Expert Q&A with Fiona Hunter, Nutritionist
- Q: What’s the most important thing every new mom should know about weaning?
A: All babies are different and develop at different rates. Your baby will progress with weaning at his or her own pace so don’t worry about what other babies of the same age as yours are eating. Be guided by your own little star.
- Q: What foods should you first introduce during weaning?
A: The first food you introduce should have a smooth, soft texture. Pureed or well-mashed vegetables, fruit or cereals like rice or baby porridge mixed with expressed breast milk or formula milk are ideal. Once your baby gets used to fruit and vegetable purees you can start to introduce foods with a slightly thicker, lumpier texture like mashed or finely chopped meat, fish or chicken, well cooked eggs, mashed potatoes, rice and pasta, beans and pulses and full fat dairy products like yogurt and cheese. At this stage you can also start to give finger foods like carrots sticks, cubes of cheese, sliced apple or toast.
- Q: In your experience what do new moms find to be the most challenging and the most rewarding part about weaning?
A: New moms are bombarded with advice on weaning, from friends, family members and the media. I think one of the biggest challenges is knowing who to believe because everyone seems to have their own ideas about the best way to do it and what to give. My advice is, if you have any worries or questions talk to your Health Visitor.
The most rewarding thing has to be seeing your child’s smile and enjoyment when they discover a new taste that they enjoy.
- Q: When should I start weaning, and do I need any special equipment?
A: Until the age of six months most babies can get all the nutrients they need from breast or infant formula. Signs that your baby is ready to be weaned include when they can reach and grab accurately, start chewing their fists or putting toys or other objects in their mouth and can sit up.
The most important bit of equipment you’ll need for weaning is a high chair. You’ll also need a couple of soft plastic weaning spoons (one for you and one for your baby to hold) and a bowl (ones with suction pads on the bottom are great to reduce the chance of spillages) and a feeding cup. Weaning can be very a messy business so plenty of bibs are a must; it’s a good idea to put a plastic or wipe-able tablecloth under the chair to protect the floor. If you’re making homemade food, a blender like the Philips Avent 4-in-1 Healthy Baby Food Maker and some ice cube trays or plastic containers for freezing small portions of puree are ideal.
- Q: Which ‘first taste’ weaning foods are best to introduce at the beginning, and which should be avoided?
A: Pureed or well-mashed fruit, vegetables and cereals like baby rice or porridge are great foods to start with. Between the ages of 6-18 months, babies are more receptive to new tastes than at any other time in their lives so it’s important to introduce babies to a variety of tastes and textures. Some foods like honey, unpasteurised soft cheese and hot chilies shouldn’t be introduced before your baby is 12 months. Whole nuts, raw shellfish and breakfast cereals containing bran should not be introduced until after the age of five years.
Cows’ milk can be introduced in cooking after the age of six months but it isn’t suitable as a feed or drink until your baby is a year old. This is because it doesn’t contain enough iron and other nutrients and it contains too much salt and protein. Shark, swordfish and marlin contain levels of mercury that could affect a baby’s growing nervous system, so they’re not recommended for babies. In fact, they’re not recommended for children under the age of 16 years.
- Q: How much milk does a baby need once they start weaning?
A: During the early stages of weaning, babies should be given the normal quantity of breast or bottle feeds in addition to soft solids. As they start to eat larger amounts you can gradually cut down on milk feeds. By the age of 11 months you’ll probably notice your baby becomes less interested in milk, at this age they should have between 400-500ml of milk a day, ideally like something from the Philips Avent Spout Cup range.
- Q: Which nutritious fruit and veg blends have you found babies enjoy most? (i.e. red cabbage and apple).
A: Babies are born with a naturally sweet tooth so sweet tasting purees like apple, banana and mango or sweet tasting vegetables like carrot and sweet potato are usually popular, but it’s important not to encourage a sweet tooth so you should make sure you give them other vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and spinach as well. Mashed avocado is another good choice.
- Q: What should I do if my baby doesn’t take to weaning
A: Don’t worry if your little one doesn’t take to it straight away; it’s usually a sign that they’re not ready, and that’s OK! Leave it for a few days and try again. You may need to offer your baby a new food several times before they accept it so don’t be put off if their initial reaction isn’t positive. Weaning takes time and persistence but if you’re worried talk to your Health Visitor.
- What are the most common myths about weaning?
A: One of the most common myths is that if a baby starts to wake in the night they’re ready for weaning – it’s not true. There is no advantage in weaning a baby before they are ready. In fact there are several good reasons why the early introduction of solids is not a good idea. Before the age of four months a baby's digestive system may not have developed sufficiently to allow them to cope with foods other than breast or formula milk. Early weaning may also increase the risk of food allergy.
What piece of advice would you give to parents new to weaning? Share your advice on Philips Avent Facebook.