Weaning explained by Dr. Pixie McKenna

Dr. Pixie McKenna gives her top tips on how to support your little one when they make the big transition to self-feeding with baby weaning explained.

While you may have earmarked a date for the big departure to solids, have you decided how you are actually going to do it? In addition to the traditional, spoon-fed method, baby-led weaning is also an option. Baby-led weaning is not a new concept, in fact it’s been around for about a decade.

Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages and I’ve outlined these below.

Traditional weaning

This method essentially introduces different types of puréed food to your baby using a soft spoon. Many parents start by introducing baby rice and move onto soft fruit and vegetable purees within the first few weeks (stage one weaning).

As your baby becomes comfortable with swallowing the purees, a coarser texture can be introduced, followed by small lumps and finger foods at seven to nine months (stage two weaning).

The speed at which this progresses varies from baby to baby. There are some disadvantages with traditional weaning, such as that preparing purées can be time-consuming and may mean that your baby is eating a different meal from the rest of the family. She is also not learning about individual foods, tastes and textures when they are blended together.

Parents often overfeed their children if they are in charge of the spoon. I’ve done it myself. Some parents may also spend too much time in the purée zone and delay progression to lumps, which can have a negative impact on oral development and speech further down the line, as well as lead to fussier eaters.

Baby-led weaning

Baby-led weaning follows a commonsense concept, where baby takes the lead to decide when, what and how much to eat. You obviously help by prepping the food and providing the venue and a routine. Your baby can touch, taste, explore and eat foods at her own pace.

While there is a technical risk of under eating, most texts will tell you that a baby will never starve when there’s food around. It’s a primitive instinct to fill up! However, baby-led weaning is not for you if you are a bit of a control freak. While ultimately you have little control when it comes to traditional weaning, allowing your baby to take control can prove quite stressful to the uninitiated. In addition, you can’t ensure your child is getting her iron quota if she’s allowed to graze rather than be spoon fed.


Allowing your little one to take the lead helps her develop skills, gain independence and improve hand-eye co-ordination. Start by offering her soft finger foods at family meal times, so she can immediately socialise and mimic those around the table. Let her do her own spooning and get stuck in.

As she is self-feeding, she learns her hunger and satiety cues early on. Being in control now may mean she is less likely to be a picky eater in the future as she accepts a wide range of food.

The flip side of this is you have no idea how much baby is actually eating. Many parents also have concerns about choking in self-feeders. Interestingly, a baby’s gag reflex is further forward in the mouth than an adult’s. She is hard-wired to shoot something back out rather than suck it in. At six months, providing you offer appropriate foods, the choking risk should not be any greater with this method than if you spoon feed her.

The best method

Which method you decide to use is entirely up to you. Neither is incorrect. If you want, you can choose to take the best of both methods and wean your own way.

Weaning should never be stressful for you or your baby. The best method is the one that works for you, not against you. Don’t force yourself to do something that doesn’t seem to fit with you – both approaches are guidelines, not law.

The fundamental principal of weaning for me is knowing what you shouldn’t do rather than dictating what you should. Just like baby finds her way through the purées, you too feel your way through weaning. The end goal is the same, the journey differs slightly for everyone.

Tips for stage three

Stage three foods are given at around nine to twelve months. Your baby is ready for food with a consistency of mince or chopped meat. Once again you are stepping up a gear in terms of texture, plus by now he has a few teeth to help tackle the food. The good news is that by the time he comes to the end of this phase he will be ready to enjoy full-on family food, albeit in smaller portions!


The aim at stage three is to provide variety and nutrition while expanding the textures and flavours offered. Food at this stage can have lumps and chunks. Baby can now start to eat mince and chopped meats like lamb or beef. Finger food can be upgraded from soft to hard, e.g. toast. By this stage she has also mastered the pincer grasp so is able to pick up smaller morsels rather than rake them up.

Take care when cutting up finger food to ensure it is cube shaped or baton shaped and avoid cutting things into coin shapes (e.g. slices of sausage) as this has a greater choking risk. You should be aiming to have baby eating three meals and two snacks a day by the end of this phase. This sounds like a lot but she will be moving around a great deal more than previously so she needs more calories. She will also be curious and keen to experience new things.

When choosing foods, consider the iron content. This doesn’t have to just be red meat – dried fruit, eggs, cereal and green veg are also great resources. Remember, to access iron for absorption you need vitamin C. Think of iron as the cash card and vitamin C as the pin!

Fruit and veg are great vitamin C resources – mango, melon, tomato, even the humble potato.

More like this:

Pureed sweet potato
Pear and baby rice
Beef and potato puree 


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….


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.