Updated: Aug 15, 2019
When babies are born parents can spend weeks worrying about if baby is drinking milk, how much milk and how often. Before long 17 weeks has passed and a new event is potentially on the horizon; weaning off the milk they spent so long encouraging baby to like and onto scary solid foods.
Babies only need breast-milk or formula for the first six months of their lives as they contain all of the nutrients they need. They still need milk for the whole of the first year but the amount gradually decreases after the first six months, so that they have space to eat and enjoy food. At 6 months their iron stores from birth are depleting so it is important for baby to start eating solids, and to eat those containing iron regularly.
Many parents approach weaning with trepidation and often postpone when they start due to fear and worry of choking, allergies and the time spent on preparing food. Here are 5 key steps to remember to make your weaning journey joyful, successful and complete:
1. Don't miss the adventurous window - from 5-6 months to 1 year babies are often eager to eat a wide range of foods. In this time it is essential to give baby the widest range of appropriate foods regularly.
Even if they spit them out, it can take 10 attempts for a baby to learn to like a vegetable. From purees, to steamed vegetable sticks. From pitta breads to sweet potato wedges, variety is key.
After 1 year babies often become wary of new looking foods, anything presented slightly differently can end up on the floor or in their hair.
This can also be caused by a major decrease in appetite as they no longer need to grow as much in the second year.
2. Follow baby's lead - Children are born with an innate sense of how much food they need, as long as they are given a healthy balanced diet to choose from. A range of foods without sugar and low salt should be offered to baby.
If they eat the foods role model polite mealtime chat, say "Mmm that was delicious, thank you mummy!" If they don't eat them just say "Ok you have had enough/would not like that today."
Any power struggles to eat one more mouthful, bribery, shouting or games to encourage eating all create a negative relationship with food. Your role as a parent is to offer a healthy balanced diet, babies will eat what they need. Praise is also not necessary, as it is not an achievement to always eat everything.
3. Mix it up - sometimes parents decide that only baby led or puree weaning is the best. Both styles of weaning have their benefits and it can be really useful to use them both. It is advised to start meals with baby led weaning (sticks/chunks of food babies can chew or suck on) when they are feeling independent and enthusiastic then follow that with puree food when they become a bit tired and hungry.
Baby led weaning introduces baby to different textures, develops fine motor skills and gives them ownership and control over their eating. Pureed food is useful for introducing them to a wide range of flavours, filling them up and also introduces textures which they can generally swallow.
4. Gradually get thicker - If you are using pureed food it is important to gradually reduce the amount of water you add, then reduce the blending time so it becomes thicker and lumpier. It is really important to get baby used to lumps and thick foods as soon as possible so they can begin to eat real food.
Especially by 9 months babies should start getting used to thicker purees. This can be a gradual thickening of purees, rather than adding lumps to their food.
Learning to bite, chew and swallow is a key developmental milestone for baby. Developing these mouth and jaw muscles helps them with their speech development as well.
5. Always eat together if you can - Eating together really boosts baby's confidence, understanding and enjoyment of food. Eating with someone else actually releases oxytocin in the brain (happy love hormone) so this can really benefit baby's weaning journey. If both parents are present they can also take turns feeding baby, which takes the pressure off the parent at home.
As a parent you can role model eating a healthy balanced diet, using cutlery and this also takes the focus off baby's eating so they can relax and eat at their own pace. Often parents don't eat with their bay as they think it is easier. But instead they end up sitting opposite baby staring at them encouraging them to eat, this would be very off-putting for anyone trying to eat.
Most importantly, smile, relax and enjoy this new adventure with your baby. Even if they choke to begin with, this is very normal and shouldn't be met with panic and confusion. Just smile and tap them on the back or help them to remove the food from their mouths. Babies often cough up food if it goes too far back, they are just learning how to eat. Of course if you are worried about this, it can help to attend a baby first aid course for if they do seriously choke on food.
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