Weaning is the process of getting a young infant accustomed to food that is not breast milk or formula.
Start this process by ascertaining whether your child is ready or not. Health guidelines state that a child should start weaning at around six months old, when a baby’s immune and digestive systems are more developed.
Solid food should never be given to children under the age of 17 weeks. While age is a good starting point, don’t feel the need to rush into weaning. Every infant progresses at their own pace—let your baby be your guide.
Read the signs
There are several pointers that indicate your baby is ready to progress to solid food. These include:
- Demonstrating good neck control: they can sit up and hold their head steady
- Gaining weight well—usually doubling their birth weight
- Losing the tongue-thrust reflex; they are able to keep food in their mouth and swallow
- Showing interest in your food, they may even try to take food from your plate or mimic you when eating
- Picking up objects and putting them in their mouth
Tips for weaning: choose a method
There are two main methods when it comes to weaning: spoon-fed weaning (SFW) and baby-led weaning (BLW). SFW involves spoon-feeding your baby fruit and vegetable purées to begin with and gradually moving onto mashed foods with soft lumps before eventually progressing to chopped foods and finger foods. This is considered the more traditional method.
The latter approach involves bypassing purées and offering your child finger foods straight away. In this case, the baby will feed on its own and stop eating when full. If they can’t manage a particular piece of food, their natural gag reflex should help them to cough it up or spit it out.
Think about flavours
Infants are more receptive to sweet tastes; with this in mind, they should be introduced to savoury flavours first. With SFW, primarily cook vegetables and blend them before moving on to fruit blends. It can take between eight and 10 attempts for babies to become accustomed to a new taste so it is imperative to persevere and consistently offer them new ingredients.
With BLW, make sure all soft foods are cut into small sticks that can fit into your baby’s hand. Avoid adding seasoning to your baby’s food as excess sodium may damage their young kidneys.
Milk still matters
Even once weaning has commenced, milk will still be the main source of nutrition for your baby. They should still be consuming 500-600 millilitres of breast milk or fortified formula milk until they are one year old—this can be provided as an accompaniment to solid foods.
Matter of time
Most experts agree that infants should be relaxed when you first attempt a solid feed. Make sure your baby isn’t overly tired or hungry when you introduce this new process to them. Lunch and dinnertime are usually the preferred time to attempt weaning methods. Some mothers will do half a feed of milk and the rest executing their chosen weaning method.