An expert’s guide to weaning

Introducing solid foods: all parents have to do it, but most of us have no idea where to begin. If only an incredible dad website was able to offer an expert’s guide to weaning.

It’s funny you should say that, because guess what’s coming next? Correct, it’s an expert’s guide to weaning, that’s provided by me. Only joking. It’s actually served up by Registered Nutritionist, and specialist in maternal, infant and child nutrition, Charlotte Stirling-Reed. Discover the complementary feeding guru’s top tips below and then catch her in the flesh when she gives a talk on the Saturday of this year’s The Baby Show at ExCel London (that’s Sat Feb 29, get your tickets here!!!).

Registered Nutritionist Charlotte Sterling-Reed will be speaking at The Baby Show

Okay Charlotte, let’s start from the beginning. What exactly is weaning?

Weaning is the process of gradually introducing an infant to what will be its adult diet. The original label of ‘weaning’ has been questioned, as many believe that it suggests the process of ‘weaning off’ something. As breastfeeding is encouraged to continue throughout the first one to two years of a child’s life, the idea of ‘weaning’ onto solid foods mustn’t be confused with a time to ‘wean off’ of breastmilk.

In the last year or so the title ‘Complementary Feeding’ has replaced ‘weaning’ as a way of describing the introduction of solid foods. Complementary – meaning ‘at the same time as’ – is now used in order to encourage continued breastfeeding, whilst at the same time offering new foods.

Got it. How can a parent tell if their baby is ready for weaning?

The Department of Health guidelines recommend that parents should begin weaning their babies at six months. Weaning can be a challenging time for mum, dad and baby – as they are learning to put new skills into practice. It is however important to remember that babies are all very different and so it is not a good idea to compare the weaning progress of your baby with that of others.

Developmentally, infants younger than 4 months of age are not prepared for solid food and therefore the introduction of solid foods is never recommended before 4 months or (17 weeks) for babies born at full term.

There are certain signs to look out for that might suggest that your baby is ready for trying solid foods such as: sitting up and holding their head steady themselves; taking a real interest in solid foods and the foods you’re eating; and coordinating their hand, eyes and mouth (you might notice them beginning to attempt to pick up and put things in their mouth themselves). It’s important to try and wait for these signs to appear together before starting to offer solids to your little one.

How many times a day should parents be giving their weaning child solid foods? 

Initially, offer baby just one solid feed a day, then over the next month increase this to two meals and then three meals. When starting to introduce food it is best to start slowly, offering a small amount (1 or 2 teaspoons to begin with) of a smooth and runny puree – just a little thicker than the texture of milk. Then, gradually increase the thickness of these purees over the next month so that by around 7 months baby is eating a thick puree which will “dollop” off of a spoon.

Also, when first introducing foods try and pick a time of day when it is peaceful with few disruptions and then offer each solid feed at a similar time on the following days. This helps baby to learn when to expect foods and to start getting used to a mealtime routine.

Should parents reduce the amount of milk they give to a child when weaning, or should that remain the same?

At around 6 months you’ll start to introduce more foods into your baby’s diet, and so naturally the amount of milk they will want and need will gradually begin to decrease. If you’re breastfeeding, your baby will adapt how much they feed according to the other food they have eaten throughout the day.

For formula fed babies, NHS guidelines (see below) suggest they may need around 600ml per day between 7-9 months and this will drop down to around 400ml between 10-12 months. Please remember this is just a guide. You may start offering cow’s milk or other alternatives by using them in cooking, but until your child reaches the age of one it shouldn’t be offered as a main drink to replace either breast or formula milk.

Are there any foodstuffs you’d recommend trying first?

Good first weaning foods include pureed fruits and vegetables or baby rice mixed with a little of baby’s usual milk. Babies already like sweet foods (it’s innate), so offering something that they are not so familiar with (remember milk is fairly sweet) can help them to develop a liking for a wider variety of tastes and flavours. It’s a good idea to start with a small amount of vegetable mixed in with baby’s usual milk, and then vary the type of vegetable you’re offering over the next week or so. For example, you could serve up baby broccoli, spinach, sprouts and green beans. There is a factsheet on this EXACT topic coming out on my Little Foodie website any time now, so watch this space on littlefoodie.org.

As a simple guide, good ideas of first weaning foods to offer include:

  • All fruits
  • All vegetables
  • Baby rice
  • Lentils
  • Eggs (well cooked)
  • Beans
  • Pulses
  • Meats and fish (well cooked)
  • Yoghurt

Remember to a) blend these foods and offer them with some of baby’s usual milk, and b) gradually increase the thickness of the puree over the first month or so of weaning. Once you get a bit further into the process, other great ideas to blend together are:

  • Sweet potato and broccoli
  • Apple and carrot
  • Potato and lentils
  • Squash and spinach
  • Apricot and orange
  • Chicken and kidney beans
  • Parsnip, sweet potato and lamb or beef
  • Salmon and peas

If you want to push things a bit further, you can also combine a mix of foods that you wouldn’t normally think would complement each other such as avocado and apple, apricot and potato, and pear and spinach. Whatever you do, keep offering plenty of variety to your little one, and remember to add more milk to get the texture a little smoother or more food to get it a little thicker.

Conversely, which type of foodstuffs should parents be avoiding at this stage?

Foods such as: wheat, gluten, nuts, peanuts, peanut products, seeds, liver, eggs, fish, shellfish, cows’ milk and soft or unpasteurised cheese should not be offered before 6 months of age. After 6 months, it is important that foods that contain gluten and other items that commonly cause allergies are introduced one at a time, so you can spot if your child has a reaction.

It is also not recommended to offer children the following during weaning: salt and added sugar or foods containing them (e.g. crisps, biscuits), honey (until 1 year of age), whole nuts (until 5 years of age) or cow’s milk as a whole drink (until one year of age).

Finally, what tend to be the main surprises for parents who have just started weaning?

During weaning your baby may pick up on your anxieties, so it is important that you stay as relaxed as possible to help encourage them to take new foods. Try and make eye contact with baby and practice lots of smiling even if initially feeding is met with refusal. Refrain from getting upset and just try again next time.

Weaning your baby onto solid foods needs patience and persistence. It can take up to ten times before new foods are accepted, so if baby refuses foods make sure you are offering the right texture and try again next time. Try mixing an accepted food with another that baby is refusing and make sure you are always offering plenty of variety in baby’s feeds. Remember not to panic and that persistence is the key to getting your baby weaning well. 

And that’s it. That is Charlotte’s expert guide to weaning. Print it out. Stick it to your fridge. And then go forth and conquer the solid food transition.

Until next time…

The Baby Show with Lidl is the UK’s leading pregnancy and parenting event series. In 2020, it is taking place at ExCel London from Feb 28-1 March, NEC Birmingham from May 15-17 and Olympia London from 23-25 October. For more information and to purchase your tickets click here.

2 comments

  • A very interesting read. This area is one thing we’ve been rather lucky with from reading horror stories and stressful stories from friends and family membersto do with weaning. They’ve basically picked it up themselves and taken to puree’d and then solid foods easily. With my youngest, she’s 1 at the moment (15months) using what we experienced with our now 4 year old, we started her with finger foods when she had cut her teeth. Soft foods such as pasta or boiled and cooled carrot sticks and brocoli and she has fed very well since with more in puree’d meals.

    • Thanks for the comment and tips, Eddie. Yes, we were really lucky too (our son even likes Brussels sprouts!), but like you say, it does seem like something quite a lot of parents have a terrible time with.

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