What you choose to feed your child during the first few years of their life will directly affect not only their growth, but also their energy levels, their mood, their resistance to disease and their ability to concentrate and do well at school. So weaning is undoubtedly an important stage in your baby’s development.
Moving from a diet where your baby only requires milk, to a diet which includes more solid foods can be both a scary and exciting time for parents. You are totally responsible for what your baby eats, and so, the pressure can feel enormous at this time. You may have so many questions such as, When should I start weaning? What foods can I use? What foods are not allowed? How much should they be eating? The list can be endless. You might also find yourself receiving words of wisdom from all angles – books, websites, parents, grandparents, and health professionals.
Below we take a look at some of the different stages during weaning, what foods are suitable, and some recipes for you to try at home.
When should I begin weaning?
Breast milk or formula milk provides all the nourishment your baby needs during the early months. From about six months babies require more than just milk feeds so it is at this time that they will need to have started weaning. Weaning onto solid food will provide extra nutrients that your baby needs and it is also an important stage in your baby’s overall development.
The exact timing of when you should begin weaning your baby onto solids, will vary from baby to baby. They are all different and do not rush into this stage, just take your time and enjoy it with your baby. It is an opportunity for you to both to enjoy the time together and it shouldn’t feel like a chore. Watching them experience new tastes, textures and smells is so exciting and this stage passes very quickly, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Government guidelines recommend weaning as close to six months as possible, but not before seventeen weeks (four months). A baby’s digestive system is not ready for solid foods before four months and weaning too early can increase the risk of your baby developing food allergies and intolerances. Certainly if there is a history of allergies in your family it is best to hold off on weaning until your baby is closer to six months old. It is advisable not to leave weaning much later than six months as by this time a baby’s energy requirement is higher. Also vital birth stores of nutrients such as iron and zinc are likely to be running low and will need to be supplied through the diet.
How do I start weaning?
To begin weaning, you will need to make sure you are equipped. Use a weaning spoon, which is nice and soft on your baby’s gums and can be found in most chemists, along with a small plastic weaning bowl. It is best to start with tiny tastes of single ingredient fruit and vegetable purees. By introducing new foods one at a time, you will be able to notice any reactions your baby may have to those foods. Repeat those foods for two of three days so you can monitor any reaction your baby has to that food.
Find a time which suits both you and your baby to begin weaning. The main thing is do it at a time when your baby is not tired, stressed, or sick. I used to find lunchtime as a good time for this. Allow your baby to start a milk feed before offering any puree. This will stave off any initial hunger or thirst and avoid them from becoming frustrated with you or the spoon. Offer a few tastes of the puree and then finish off the milk feed.
You may find at the beginning that your baby spits out these new tastes they are experiencing. This is all entirely normal and it will not take long before they get the knack of it. At this stage you just want to let your baby learn how to take food from a spoon. Just because they spit it out, does not mean they don’t like it so keep trying.
Keeping a food diary is also a great way of keeping track of what foods they have tried, what foods they like, and what foods may have caused a reaction.
How much is a serving?
The ice cube method is ideal during the weaning process. If you can prepare your purees and freeze them into little portions, it helps keep things simple. At the beginning you can defrost just one ice cube and you will not be wasting any additional puree.
As a guide, a baby of 6-9 months can eat 1-4 tablespoons at each meal and this will consist largely of fruit, vegetables and grains in puree form. This is only a rough guideline and remember every baby’s appetite is different.
What foods to try:
Stage One - Four to six months
It is best to serve food pureed at this stage as your baby won’t have the ability to chew their food. Start off with thin purees and as your baby gets used to taking them off the spoon, you can begin to serve them a little thicker.
Perfect foods for this stage include:
Carrot, parsnip, sweet potato, broccoli, butternut squash, spinach, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, leeks, turnip, etc. It is advisable to avoid introducing the nightshade family initially, as some babies can be sensitive to these – these are potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergine and courgette.
Mashed banana is usually a favourite and is extremely handy when on the go! It is a good idea to avoid any fruit with seeds, like kiwi or raspberries to start with, and choose fruits that are easy to mash or purée instead, like banana, stewed apple, pureed pear or avacado.
Pureed Pulses: These can be added to help satisfy a very hungry baby – again, make sure they are well mashed or puréed and use tinned pulses without added sugar or salt. Try red lentils or butter beans.
Pureed Grains: - Gluten free grains are the best choice for your baby at this early stage. Baby rice is one of the most popular weaning foods and should also be fortified with iron. Just check it is organic and sugar-free. Other grains to introduce early include quinoa or millet as these do not tend to trigger allergies or sensitivities in babies.
As your baby gets used to the individual flavours, you can try mixing and matching the purees to make your own little recipe combinations.
Recipe for stage one:
Blueberry and apple puree
Blueberries contain antibacterial compounds called anthocyanidins, which are particularly effective against some forms of E.Coli bacteria, the main culprits in tummy upsets.
(Makes about 20 cubes)
1kg bag organic eating apples
1 punnet organic blueberries
Filtered water for steaming
Peel core and chop the apples. Wash the blueberries well. Steam the fruit together for 10-12 minutes until nice and soft, then puree to the desired consistency.
Stage Two – Seven to nine months
At this stage your baby should be well used to eating from a spoon and at this stage there should be more texture in your baby’s food, but no hard lumps yet. More texture will encourage your baby to chew and this will help develop their speech muscles. Adding in some protein such as chicken, fish or beef to fruit and vegetable purees is a good way of adding texture and encouraging chewing.
Your baby may have new teeth at this stage so why not offer some carrot sticks or apple slices to gnaw at (never ever leave your baby alone whilst eating in case of choking). Again add in new foods one by one and be alert to any reactions:
Foods to add in at this stage can include:
Meat: Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, Mackerel, chicken and other red meats can be added in small quantities.
Pulses: Brown lentils, haricot beans, cannellini beans, mung beans etc
Juices: Freshly made juices can be offered with meals (on their own they can promote tooth decay). Exclude citrus juices but try apple, carrot, pear, melon and others. Make sure there are no seeds or pips and dilute 50/50 with water.
Recipe for Stage two – seven to nine months
First Chicken and Vegetables
Most babies love the taste of chicken as it is very mild.
(Makes about 14 cubes).
1 small leek, washed and sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (organic) skinless, boneless chicken breast, cubed
1 organic celery stick, washed and sliced
1 large (organic) carrot
Gently cook the leek in the olive oil in a pan for 5 minutes until soft. Add the chicken cubes and sauté for 5 minutes until white all over. Add the celery and carrot to the pan along with the vegetable stock and simmer for 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Puree to the desired consistency.
Stage three – nine to twelve months
From around nine months your baby will show a desire to feed themselves. It may get a little messy at times and a degree of patience is needed, but allow them to experiment with one spoon whilst you feed them with another.
Your baby is likely to have several teeth at this stage, and you may find that you can mash their food rather than puree it. You can now introduce more finger foods, such as mini rice cakes, pieces of chicken, chunky carrot sticks or apple slices. Again, never ever leave your baby unattended whilst eating in case of choking.
Recipe for Stage three
Salmon and Broccoli Pie
Makes 3 servings
1 Potato, washed, peeled and cubed
1 small head of organic broccoli
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 skinless, boneless salmon fillet, cubed
Place the potato in a saucepan and cover with water, simmer for approx 10-15mins until soft.
Steam the broccoli for 10mins until soft. In a pan gently cook the spring onion in the olive oil for 5 mins. Add the salmon and keep stirring until it is cooked through. Puree the salmon mixture and broccoli together, and top with mashed potato.
Foods to avoid:
None of these foods should be introduced as first foods, as in some cases they can cause an allergic reaction:
- Tree nuts (pecans, walnuts etc)
A note about allergies:
Classic food allergies, which are called Type I allergies (IgE), involve an immediate response from the immune system and can be extremely dangerous, if not fatal. The foods that can cause this type of reaction are nuts, seeds, eggs, fish and soya. Symptoms of a food allergy can include: Vomiting, itching, rashes, swelling of the eyes, lips, face, tongue and throat, difficulty in breathing.
The second type of food allergy is Food Intolerance or Type II reaction (IgG) and usually causes a delayed reaction with symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach aches, colic (in babies), rash around the mouth, rhinitis (runny or congested nose), glue ear, eczema, infantile insomnia. The most common foods that can cause this type of allergy are wheat and dairy products, which are often eaten several times a day from an early age.