Introducing your child to solid food is a big milestone for baby and parent. After months of your little one getting his or her nourishment from milk alone, it’s finally time to discover the world of food!
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If you’re a first-time parent or a mum or dad looking for some weaning advice, you're likely to have many questions on the subject. How do you know when your baby is ready for solids? What should you feed them? What are the dos and don’ts?
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HELLO! consulted Charlotte Stirling-Reed, Baby and Child Nutritionist and author of How to Wean Your Baby, in collaboration with The Baby Show, for her top tips.
Charlotte says: "Starting solid foods can be a bit of a minefield for many parents – it always comes at a time when you feel like you’ve started to get to grips a bit more with parenting and then all of a sudden food is thrown into the mix.
"Babies are all so different with their weaning journeys too. Honestly, I've seen it all in my work and I also have two little ones who were completely different when it came to starting solid foods.
"Therefore there is no point in comparing, and, in reality, when it comes to helping babies move on to a more complex diet, it's largely about what works for your family and your baby. So do what works for you! See my weaning guide below."
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When to start weaning your baby
Most babies will be developmentally ready for solid foods at 'around' 6 months of age. However, all babies are different and so it’s important to look out for the SIGNS of readiness, which are:
1) They can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady.
2) They can co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at the food, pick it up and put it towards their mouth, all by themselves.
3) The baby can swallow food. Babies who are not ready will push their food back out with their tongue, so they get more round their face than they do in their mouths.
Try to look out for these occurring at the same time as each other and not just as a one-off. Generally, this is likely to happen at around 6 months of age.
How to wean you baby, £10, Amazon
What foods to offer when weaning
Babies are actually born with a preference for sweeter foods and so don't generally need much help to like and accept sweeter options such as apples and pears.
However, weaning is about exploring the new and some research suggests that starting baby's weaning journey by offering a variety of veggies can be a helpful way to go to help them to accept a wider range of tastes (not just sweet) early on.
This is the method I generally recommend and it’s referred to as 'Veg Led Weaning'. Veg Led Weaning simply means focusing on vegetables at the start of their weaning journey, and being sure to offer plenty of veggies (along with other foods) as your little one moves on to a more complex diet.
How to start weaning
Try picking a different veg to offer each day for the first 10 days or so days of weaning and offering those more savoury and bitter flavours FIRST before moving on to more variety and some sweeter options.
Some great bitter, savoury and neutral flavour options to try include:
- Green beans
You can offer most of these foods as mash, puree or as finger foods, depending on how you'd prefer to start the weaning process.
Some of them don't work well as a finger food, but you could always make a puree (e.g. kale) and use a potato or a floret of broccoli as a dipper, if your little one seems to really like their finger foods.
Which textures to offer
It's important to move through those textures fairly quickly to allow your little one to learn how to chew and swallow a variety of textures nice and early on. This is especially the case if you’re starting your baby with purees first.
Research shows it’s good to offer babies lumps and bumps in their food before around 9-10 months of age so they can learn how to swallow and cope with a variety of textures in their mouths.
The key is STEALTH when it comes to moving babies through textures!
Finger foods can help with this too and although it the idea of this can make plenty of families nervous, offering super soft finger foods that easily squidge between your finger and thumb is a great way to allow your baby to explore food, self-feeding and practise skills around eating.
Moving onto Next Steps
Once you've offered a nice variety of single veggie tastes (10 days or so), you can start to move on and build a variety into your little one's diet, nice and gradually.
Try to start building 'meals' by adding a combination of foods together from the different food groups (e.g. pasta with broccoli and beef mince), including:
- Starchy foods
- Veg AND fruits
- Protein and iron-rich foods
- Small amounts of dairy (huge amounts aren’t needed as babies under 12 months generally still have plenty of milk).
Allergens such as dairy foods, salmon, egg and nuts (ground or nut butters) need to be offered one at a time and as the only new food that is introduced that day.
I have a guide to offering allergens on my blog and in my book How to Wean Your Baby, for more information.
Iron-rich foods such as lentils, beans, pulses, tofu and meat, fish and eggs are important to start including soon after the first tastes of veggies. This is because babies need plenty of iron in their diets and this needs to come from the foods they are eating.
What to expect when weaning
It's important to know that babies aren’t expected to simply gobble foods up at the start of the weaning journey.
From your baby's perspective, there’s a lot going on when you start them on solid foods – new tastes, textures, smells as well as the behavioural and coordination aspects that come with learning how to eat. So allowing time and thinking of these first veggies as simply ‘tiny tastes’ can help.
Always remember that all babies will progress through weaning at different paces. The most important thing is to have fun, take the pressure off and focus on offering a variety of foods to your baby throughout their weaning journey!
For more weaning advice visit srnutrition.co.uk or Charlotte’s social media channels @sr_nutrition
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