By Cathy Monaghan MSc, H.Dip, RD.

This article will provide you with plenty tips and tricks to help your little one transitions onto solids. Alternatively my Weaning Masterclass will cover everything you need to know.

How to Wean Your baby

Once you’re over those first few months of sleepless nights, frequent nappy changes and generally getting to know your baby, along comes weaning and you’re suddenly bounced back into uncharted territory again! Starting your baby on solid foods is an exciting and important milestone for you both.  When your baby is about six months of age, you may notice that their appetite is hard to satisfy with breast or formula milk alone, this might be a sign that your baby is ready to experience different tastes and textures. It is an important time, as your baby grows, they will need extra nutrients that breast milk or formula cannot provide alone so weaning is the next step.

WHAT IS WEANING?

Weaning is the gradual introduction of solid foods into your baby’s diet so that by the age of 12 months they are ready to eat the same foods as the rest of the family. Weaning is not just essential for a baby’s nutrition and growth but is also important in developing their muscles associated with swallowing and speaking. Weaning is an exciting time for both you are your baby. It can be daunting but most of all it is a lot of fun (and mess!), embrace it.

THE BEST TIME TO START 

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 foods later than six months, some babies may require foods before the age of six months to support optimal growth and development. You know your baby best and every baby will be different. If you feel like your baby needs solids before six months ask your public health nurse for advice. Starting solids later than six months can contribute to fussy eating and possible food intolerances. It can also increase the risk of iron deficiency. It is essential to continue to give them breast or formula milk throughout this time 

THE SIGNS YOUR 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: 

Have good head control.

Show an interest in foods. 

They may open their mouths and ‘chew’ when they see other people eating. 

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.

WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO START WEANING?

Decide on a day that suits you and your baby when both of you are relaxed and not under any time pressure. Choose a time when your baby is not too hungry, is alert and in good form. Midday or the afternoon are usually good times. Babies should be fed in an upright position. A high chair is best, where your baby is supported and 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 your baby to eat solids. If your baby refuses food, stop and try again later. Do not rush your baby; this is a daunting time for them as they experience new tastes and learn how to swallow. Some babies will take longer to wean than others and that is normal. The main thing is not to give up! 

WHAT WILL YOU NEED?

You will have most of what you need already at home.  Weaning is all about getting back to basics and not to over complicate things. It is a good idea to use baby spoons when feeding your baby to protect little gums (especially when they start biting down on every spoonful!). You don’t need any special dishes at the beginning you can use your own bowls, ramekin dishes or even a teacup is fine. As you baby progresses and becomes more independent with weaning plastic bowls are a good idea to avoid any breakages and they allow your baby become more independent when feeding. A fork and a sieve are also useful when pureeing small amounts of food. If you are pureeing, a hand blender will allow you to easily purée at mealtimes with minimal clean up, and will be a lifesaver if you plan on making food in batches. Weaning is messy business (in a good way!). Additional items will make life easier: bibs for the inevitable mess, floor mats and newspapers are also very convenient.

STARTING OFF

The first foods you give your baby need to be easy to digest. The texture should be runny and very smooth, similar to yogurt with no lumps. Start with ½ to one teaspoon 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 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 and increased between milk feeds. Remember not to add salt or sugar to your baby’s food. However, low-salt stock cubes and herbs are okay to use when making your baby’s food. Gradually make their meals thicker in consistency and start to include a few ‘lumpier’ ingredients to help them to get used to chewing and swallowing different textures of food.

WHEN SHOULD I INTRODUCE GLUTEN?

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. At first, small amounts of gluten should be given and this should slowly be increased over a four to six week period. An example of a gluten containing meal could be pureed pasta, vegetables with a variety of meat. When giving gluten for the first time it is best not to introduce any new foods at the same time so you can see if your baby tolerates gluten. In most cases, babies will have no problems tolerating gluten. 

CONTINUE BREASTFEEDING OR BOTTLE FEEDING

Continue to give your baby their usual milk. Solids will eventually replace some milk feeds, but your baby’s usual milk remains an important source of nutrition until they are one year old.

HYGIENE TIPS

 Ensure all foods are fresh, clean, hygienically prepared and stored correctly. Wash all fruits and vegetables and peel and trim them when preparing pureed foods. Never leave leftover food outside. If you wish to offer it again later the same day, cover it and store it in the fridge. Freeze small portions in containers or plastic bags and defrost in the fridge. Reheat all precooked food thoroughly and allow to cool before serving. 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. Leftovers should only be reheated once.

NUTRIENTS FOR YOUR BABY:

 ENERGY FOODS 

Babies can only eat small, frequent meals. Small amounts of fat are important to provide energy and help absorb nutrients.

Try:

Pasteurised full fat milk and dairy products

Mashed avocado

Well-cooked eggs 

Low-salt spreads, olive oil and butter are a good way to add energy to your baby’s diet

PROTEIN

Essential for healthy growth, protein should be included in two meals for babies aged six months onwards.

Try:

Well-cooked eggs 

Well-cooked chicken or turkey 

Well-cooked oil-rich fish, e.g., salmon or mackerel 

Well-cooked beef, lamb or pork 

White fish

Plain tofu (with no added seasoning)

Pulses, e.g., peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas

IRON 

Iron is vital for healthy blood, normal growth and development. Iron is also important for baby’s brain development between six months and two years of age. Your baby is born with iron stores, but by the age of six months, these stores begin to run out and they need additional sources of iron in their diet. Children are at risk of becoming deficient in iron because of rapid growth.

Try:

Well-cooked beef or lamb

Well-cooked dark chicken meat, e.g., chicken thigh or bone 

Well-cooked oil-rich fish, e.g., salmon

Eggs, beans, cereals with added iron e.g., ready brek

Dark green vegetables 

VITAMIN D 

Vitamin D is needed to help with the absorption of calcium to build healthy and strong bones. It is also important in preventing some illnesses and infections. Give your baby 5 micrograms of vitamin D3 as a supplement every day from birth until 12 months. 

You do not need to give your baby a vitamin D supplement if they your baby is drinking more than 300mls or 10 fl uid oz (ounces) of infant formula a day. This is because there has been an increase in the amount of vitamin D added to infant formula.

ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

 These include omega 3 and omega 6. Babies need a source of these fatty acids in their diet. They are naturally found in breast milk and are added to infant formula milk. The main food source of these fatty acids is oil-rich fish in particular salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, kippers and herring. Vegetarian sources include rapeseed (canola) oil, flaxseeds, linseeds, walnuts, or their oils.

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 your 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. Your baby must be 6 months old if you plan to do baby led weaning. Before this time, they are not developmentally ready.

The ideal time to start finger food is when your baby is picking up anything and everything and putting it into their mouth. It is important to allow your baby to play with food it is part of the process and will eventually result in them being more comfortable trying new foods. Never leave your baby alone when they are eating even if they are feeding themselves, they still need supervision in case of choking. 

FINGER FOOD SUGGESTIONS:

Finger foods are a great way for your baby to become more independent. Before offering finger foods the squish test is a useful technique to see if a food is suitable as a finger food for your baby.  Check if a food easily squashes in between two of your fingers. The following foods are ideal finger foods to start off with as they can be easily picked up and digested.

• Cooked soft vegetables: parsnip, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots

• Finger sized pieces of ripe/soft fruit: banana, mango, plum, pear, peach.

• Well-cooked pasta spirals, cut into pieces.

• Pea-sized pieces of cooked chicken, minced beef or turkey, or other

soft meat (avoid processed meats as they are high in salt)

Tip: Avoid sweet biscuits and commercial baby biscuits they are often very high in sugar and there are many healthier alternatives. 

WHAT CAN I USE TO SOFTEN MY BABY’S FOOD?

Use Don’t use

Breast milk Gravy

Low- salt stock cubes Stock cubes

Cooled boiled water Jars or packets of sauce

Full fat cow’s milk

TASTY BABY PURÉES Recipes

BANANA PORRIDGE PURÉE

• 3 tbsp oats

• 150ml water

• 1 small ripe banana,

• peeled and mashed

1. Put all the ingredients in a small pan, cover and bring to the boil.

2. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 5 – 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop it from sticking.

3. Purée by pushing through a sieve or by using a liquidiser. Add more water or your baby’s usual milk if a thinner consistency is preferred.

PARSNIP AND CAULIFLOWER PURÉE

• 1 parsnip, peeled and sliced

• 200g Cauliflower, chopped

• 3 tbsp baby’s usual milk

1. Boil the parsnip and cauliflower in a little water for

10 minutes until cooked and tender.

2. Purée the vegetable mixture with 6 tbsp of boiled water in a food processor, or using a hand blender until smooth. Add your baby’s usual milk until you achieve the desired consistency.

REMEMBER:

✘Don’t reheat your baby’s food more than once.

✘Never reheat food from frozen. Allow to defrost first.

FOODS TO AVOID DURING WEANING

✘ Soft and unpasteurized cheese: e.g., blue cheese or brie. Pasteurised cheese is suitable to give your baby i.e., cheddar cheese 

✘Salt: Do not add salt to any foods. Choose low-salt versions of stock cubes, soups and sauces (if using).

✘Added sugar: Avoid adding sugar and using foods or drinks with added sugar.

✘Honey: Avoid honey until your baby is one year old.

✘ Whole nuts: Do not give whole nuts to your baby until they are at least five years old due to the risk of choking. Smooth nut spreads are safe.

✘ Uncooked or lightly cooked eggs: Make sure that eggs are cooked through until both the white and the yolk are solid.

✘ Cow’s milk: is not a suitable drink before the first birthday. It can however be used to prepare meals.

STAGE 1 (from around 6 months of age)

Aim for 1-2 meals per day. The size of each meal should be approximately 1-6 teaspoons. This will depend on how hungry your baby is.

Consistency Suitable Foods Skills learned

If you are starting your baby with pureed foods, they should be a smooth thin consistency without any lumps. Make the purée thicker as your baby learns to take food

from the spoon. Use expressed breast milk, infant formula or cooled boiled water to make up feeds. Full fat cow’s milk can also be used in cooking after six months. Some purées may need to be sieved to

remove lumps and fibrous parts.

• Baby rice

• Puréed root vegetables: butternut squash, turnip, carrot, parsnip and sweet potato

• Puréed ripe fruits: banana, mango, apple or pear 

• Well cooked eggs

• Well cooked minced chicken and beef

• Soft oily and white fish

*Don’t be afraid to try lots of different foods to expose your baby to a variety of flavours. It is best to add new foods one at a time.

• Taking foods from a spoon

• Moving food from the front to the back of the mouth for swallowing

• Managing increasingly thicker purées

STAGE 2 (from around 6 to 9 months of age)

Aim for 2-3 meals per day. The size of each meal should be approximately 5-10 teaspoons. This will depend on how hungry your baby is.

Consistency Suitable Foods Skills learned

Thick with soft lumps. Babies who start spoon feeds at six months of age should progress without delay from stage one purée to stage two (mashed lumps and finger foods). Make the change easier by

adding a little mashed or grated food to the usual purée. Then slowly add more mashed or grated food until you reach a thickened purée. As with stage one, but you can now include:

• Cheese (pasteurised)

• Yogurt and fromage frais (pasteurised)

• Pasteurised full fat cow’s milk in small amounts

• Potato

• Pasta / Rice (in the right consistency)

• Bread 

• Moving lumps around the mouth

• Chewing lumps

• Self-feeding bite-sized pieces of food using hands and fingers

The Weaning Masterclass.

STAGE 3 (between 9 and 12 months of age)

Aim for 3 meals per day. The size of each meal should be approximately 2-4 tablespoons. This will depend on how hungry your baby is.

Consistency Suitable Foods Skills learned

Chunky, mashed texture, moving on to

chopped, bite-sized pieces. You can now

serve finger foods to your baby that he

can pick up and eat by themselves. Increase the variety of foods in your baby’s diet. Most family foods are now suitable. Just make sure that they do not have added salt or sugar. Chewing minced and

chopped foods

• Self-feeding bite-sized pieces of food using hands and fingers

• Learning to eat with a spoon

• Drinking fluids from a cup

TIP: TRY AND TRY AGAIN

Don’t expect your baby to accept all new foods at the beginning. Sometimes a new food needs to be offered at least 10 times before it is accepted. It is part of the process and patience is key. The important thing is to keep a relaxed atmosphere at feeding times and not to force any foods. Your baby will feed at a pace right for them.