A guide to weaning

Weaning your baby onto solid foods is a really important step in their development and it can be great fun to explore new flavours and textures together.

Babies need nothing but breast milk or infant formula for the first six months of life according to research conducted in this area. Introducing your baby to solid foods, often called weaning on to foods, should start when your baby is around six months old. To begin with, how much your baby takes is less important than getting them used to the idea of eating. They will still be getting most of their nutrition from breast milk or infant formula.

Babies don’t need three meals a day to start with, so you can start by offering foods at a time that suits you both. Gradually you’ll be able to increase the amount and variety of food your baby eats until they can eventually eat the same as the rest of the family, in smaller portions.

Don’t delay

It is very important to wean your baby at around six months because it is at this time that their natural stores of iron begin to dry up. It is also important that they get used to eating before they actually need it so that there will never be a period when they are taking in no iron at all. Delaying weaning can also make the process more difficult. This is because babies are usually most willing to try new tastes and flavours at around six months old.

Watch for the signs

There are a number of signs your baby will give you when they are ready to be weaned:

  • They are hungry and restless after a milk feed.
  • They can sit propped in a sitting position and hold their head steady.
  • They open their mouths and ‘chew’ when they see other people eating.

Getting started

Begin by offering tiny amounts of food so your baby can get used to this new experience and taste. Never force solids on a baby. This should be a gentle and enjoyable experience – for both of you. If your baby refuses food, stop and try again in a few days. Do not rush your baby; this is a daunting time for them as they learn these new tastes and hardest of all, how to swallow. Up until now all they have had to do is suck.

Many parents find lunchtime a good time of day to try solids with their baby as they are alert and hungry and eager for playtime. Start with one or two spoons of food, waiting until the baby opens her mouth to offer more. It’s a good idea to let your baby hold her own spoon to get a sense of feeding herself. Remember not to add salt, sugar or stock cubes to your baby’s food.

While it’s important to purée all of your baby’s food at the beginning, most babies can chew soft lumps, such as mashed banana or mashed vegetables even if they have no teeth. Varying the texture of your baby’s food not only helps them to chew but also helps them to develop the muscles used for speaking.

What to drink?

As your baby takes more solid food, he will need less breast or formula milk. If your baby is full on milk feeds, he may not want any solid food. Fruit juice should not be given instead of milk but small amounts of fresh, unsweetened fruit juice can be given very occasionally from a cup at mealtimes from six months on. It is best to offer water in a cup once your baby is six months old. Use a beaker with two handles. It is a hard process, as many babies do not want to give up their bottle, but by the age of one your baby should only be drinking from a beaker.

A gradual process

When you and your baby are ready, you can start to increase the amount of solid food your baby is getting. This is a great time to experiment with flavour combinations, but remember not to add salt to any of your baby’s food as this can adversely affect their kidneys and liver. Save time by making up a supply of baby food in advance and freezing it in ice cube trays. The frozen cubes can be defrosted as you need them.

Iron importance

Babies are born with stores of iron. At around six months, these stores begin to run out so it is important to ensure that your baby gets enough iron for healthy growth and development. Give him iron-rich foods (lean meat, cereals, beans and green vegetables) regularly.

Keep it clean

It’s important to keep all equipment used to feed your baby scrupulously clean. Sterilise all feeding equipment until your baby is 12 months old, and after that, clean with soap and hot water, using a clean tea towel or paper towels to dry them. Always wash your hands before you start to prepare meals for your baby and wash high chairs, bibs and eating areas in hot, soapy water. If your baby is eating finger foods, wash his hands before eating.

Finger food ideas

  • Small pieces of lightly toasted bread or bagels (spread with vegetable purée for extra vitamins).
  • Small chunks of banana or other very ripe, peeled and pitted fruit, like mango, plum, pear, peach, cantaloupe, or seedless watermelon, well-cooked pasta spirals, cut into pieces.
  • Small, well-cooked broccoli or cauliflower ‘trees.’
  • Pea-sized pieces of cooked chicken, ground beef or turkey, or other soft meat.

Think hygienically

Great care must be taken to ensure that all foods are fresh, clean, hygienically prepared and stored correctly. Never leave leftover food lying around. If you wish to offer it again later the same day, cover it and store it in the fridge. Meals, which are prepared in advance for freezing, or for use later in the day, should be stored with care. Freeze small portions in containers or plastic bags and defrost in the fridge. Reheat all pre-cooked food thoroughly and allow to cool before serving.

Foods to avoid

There are some foods that should be avoided for a baby’s first year:

  • Honey can contain bacteria that can damage your baby’s intestines, leading to a very rare condition called infant botulism.
  • Some kinds of fish Shark, swordfish or marlin can contain traces of mercury. This can affect your baby’s nervous system.
  • Uncooked or lightly cooked eggs Make sure that eggs are cooked through until both the white and the yolk are solid.
  • Whole nuts Never give chopped or whole nuts to small babies or young children because they can cause choking.
  • Salt Don’t add salt to your baby’s food, because their kidneys can’t cope with it. Babies should have less than 1g of salt per day.
  • Sugar Be careful with sugary foods and drinks. They are bad for the teeth and can encourage a sweet tooth.

Check out our latest weaning recipes

Q. Is it best to buy food or make it myself?

By making your own weaning foods you know exactly what your baby is eating and they will become familiar with the taste of homemade foods from an early age. When cooking for themselves, parents should be aware that they can set aside some of their food before adding salt or gravy, alter the texture as needed and offer it to baby. In this way, homemade foods are included in the weekly shop and can be relatively cheap to prepare compared to bought food.

Commercial baby foods are safe and can be useful for the sake of convenience when travelling or eating away from home. There is an obvious cost factor and parents should be aware that it’s best to choose savoury bought foods as desserts and puddings can be based mainly on added sugar and fat. Other bought products such as sauces, gravies and dishes containing processed food like sausage have a high salt content and are not suitable. It’s important to check the label. Even though it may say ‘suitable from four months’ all foods given to babies under six months of age should be gluten-free. Whatever your choice, try to promote savoury over sweet foods.

Babies need to learn to develop their taste and palate for a wide variety of food and not rely on one particular flavour. Babies often need to taste a new food up to 15 times before they will accept it, so persevere!

Q. Should I hold my baby or put him in a chair?

One of the signs that your baby is ready to start spoon feeds is when they’re able to sit up with support and control their head. Once they are at this stage a high chair and table can be used. If they’re being held, get another person to hold and position baby so that they are upright, well-supported and can see the face of the person feeding them. However they sit for spoon feeds, expect both a mess and some food waste. These are perfectly normal as baby gets used to this new experience of eating. Messy play with food is all part of learning to eat and helps to develop hand eye co-ordination.

Q.  Why does my baby gag when I feed him?

Gagging is a normal and can happen while baby is moving on from sucking to learning to eat and swallow solid food rather than thin liquid milk feeds. Gagging is a sign that your infant can protect their airway and can clear food from the back of their mouth. It’s a reflex that will gradually lessen over time provided your baby is challenged with new textures.

Gagging is not choking, but it can be scary for parents when it happens and you might be tempted to avoid offering lumpier textures. Gagging is something that will only start to lessen when your baby is repeatedly challenged with lumpier textures. It is something that will last if your baby remains on lump-free purée for longer than two weeks. Choking is different and can happen when the airway suddenly gets blocked. A baby that’s choking will be distressed and may be unable to cry, cough or breathe.

Ruth Charles, Paediatric Dietitian at the Early Feeding Clinic Dublin. http://www.earlyfeedingclinic.ie

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Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….