There comes a time in every baby’s life when it’s time to start on solid food and start to reduce breastmilk feeds. This is weaning and it’s going to be different for every baby, but this article can give you some guidance as you and your baby work out the best fit for you.
Weaning starts the moment that your baby has any food other than breastmilk and ends when your baby stops having any breastmilk at all. This is a gradual process – some mums like to continue breastfeeding for years, other mums need baby off the breast quickly.
A common time to start thinking about weaning is when you’re getting ready to go back to work. Lots of working mums still breastfeed though, which will mean expressing, having a quiet and private place at work to pump, and a fridge where you can keep your breastmilk securely and safely. You can find out more about that here.
If you have a healthy, full term baby they will start to be ready for solid food around 4 to 6 months old. There will be clues when your baby is ready:
Whether you or your baby is the one that pushes to start weaning, it is important to take it slowly. Stopping suddenly is distressing for your baby and dangerous for you as you will still be making lots of milk but there won’t be anywhere for it to go, which can lead to engorgement and mastitis.
To grow and develop your baby will need solid food from around 6 months to get all the nutrients and variety he needs. In the first 6 months, your baby’s been using the iron they stored when they were in the womb, but he needs to start topping those levels up as they run low.
Weaning also helps your baby to learn about different tastes and textures and develop her teeth and jaw. You wouldn’t necessarily think of it, but learning how to eat different textures and to chew and swallow is an important part of her eventual speech and language skills!
Your baby’s start in solids does not mean suddenly switching off milk. Breastmilk and/or formula needs to be part of his diet until at least 12 months old.
Your baby doesn’t need a full plate of food to start. Just one or two teaspoons of food is all that’s needed. Freezing a batch of pureed food in ice cube trays is a great way to help you have the quantities you need on hand.
The order that you introduce different textures to your baby is more important than exactly what the food is. But it’s important to make sure that first foods include iron-rich foods to help her top up her stores and grow up strong.
Start with smooth purees at around 6 months, then move to mashed food, then minced, then chopped. Your baby will get hungrier and want more food over time, and by 12 months old should be ready to eat the same food as the rest of the family.
You can choose which foods to start on. Lots of familles start with rice cereal – it’s smooth and iron-fortified. Pureed vegetables and fruit are also a great place to start to introduce different flavours and colours and simple to home cook so you know exactly what she’s eating.
When your baby’s ready for mashed foods, you can introduce even more variety such as eggs (thoroughly cooked), grains like wheat and lentils, beans, pureed meat or tofu, cooked fish, nut pastes, and keep trying new and different fruit and veggies.
As your baby gets used to different textures, finger foods are important – soft crusts of bread, cooked carrot sticks. These can all help your baby learn to feed himself in time.
There is no rule that says you can only introduce one food at a time, so feel free to do mixed vegetable purees. But if you or your partner has a family history of allergies, introducing one new food at a time can help you to isolate any potential allergens.
If you’re worried about allergies, the latest research recommends that you introduce potential allergen foods between four and six months – smooth nut paste, cooked eggs, cooked fish and so on. Talk to your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician to find out more.
In the first 12 months your baby can have breastmilk or infant formula. Once she’s six months old you can give her a small amount of boiled and cooled tap water if she needs more fluid. Drinking from a cup rather than a bottle is good to help her learn new skills.
Drinks other than breastmilk, formula or water will fill him up and need to be avoided to ensure she gets all the nutrients she needs to grow and develop.
Don’t give your baby cow’s milk before she’s 12 months old, and when you do start cow’s milk it needs to be full-fat, pasteurised and unflavoured. Calcium fortified soy, almond, rice or oat milk is fine too – just make sure your baby gets plenty of protein from the solids that she’s eating.
You might have heard about baby-led weaning from other mums. It means no purees or baby spoons and letting your baby feed himself, starting with the sorts of finger foods that are appropriate for his age.
As your baby gets older, the textures can get a bit more challenging which might mean peeled apple chunks, cooked pasta shapes, or toast. Avoid sweet biscuits and rusks, which could get your baby used to sweet foods and set up bad habits.
Weaning, whether it’s baby-led or mum-led, is going to be messy. Your baby is going to want to eat everything some days and refuse everything other days.
Take the process slowly, and make sure to give your baby lots of love and cuddles to get them (and you!) through this big change.