. If a baby can take control of a carrot stick, feel the interesting texture of steamed cauliflower or tickle their tongue with a broccoli floret, you may find they start to enjoy their food more. If your baby still hates the sight and taste of certain foods then give it a break for a couple of weeks. It is often just a phase and it can be counterproductive to push it.
Is it normal for a baby to have a sweet tooth?!
Yes! Babies usually do prefer sweet flavours. Humans may be predisposed to opt for sweet foods as sweetness suggests a food is high in calories; stocking up on calorie-rich food would have been wise in prehistoric times when food was sometimes in scarce supply.
However studies have shown that we reduce the chance of a toddler becoming a fussy eater if we expose them to as much variety as possible in the first few months of weaning. This means we need to give babies a varied diet in terms of flavour, texture and colour so we need to encourage them to try vegetables, pulses, wholegrains and other foods that they may not naturally gravitate towards.
Can you overfeed a baby?
Yes, babies sometimes don’t know when to stop! This is particularly the case when sweet foods are on offer. Your baby may also try to tell you that she has had enough (e.g. by turning her head away, shaking her head), but you may not be paying attention to these signs. Try to listen to your baby and watch how she is responding to food. If she appears to have lost interest in a meal she may have had enough or may need a break or drink of water before continuing.
Should I be cutting down on the milk now I’ve started weaning?
Cow’s milk should be reserved for cooking only and not given as a drink until your baby is 1 year old. Formula and breast milk can be reduced when you start weaning your baby but it is important to do this gradually. From 6 to 12 months, formula or breast milk is still your baby’s main source of nutrition which means she still needs between 500ml-600mls of formula or breast milk per day.
Any recommendations for weaning recipe books?
I love River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook by Nikki Duffy. The recipes work for the whole family; favourties among my girls are the vegetarian curry and polenta chips. Delicious!