Over the last few weeks I’ve heard this conversation come up a fair bit, I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to when it was my time. Weaning is such a huge milestone and us mums put so much pressure on ourselves to make sure we get it right. It’s completely understandable; all our baby has ever had since the day they’ve been born is milk.
A big concern (especially for first time mums) is knowing exactly when to start the weaning process.
The first pointers as must are the following:
- Your baby can support their own head
- Your baby can sit up and stay sitting (without slouching)
- They have good hand-eye coordination
All babies achieve these milestones at different ages and whilst the UK government advises we should wait until around 6 months to begin weaning; I personally don’t agree this guideline is fit for all to follow! (Yes, I said another taboo – oooops)
WHY don’t I agree?
The guidance is that babies are just curious and to ‘be patient’ until they are around 6 months. I can’t help but feel that waiting until this age could hinder a baby’s transition to food if we delay what they are actually ready for. I can’t see how simply upping milk feeds outside of a growth spurt, is beneficial to a baby. Are we not encouraging our baby to become more dependent on milk? By allowing them to consume more milk could also mean that they aren’t then hungry enough to begin eating ‘proper food’.
WHAT did I do?
My original plan was to start weaning Tara at 6 months, because this is ‘what I was supposed to do’! However, when it came to it (all boxes ticked above). Tara really was no longer satisfied with milk (despite trying to up her milk initially), she began ‘hunger crying’ more frequently (and no not it wasn’t teething or growth spurt related) and she started to really pay attention to food whenever it was around her. The truth is, I just knew the time was right – she was 5 months and her weaning journey began.
HOW did I go about it?
The first thing I did was read up about weaning (a good few weeks before she was actually due to wean), the key points my brain absorbed were as follows:
- Weaning is a process, it’s about taking small steps at a time to phase them into the world of food.
- Baby rice is weaning gold in the early days (Tara is still obsessed with rice)!
- Introduce your baby to as many different tastes as possible as early as possible
- Annabel Karmel is baby food Queen
- Homemade food is highly encouraged (we’ll discuss this in more detail later on).
- Be confident and comfortable with your own decisions and don’t be pushed into doing anything your or your baby is not comfortable with.
Tara’s very first stage of weaning was first tastes.
The purpose of first tastes is to allow your baby to explore different flavours and textures by one ingredient at a time. The first foods should be simple, gentle and easy to digest.
There are different ways to try first tastes, personally, I loved Annabel Karmel’s approach from her First Meals book. I took her ideas and then tried them out with Tara in a way that suited me:
My personal approach
Every day I would puree one of the following ingredients and give Tara 3 to 5 pea sized tastes (of the respective food), 3 times a day. The time of day was always around 30 minutes after her milk feed and when she wasn’t due a nap. I’d either pop the food on the tip of my finger or use a weaning spoon:
- 1) Baby Rice mixed with formula milk
- 2) Avocado (uncooked)
- 3) Potato (cooked)
- 4) Carrot Purée (cooked)
- 5) Apple Purée (cooked)
- 6) Pear Purée (cooked)
- 7) Banana Purée (uncooked but I used fresh banana each time)
- 8) Melon Purée (uncooked)
- 9) Papaya Purée (uncooked)
- 10) Broccoli Purée (cooked)
- 11) Butternut Squash Purée (cooked)
- 12) Sweet Potato Purée (cooked)
Once I’d completed first tastes, I moved onto her giving her one meal a day -breakfast
After exploring first tastes for 12 days, I introduced breakfast, keeping away from anything that contained gluten with until she was well over 7 months.
During the initial days, I would give Tara baby rice or (gluten free) porridge with some kind of fresh puréed fruit. A typical week would look like:
- S) Baby rice, formula milk and mashed banana
- M) Holle 3 grain porridge, formula milk and steamed puréed apple
- T) Baby rice and formula milk
- W) Holle 3 grain porridge, formula milk and mashed papaya
- T) Baby rice, formula milk with steamed puréed nectarine
- F) Holle 3 grain porridge and formula milk
- S) Baby rice, formula milk with steamed puréed pear
As Tara got used to swallowing, chewing, and different tastes, I started introducing:
- Scrambled eggs – sometimes I’d cooked them with cheese and milk
- Oatmeal – using Holle Rolled Oats Porridge
- The smooth breakfasts but I’d mash the fruit with a fork
After a couple of weeks, Tara was much more confident with eating so I added lunch to her diet (she was around 6 months by this point). They were all smoothly puréed to begin with and from 7 months I started making the consistency lumpier.
It was important for me to keep track of exactly what type of food Tara was eating and with so much going on – I followed a rule as follows:
- S) chicken
- M) vegetarian
- T) salmon
- W) butternut squash (or any type of squash for that matter)
- T) chicken
- F) white fish
- S) vegetarian
Her actual lunches varied, they always included vegetables, greens and protein. Pre lumpy days, I would simply just add baby rice (and water) to the meal. Across the very early stages I’d even add some formula milk to help Tara ‘develop’ her taste buds.
I’m a passionate cook so I made a whole range of my own recipes (I’ll share them on a separate post). I got bunch of fantastic ideas from social media – it’s a goldmine of information. Annabel Karmel was my highly valued starting point and if you’re planning on making food from scratch,I recommend her books if you’ve not come across them already.
You may notice that lamb or beef lunches were not included. I waited until Tara was over 10 months before introducing any red meat and my reason for this was to wait until her digestive system was a little stronger (we know red meat takes a little longer to break down in our bodies). There are lots of different opinions on this so go with what you feel comfortable with and believe is right.
When Tara was around 7 months, I introduced an evening snack, she didn’t seem ready to have a proper dinner so I simply used to give her a pot of yoghurt or fromage frais mixed with an Ella’s fruit pouch. Depending on what she’d had for breakfast, I’d sometimes blend it with fresh fruit with a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg.
At around 9 months, I felt Tara was ready to start having a “proper” dinner, so I began giving her something along the lines of:
- S) Indian lentils or vegetables, with baby rice and yoghurt
- M) Vegetarian stir fry (quinoa or millet grains with vegetables and egg (or red meat dinner from 10 months))
- T) Chicken casserole or stew
- W) Vegetarian soup or red lentil dhal
- T) Chicken Sunday roast
- F) Vegetarian “eat your greens”
- S) Indian lentils or vegetables, with baby rice and yoghurt
There were so many different dinners and lunches she’d eat – this is just an example.
From 7 months I started giving Tara different snacks twice a day:
- After breakfast and before lunch
- After lunch and before dinner
I’ll post an article of the ‘ready made’ snacks I used to give her over the coming weeks.
HOW MUCH FOOD SHOULD THEY EAT?
Being a control freak, I needed to have some kind of understanding in my own mind to know – am I giving my baby enough food for her age/stage. Again, each baby is different and some will eat more or less; as long as they’re healthy across their check ups and you are comfortable and happy with their development, that’s all that matters.
I went with the following guideline, I wasn’t completely strict with this but it gave me a base to judge if Tara had a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ day of eating. Some days she would eat more and others she would eat less (especially days when she was teething).
Across a whole day*:
- 5-6 months – 3 tablespoons (15 baby spoons)*
- 6-7 months – 6 tablespoons (30 baby spoons)
- 7-10 months – 9 tablespoons (45 baby spoons)
- 10-12 months – 12 tablespoons (60 baby spoons)
- 12-15 months – 15 tablespoons (75 baby spoons)
*guideline based on when I started weaning Tara. Across the first week it will only be a few mouthfuls, build up to this quantity over a month slowly.
I will never forget the first time I really paid attention to a baby gagging. I was pregnant at the time and out with friends. Their baby began to choke and my friend very calmly sat and watched her baby intently, within seconds the little pumpkin bought up her food and was happily playing again in no time.
I learned that this was very normal and to be expected. Typically within 10 seconds your baby will bring up the food themselves and be perfectly fine. However, of course it can be dangerous. The NHS UK provide some great advice on how to alleviate your baby/child from choking:
BABY LED WEANING vs ROUTINE LED
What is the difference?
Baby Led Weaning: is when you don’t spoon feed your baby puréed food and let them feed themselves from the start. Of course this doesn’t mean from day one you hand your baby a chicken drumstick! The foods they would initially try would still need to be very soft and simple textures, with complexity and tastes building up slowly.
Traditional Weaning: is when the weaning process is staged from purées to lumps, predominantly via spoon feeding.
Both routes have proven successful and both have their benefits. When making the decision on how you wish to wean your baby:
- think about your own lifestyle and what style of feeding fits you all best
- what is your baby telling you – yes this sounds ridiculous but by this stage you will know your baby and they could give you a clear indication around which option to take.
HOMEMADE vs READY-MADE
Being an avid cook, I knew I was going to make all of Tara’s food myself, this was fine for me because:
- I’m a foodie – it’s a huge part of my life and who I am
- Cooking is a hobby of mine – don’t get me wrong there were days where I’d hate nothing more than stepping into my kitchen and I’m not a bore I do have a normal social life I promise.
- I batch cooked to help me manage the work involved.
- I enjoyed it
- Tara rejected readymade food (other than fruit based Ella’s pouches) so I didn’t really have much choice
- I wanted to do it
If you’re not into cooking, the idea of providing your baby with homemade meals, could sound like your worst nightmare. Us mums have enough to do and so much going on, we are all trying to do the best by our little ones; if you make the decision to not to become Annabel’s sidekick, then don’t beat yourself up about it.
Homemade or ready-made, all babies are eating normal food within a matter of months. There are great options for ready-made food on the market these days, allowing your baby grow well and get great nutrition. Annabel Karmel (baby food Queen) herself sells ready-made food products – I’m pretty sure if it was that bad, she wouldn’t be putting her name behind it.
HOW TO COOK
If you do go with the homemade option here are a few cooking options for you to consider:
Steaming: This is the best way to retain as many nutrients as possible. Of course over steaming will just give the same result as boiling. Being gadget obsessed I purchased a baby steamer. I have to admit, this was only useful across the early days. Once I moved to batch cooking, I found it easier and just as effective to steam in a saucepan and blend in my usual food processor (which can handle larger quantities of food).
Roasting: This is a great way to cook baby food as there is minimal effort involved. Again a great method to help retain nutrients too and adds a beautiful taste.
Boiling: I would often boil Tara some food and the correct way of course is to wait until your water is boiling to add the veg and don’t over boil to mush. I have to openly admit, I didn’t always wait for the water to boil – us mums are busy (and at times lazy) people! (Hands over mouth emoji).
Sautéing: Basically ‘normal cooking’ !! This is great as your baby becomes more familiar with different tastes and you start to cook up proper meals for them (blended, lump or normal).
When trying first tastes it’s key to remember your baby has only every had milk, so keep the consistency of the food runny and build it up.
Make sure first foods are simple, gentle and easy to digest, pick bland options and build up to stronger flavours.
Milk is naturally a sweet flavour, so your baby will most likely enjoy sweet foods over savoury. Try mixing sweet and savoury to expand acceptance of savoury tastes.
You’re baby can’t digest the fiberous skin from fruit and vegetables until around 10 months of age, so make sure you peel all fruit and vegetables.
There will be periods where your baby simply will not eat, notably when they are teething or poorly. For us mums this can become a stressful and worrying time. If they are taking their milk and don’t worry they will make up for it and the time will pass.