Weaning is something mommas-to-be often get excited about. Teaching your baby to eat foody not booby is something you can photograph and Facebook all your friends with. The reality is messier.
It’s not uncommon to be a little bit excited about the potential fun of weaning, even when you’re only four months pregnant. In your head you visualise the cute little offspring sat in the highchair mouth open, while you zoom in that aeroplane spoon filled with food (which you so lovingly made). They giggle, and maybe get a bit of puree on their nose – which of course you photograph, and all your Facebook friends ooh and ahh at the utter cuteness.
The reality of course is a bit messier.
Leave weaning for as long as you can
Current NHS guidelines recommend weaning at around the six month mark. Parents of premature babies may have to wean earlier, at around four months, BUT you should only do this if advised to do so by your GP/paediatrician.
Previous guidelines suggested weaning at four months, and many commercial baby foods still state this on jars. If you are considering weaning at four months you should talk to your GP or Health Visitor, as the guidelines for six months are backed by strong evidence about the development of the immune system.
Aside from the health benefits for your baby leaving weaning until the recommended time saves you a bit of money. Breast milk is free, formula is about £5 and all those lovely tasty vegetable blends that are about to paint your kitchen add up quite quickly.
If you opt for traditional weaning you can either make the food yourself, or buy jarred versions. If you’re still so lacking in sleep that the thought of using any kitchen equipment more advanced than a spoon fills you with dread then have a good look at the commercial foods around.
Many manufacturers advertise baby rice as the only food babies should have to start with, which is complete twaddle. Simple flavours (no casserole jars quite yet) that lean towards the slightly sweet such as apple, pear, carrot or parsnip make great first meals. Do take time to read the ingredients listings though.
You may find that you have to try a variety of brands to find what suits you and your baby.
Making weaning food yourself
Making your own weaning meals is cheaper than buying the readymade food, but requires a bit of effort. You can use a blender, a liquidiser, a mouli or if you’re very strong and patient, a pestle and mortar.
When buying fruit and vegetables you can save money by buying the ugly and slightly bashed about fruits that shops discount.
The simplest type of puree involves cooking your peeled and chopped parsnip/apple/carrot/pear in plain boiling water until soft, allowing to cool and then liquidising into a smooth puree.
To begin with your baby will only eat a small amount, so portion up your mixture into an ice cube tray so that you can keep the rest of your mix in the freezer. This also makes it easy to gradually introduce mixed flavours as your baby’s appetite grows, by defrosting two different cubes together.
Gradually introduce more protein, and lumps as time goes on. By the time your baby is a year or so they will probably be able to eat your meals squished up.
An alternate to traditional weaning is baby-led weaning. This involves introducing solid foods from the outset instead of purees.
In BLW you give your baby pieces of fruit and vegetable that are big enough for them to grab and gum at, but not of a size that they are likely to choke on. You do have to be very vigilant if you opt for this method of weaning as there is that risk of choking. Though one of the most well-regarded advocates of this approach (Gill Rapley) works for Unicef, neither Unicef nor the NHS wholly advocate this. Consequently you may find that your Health Visitor has not even heard of the approach, but there are a few out there, and those that do know it tend to be pretty supportive. There are books and websites with information available, and you may find that some mother and toddler groups have people using this method (it seems to be more popular with breast feeders than formula feeders).
Protect yourself during weaning
Baby feeding is a very messy business, and it doesn’t improve very soon. Unfortunately. For the initial few months of solid foods it is worth dressing both yourself and baby in clothes you aren’t that bothered about getting messy. Particularly when you begin moving onto tomato based products. Do not try quickly feeding whilst wearing your interview outfit. No matter how tidy an eater your baby normally is you can guarantee that the time he catapults Bolognese sauce all over you is the day when you’re just quickly feeding him before a night out.
Equally, feeding in rooms where there are carpets is not ideal for the sloppy food stage. Kitchens are the place to be, or even bathrooms.
Textures are quite a difficult thing to get used to for someone who has spent six months living on nothing but milk. So when your baby ‘reverse eats’ (it’s like a special baby magic trick) it isn’t because they’re being awkward. It’s often because the textures are new, and weird. Many children have difficulties with meaty textures in particular. Try giving your baby a new flavour two to three occasions at one stage, and if she’s still refusing it wait a few months.
All that said it is worth remembering that all babies and toddlers go through a picky stage (though my mother maintains this continues well into the twenties). It can vary from just refusing one type of food right through to just eating one food. In general this kind of stage doesn’t last that long (even the most stubborn child will get fed up of constant banana), and however much food they refuse they’re unlikely to starve themselves. Besides aren’t there times when you’ve fancied living on nothing but chocolate cake?
If you are getting concerned do speak to your GP or Health Visitor. Forcing your child to eat foods they’re refusing is likely to end up in more tears all around. If they are still eating a reasonable variety of foods it is probably easier to ride it out.
Foods to avoid during weaning
Nuts, grapes and other choking hazards, for obvious reasons.
In the UK the Food Standards Agency suggests avoiding soft cheeses (such as brie), and pate until your baby is at least over a year. This is because of the risk of listeria, but different guidelines exist in other countries.