How & When To Wean
Breast milk (or infant formula) will usually provide all the energy, nutrients and fluids that your baby needs in order to grow and develop healthily during the first 6 months of life.
Wean your baby at the right time – around 6 months
Weaning too soon (before 4 months) can increase the risk of infections and allergies, as your baby’s digestive system and kidneys are still developing.
It is important that weaning is not delayed much beyond 6 months. This is because stores of essential nutrients such as iron need to be replenished. Your baby’s increased requirements of these nutrients cannot be provided by milk alone. Also, delays in the introduction of new flavours and textures at this stage may make it more difficult for your baby to accept new foods.
The aim of weaning is to gradually introduce your baby to a wide range of new tastes and textures so that, by the age of one year, your baby is enjoying a varied and healthy diet.
You can begin by mixing a teaspoon of one of the following foods with your baby’s usual breast or formula milk:
Mashed or puréed fruit: soft fruits such as banana or avocado, or cooked fruit such as pear or apple
Mashed or puréed cooked vegetables, such as carrot, potato, sweet potato, parsnip or yam
Non–wheat cereals, such as baby rice
You can also try finger sized pieces of soft/cooked fruit or cooked vegetables. The best finger foods are those that can be cut into pieces that are big enough for your baby to hold in their fist, and stick out of the top of it. Pieces about the size of your own finger work well.
Place a small amount on a soft-tipped spoon and offer this to your baby before, in the middle of, or after, his or her usual milk feed. Wait for them to open their mouth first when food is offered and initially don’t attempt to give more than one or two spoonfuls. Remember that first foods will taste and feel different from breast or formula milk, so don’t worry if your baby spits out his or her first few spoonfuls!
Alternatively, your baby may like to hold the spoon, or pick up the food with their fingers and feed themselves.
Always stay with your baby when they are eating. Remember to keep your baby sitting in an upright position, well supported (for example in a high chair) and facing forwards when introducing solid foods. This will help to reduce the risk of choking.
Never offer food from a bottle – not only can this cause choking but it can also damage your baby’s teeth.
Initially offer foods one at a time in case of allergy.
Your baby will still be getting most of his or her nutrients from breast or formula milk, so don’t worry if your baby only swallows small amounts of his or her first foods – at this stage the food is just a taster!
Once your baby is comfortably taking his or her first foods, start to introduce purees of different fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, courgette, butternut squash, peach or melon. You can also start to combine different fruits or vegetables. The amount and frequency can be gradually increased, from once a day, to twice and eventually three solid feeds per day.
Take your time and don’t rush
It is important to go at the baby’s own pace and allow plenty of time for feeding. Let your baby feed themselves and use their fingers to hold the food. It might be messy but it is an important part of their development.
Most babies know when they have had enough to eat and there is no point in trying to ‘persuade’ them to eat more. Similarly, if they refuse to try a new food then it is important not to make a fuss. Simply take the food away and try it again on another day.
As well as gradually increasing the quantity, you should also change the texture of the foods you give your baby, moving from smooth purees to mashed and lumpier foods.After 6 months babies can be introduced to dairy foods, foods containing wheat and varied sources of protein.
Once they have got used to eating simple foods, you can offer them foods such as cooked meat, fish, pasta, noodles, bread, lentils, and mashed rice. You can also introduce them to well cooked eggs, and full fat dairy products like cheese, yogurt or fromage frais.
Your baby needs iron. Good sources of iron include red meat, such as pork, beef or lamb. Pulses, such as beans and lentils, also provide iron but this is less well absorbed. However, vitamin C from fruit and vegetables can help your baby to absorb iron from non-meat sources, so it is a good idea for fruit and vegetables to be given at mealtimes.
It’s a really good idea to try giving your baby soft finger foods. These allow your baby to practice chewing and can encourage them to feed themselves. Finger foods can also help to engage your baby’s interest and some babies actually prefer foods they can hold themselves. Finger foods to try at this stage include:
cooked vegetables (e.g. sticks of carrot, pieces of broccoli, green beans)
pieces of peeled soft ripe fruit (e.g. banana, peach, pear, mango, melon)
fingers of pitta bread or toast
sticks of cheese
Dr. Sarah Schenker, Dietitian
For more information on weaning please visit sarahschenker.com