Making the transition onto solids is an exciting time. Get your little one started on a delicious and nutritious weaning journey with this advice.
Starting your baby on solids is an exciting step to take. When your baby reaches approximately six months of age, you may notice that his appetite may become a challenge to satisfy with breast or formula milk alone. Your baby is ready to complement his milk-based diet with new flavours and textures. We outline all you need to know about weaning your baby.
What is weaning?
Weaning means to slowly introduce a range of solid foods to your baby, until they are ready to eat the same food as the rest of your family. Weaning is not just important for a baby’s nutrition and growth – did you know that an important part of introducing solid foods is to develop muscles that are associated with motor skills and speech?
When do I start weaning my baby?
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) recommends that weaning should begin at approximately six months – no sooner than 17 weeks and no later than 26 weeks.
While it is important that infants are not introduced to complementary foods later than six months, due to the natural variation in the physiological requirements of individual infants, research has shown that some infants may require complementary foods before the age of six months to support optimal growth and development. It is essential to continue to give them breast or formula milk throughout this time. Starting solids later than 26 weeks can lead to fussy eating and possible food intolerances. It can also increase the risk of iron deficiency.
How do I know my baby is ready for weaning?
There are a number of signs your baby will give you when they are ready to be weaned. Your baby may be ready for solids if they are of the recommended age and:
- Have good head control.
- Show an interest in foods. They may open their mouths and ‘chew’ when they see other people eating.
- Are hungry and restless after a milk feed.
- Chew and dribble more frequently.
- Do not seem satisfied after a milk feed.
- Start to demand feeds more frequently over a time period of more than one week.
Set a date
Decide on a day that suits you and your baby and a time of day when both of you are relaxed and not under any time pressure. Choose a time when your baby is not too hungry. Babies should be fed in an upright position. A high chair, travel chair or bumper is best, where your baby can look straight ahead when feeding. 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. 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. Remember, that up until now all they have had to do is suck.
When should gluten be introduced to a baby’s diet?
Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. Gluten should be given to your baby at about six months of age. Introducing gluten before four months of age or after seven months of age can increase the risk of developing coeliac disease or type 1 diabetes. At first, small amountsof gluten should be given and this should slowly be increased over a four to six week period.
Do it gradually
Start with one or two spoons of food. It’s a good idea to let your baby hold and play with a spoon while they are being fed. Introduce one new food at a time, leaving one day between each new food to see if your baby has a reaction or intolerance to a food. Once your baby is managing to take food from the spoon, spoon feeds can be spaced out between milk feeds. Remember not to add salt or sugar to your baby’s food. However, low-salt stock cubes are fine to use when making baby’s food.
Solids and breastfeeding
Your baby should have her usual milk, which provides vitamins, iron and protein in an easily digestible form. Solids will eventually replace some milk feeds, but your baby’s usual milk remains an important source of nutrition until she’s one year old.
How do I help my baby to get used to thicker textures?
Gradually make her meals thicker in consistency and start to include a few ‘lumpier’ ingredients to help her to get used to chewing and swallowing different textures of food.
The importance of hygiene
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.
Can I reheat food?
When reheating baby food, make sure that it is piping hot. Let it cool down before you give it to your baby, testing a bit of food on the inside of your wrist to see if it is a comfortable temperature beforehand.
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is where you skip the purée stage, and simply jump to the finger food stage. This allows the baby to pick up, touch and play, smell, and taste the usual family foods – such as a piece of cooked chicken, a piece of soft vegetable, a piece of mango, banana or avocado. The ideal time to start finger food is when your baby is picking up anything and everything and putting it into their mouth.
Finger food ideas:
1. Small pieces of lightly toasted bread or bagels (spread with vegetable purée for extra vitamins).
2. 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.
3. Small, well-cooked broccoli or cauliflower ‘trees.’
4. Pea-sized pieces of cooked chicken, ground beef or turkey, or other soft meat.
More you might like:
Pear and baby rice puree
Pureed sweet potato
Been and potato puree