Written by: Cally Worden
Eeek! The moment has arrived! It’s weaning time! And so opens up a whole new world of discovery for you and your baby. There is so much conflicting advice on how to do it, when to start it and what foods to serve, you’d be forgiven for burying your head in a tub of formula. Here we lay out some of the basic choices available to you. The path you take will be unique to you and your baby, that’s absolutely fine. Listen to advice and guidance when you can get it, but you know your baby best, so follow your instincts and you’ll be just fine.
When to Start
Most medical experts agree that around six months of age is the optimum time for weaning to start for most babies. While some may say that it’s okay to start even earlier, at 4-5 months, it appears to be universally accepted that no baby should be weaned prior to the age of 17 weeks. This is based on the fact that up to this age the infant digestive system is simply not ready to cope with solids, also the tongue-thrust reflex that helps prevent babies from swallowing things that may choke them is also still very strong until this age. Many infants this young will also struggle to sit up for any length of time too.
Signs your Baby is Ready to Wean
There are a number of clear signals your baby will give to let you know they are ready to wean. These include:
- An ability to remain in an upright sitting position, with the head steady
- Hand, eye and mouth co-ordination is developed to the point where they can independently look at, pick up, and move food into their mouth
- They have developed the ability to swallow non-liquids (i.e., the tongue thrust reflex is wearing off)
Beware of the false signs of readiness to wean. The following are all things that babies of 4-6 months of age will do, but which are not generally an indicator of being ready for solids:
- Fist chewing
- Middle of the night waking
- A demand for extra milk feeds
How to Wean
There are two main schools of thought on how to wean your baby:
Both have their merits, it’s just a matter of preference. Baby-Led Weaning is all about allowing your baby to learn about solids through touch. It involves presenting foods to your baby, leaving them to eat in their own time and in their own way. It’s messy, it’s fun, it’s exploratory and can be time consuming -but it works. Those who adopt this approach generally report that their baby develops a wide range of tastes for different foods; rarely goes hungry and mealtime battles are few and far between. Spoon-fed Weaning is more structured. And far less messy. It places the parent more in control and is a great way to ensure your baby eats the amount of food you think they need. Spoon-fed weaning stops babies from developing favourites and potentially ignoring foods they are not keen on. Spoon-fed babies can sometimes over-eat, however, mealtime battles can be more common as your baby may attempt to assert some control at mealtimes, refusing to eat food that is waved in front of their face. Personally, I spoon-fed both my babies – I didn’t feel I had the time to be relaxed enough about the mess of Baby-Led Weaning to make it a fun experience for either of us. Both my kids eat well, with a wide variety of foods. Equally, I know of kids who were allowed to feed themselves who are just as well-balanced on the whole food-and-diet issue. Of course, kids are not robots, many parents (myself included) found that elements of both approaches crept into the whole weaning process as time passed.
Tips for Starting Out
Here are a few tips that apply whatever style of weaning your choose to follow:
- Never leave your baby unattended with solid food, or in their high chair
- Allow your baby to touch and play with food a little (or a lot!) and feed themselves if they want
- Never force your baby to eat or try a new food
- Always cool food down and test it before you offer it to your baby
- Avoid adding sugar, salt, or stock cubes to your baby’s foods
- If you are spoon-feeding, wait for your baby to open their mouth before trying to get food in (sounds logical, but when you’re in a hurry it can be tempting to try and tickle those lips open!)
- Your baby may like to hold a spoon too
- Present food in different ways that are appropriate for their age – finger foods, small cubes of soft solids, thick soup textures and so on. Keep it interesting
- Have fun!