Get ready and set for the mess of weaning

Ever heard the phrase ‘food before one is just for fun…’ or heard others say that children must follow baby-led weaning, or that children have to follow stages to be sure that they eat everything?

Thing is, the reality of weaning is daunting as well as exciting, messy, frustrating, annoying, scary, fun, time consuming and doesn’t stop after those first few mouthfuls!

When your child is about 20 weeks or so the signs that they are ready to engage with the world, and especially food, becomes more apparent.

These key signs are:

  • That the baby can sit up, even if partly aided
  • Showing coordination of hands, eyes and mouth
  • Putting things in their mouth can be a sign of teething as well as a readiness for food, but if they do not push back with their tongue it shows they may be ready to swallow food
  • A noticeable increase in their hunger – although this could be a growth spurt, with breast-fed babies if they are feeding a lot (in my experience it was every hour for half an hour), then they perhaps need more. But don’t expect food to aide sleeping through the night!

But what about the age of the baby?

While the current common thought is that babies should be weaned at the age of six months, the reality is that the official advice offers a wider scope than that, which reflects just how different all our babies are. In the late 1900’s (so the 1970s-2000), babies were weaned at four months, but concerns rose that infants bodies were not able to process food fully at that age, and that introducing food too early could cause intolerances or allergies. The WHO changed their guidance to exclusive milk (breast or bottle) until 26 weeks (six months) and then slow introduction of food alongside milk until one year old.

The Department of Health in the UK offers some wider guidelines on the advice from WHO, in that they suggest weaning needs to start around six months old, but as babies develop at different rates weaning can commence no earlier than 17 weeks and no later than 27 weeks – i.e. six months old. Current research in the EU at the moment indicates that waiting until six months or later can mean that hungry babies are underfed by the time they are six months, and that there can be resistance to weaning if the babies are much older. There is no evidence to suggest that allergies are more likely from babies weaned from 17 weeks old.

So where do you start?

  • Embrace the mess!
  • Try timing feeding the baby with eating with the family to encourage mimicry – but this can be tricky with meal times so do not put pressure on yourself
  • Babies don’t eat much at first – maybe a tablespoon is a meal, so don’t rush or force more food in – wait until the baby’s mouth is open and offer the spoon
  • You can either start with mashed/pureed food if they are around the four month mark, or offer finger foods as part of baby-led weaning if they are closer to the six month mark
  • Start with veg, then fruit and then follow NHS advice on food groups to introduce. Rice, avocado, bananas and broccoli are all good foods to start with
  • There are great options on baby food cookbooks, or you can offer them what you are eating as long as it has no salt or sugar in – I found these two the most helpful and adaptable to feeding the whole family – Annabel Karmel baby cook book and Ella’s Kitchen cook book.

For more information check out these resources from the NHS: Start4Life and Your baby’s first solid foods.

And don’t forget that every baby’s food journey is different, and those first mouthfuls are only the first steps to building a healthy relationship with food. Each of my weaning experiences have been different and even now all three of the children have different foods and meals they enjoy. And while I have indeed worried about them – the best tip I ever had was to consider what they ate over the course of a week, not a day, and see that sometimes they just weren’t hungry and other times they were…and that actually they are ok.

If you are ever worried please speak to a health professional like your heath visitor or your GP.

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