The subject of weaning seems to produce a lot of conflicting advice. It also seems to create parental competitiveness and general fear and loathing. What starts off as excitement about baby’s first slurps can often descend into panic, frustration and upset.
Weaning isn’t rocket science and certainly isn’t an exact science. However, it can become over-complicated and a chore. It doesn’t have to be like that. At the start you will need to do extra work if you aren’t using pre-prepared baby food. However, you can quickly progress to a stage where they eat a lot of what the rest of the family is (omitting salt and very strong spices).
Aside from when to start (WHO recommends six months), one of the first weaning issues seems to be what ‘style’ of weaning to use. There seems to be two camps: baby-led and traditional spoon-feeding. Finger foods allow babies to self-feed. Finger foods also stimulate their interest in food and most babies seem to enjoy them. However, spoon-fed purees give a much better idea of how much they’ve eaten and provide greater parental control. It’s almost as if the style you choose defines what kind of parent you are! Nobody talks about a combination or composite approach, which blends the two styles. However, it’s easy to combine them for a flexible and common sense approach to weaning.
- Greater independence
- Develops pincer grasp/fine motor skills
- Self regulate food intake – learn to understand hunger cues
- Linked with lower instances of obesity in later life
- Potential for iron deficiency
- Choking more likely
- More difficult to ascertain whether baby has eaten enough
- Fewer foods that can be offered as not all suitable as finger foods
- Parent is able to monitor more easily how much is consumed
- Greater variety of food can be offered
- Baby can eat the same as the rest of the family
- Easier to make nutritionally balanced meals
- Lack of child independence
- Has been linked to obesity as child could keep eating until parent decides they’ve had enough
- Don’t understand hunger cues so well
Where to begin with weaning?
In the beginning one ‘meal’ a day (a couple of spoons) is fine. The aim is to introduce the concept of food; the different flavours and textures. In the early stages the actual nutritional value is secondary as your little one’s nutritional needs will be predominantly satisfied by milk. Although obviously don’t introduce things that are actually bad for your baby!
Baby rice on its own is bland but is still a good starting point. You can progress pretty quickly and combine it with steamed fruits for a breakfast. You can also use it to bulk up vegetable purees. Within a few weeks it will probably have served its purpose!
Don’t be afraid to move fast and up ‘meals’ to three a day if your baby enjoys it. In the early stages this won’t affect their milk intake. Milk intake will only really start to decrease when you introduce proteins. Trust your instincts. If they’re a little unsure then stick to one meal of a couple of spoons a day for a while. However, if your little one is enjoying it then give them as much as they want.
Once you’re properly up and running you can introduce lumpier textures. You can roughly mash vegetables instead of pureeing or give whole veg as finger foods.
There’s nothing wrong with using frozen vegetables to supplement fresh fruit and veg. In the case of things such as peas, the frozen variety often surpasses the fresh. They are frozen within a couple of hours of being picked so very few nutrients are lost.
Examples of baby’s first foods (first couple of weeks)
- Sweet potato puree
- Brocoli and potato puree
- Cauliflower puree
- Carrot, baby rice and baby’s usual milk
- Baby rice and mashed fruit (banana, steamed apple, steamed pear)
- Mashed avocado
Next couple of weeks
- Big pasta with grated cheese as a finger food (or very small pasta to spoon feed)
- Pasta with simple tomato sauce
- Omelette (well cooked) with cheese, spinach etc
- Cauliflower and broccoli in cheese sauce
- Vegetable puree with couscous
- Steamed vegetables as a finger food (green beans, mange tout, tender stem broccoli, carrots etc)
- Rice cakes
- Fingers of cheese
- Cherry tomatoes (cut in half to avoid choking hazard)