Ten truths about baby weaning

Baby eatingJust when you thought you’d cracked the baby thing, along comes something new to learn! Read on for baby weaning in ten simple truths…

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, the chances are you’ve made it through the first six months of parenthood without leaving your mini squawker at the supermarket, stashing them in the back of your parents car as they leave or posting them back to the hospital. Really, well done you.

But, I know what you’re thinking now: just when it feels like you’ve finally sussed out which way is up and, more importantly, how to stop a baby from weeing when you take its nappy off, there’s more stuff to learn. Now we’re on to feeding the little blighter “solids”, as they like to call it in the biz. What’s that all about?!

Do not fear, as there are tonnes of books available about how to wean your baby from solely milk feeds to something resembling real food. Or, should I say DO fear, precisely because there are tonnes of books available. Guess what, this cooking for the kids thing can get pretty confusing and competitive, and yet another thing to make the average mum feel a bit crappy and inferior.

What I needed, what my friends needed, and probably what you need too, is the honest truth about baby weaning. Well, ta dah! Here it is, ten truths about baby weaning. Arm yourselves with these, as well as a few books of choice, and you’ll be laughing all the way to the washing machine. Again. For the four-hundredth time.

1. The six-month rule is rarely stuck to

“When is the right time to wean my baby?” has to be one of Google’s most searched for phrases by parents, along with “why is my baby crying?” and other ones we won’t mention, mostly typed by dads when mums have gone to bed. From observing the many mums I know, the truth is that the right time to start introducing baby food is different for every child.

There are reasons why Department of Health guidelines state babies should not be weaned until six months. Research has shown that breast milk or formula provides all the nutrients that babies need until this age and babies in studies experienced fewer gastrointestinal and respiratory infections. But, this is a hotly debated topic, and many mothers do start to introduce some solids before six months.

You will find that your baby will give off his / her own signs that they are ready to be weaned. Classically, these include grabbing food from your plate. Despite what you might think, they don’t include suddenly waking up more in the night, chewing their fist or enrolling on a Make Your Own Cupcakes course.

Seriously, before weaning do make sure that your baby can sit well in a highchair and can hold its head steady. Make sure they can swallow food; babies that can’t will push it out every time, not just occasionally. The very minimum age should be 17 weeks (four months) as before that a baby’s digestive system is simply not ready.

Good foods to start with include mashed-up carrots, sweet potato, creamed parsnip, banana, steamed pears (a bit less tangy than apples), and baby porridges, which in my experience are a bit less bleugh than baby rice. Generally, start with veggies and fruits, and slowly introduce fish and meats over a matter of weeks rather than days. Milk stays a vital component of your baby’s diet until at least a year old.

For a more detailed guide, my book of choice would be Annabel Karmel’s "New Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner". Buy that, and only that. I promise that it will end up well thumbed and Karmel will be on your Christmas card list before you can say "fillets of sole with grapes".

2. Pre-prepared baby food isn’t all bad

The truth is that some of it is actually very good, and boy will you need a hand sometimes, especially for baby number two. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Ella’s Kitchen, which sells here at Big Green Smile in the bucket load (not literally). Its ingredients are organic, creatively mixed and have gone done well with both my boys. Infact, you rarely see a child rejecting Ella’s.

But let’s get to the heart of it; Ella’s squirty pouches are brilliant for getting food into little mouths when you’re out and about, without the faff of spoons and requiring less of your attention. My 15-month-old has mastered it himself. Result!

3. Baby-led weaning does work

Baby-led weaning is the art of getting babies to take solids by allowing them to explore, pick up, chew on and eat proper pieces of soft food, which they self select, rather than spoon-feeding them blended food. By self-select, I don’t mean they’ll do the supermarket shop for you, but there are lots of other benefits.

The thinking is that baby-led weaning results in less fussy eating, a wider palette, healthier weights and aids in the development of hand-eye coordination and chewing. The bible is the handily titled “Baby-led Weaning” by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett.

I combined blended purees and soft finger food when I weaned my two, and this seems to be a really good combo for lots of mums.

4. If it really doesn’t go, it will probably go down

Did you know that pears go really well with broccoli or apricots with chicken? What about pasta pesto with fishfingers? Yes, if you can think of a food combo you can bet someone’s tried it, and if you can’t think of one they will have tried that too. What we would conventionally understand as complementary foods is totally rewritten for babies. Ella’s Kitchen ingredients are a great inspiration, as is Annabel Karmel for homecooking.

5. It’s messy, and it stays messy

Invest in wipeable everything. Wipeable bibs, wipeable highchairs (without fiddly bits in which food will get stuck for years), wipeable pets. Everything will get covered. If you’re still living in the Seventies, with carpet in the kitchen, get rid of it. Unless you’re Elizabeth Hurley, don’t plan on wearing white jeans ever again. Don’t think it’s easier to strip baby off for feeding; it’s easier to change a babygro than wash mashed carrot out of the crevices of a writhing miniature human. Buy a good natural laundry liquid and stain remover

6. French kids DO throw food

“French Children Don’t Throw Food” by Pamela Druckerman is a brilliant book about parenting. Buy it for the chapter on food alone. An American married to a Brit and living in Paris, Druckerman notices that the French kids she knows all eat well and have impeccable table manners, and the American and British kids are fussy and bratty at mealtimes. She puts it down to a radically different cultural approach to eating and the dining experience as a whole, from the weaning stage upwards. It’s not true that French kids don’t throw food (I’ve seen it), but it is true that they have a set of foodie rules that we could learn from. One of these is my seventh truth…

7. It’s true about the value of good habits

French children learn good eating habits from the outset. Meals are at regular and predictable times, excessive snacking just doesn’t exist, and a single meal can have three courses or more, often starting with a fruit / vegetable / salad course, before meat or fish, and a small selection of cheese or yoghurts afterwards.

Meal times are a special part of the day, done with friends and family, and time is given over to them. Adults set the example to children. Rushing at meal times is a bad idea; what you save in time now you will lose later in negotiating with kids who won’t sit nicely at a table.

8. A freezer is your best friend

Babies eat tiny portions of things, and sometimes they will want one tiny spoon of lots of different things. My advice to you is this: make up batches of stuff and freeze it. You can buy special freezer pots and bags etc., but even ice cube trays will work for tiny amounts.

You will save yourself a whole load of time and your sanity if you have at least some of your homecooked meals in stock on the freezer. If you find you have the time to cook fresh every day, put your feet up and watch rubbish TV instead. You need the break.

9. What they love today they’ll hate tomorrow

Just when you think you’ve cracked broccoli [insert foodstuff of choice] they’ll clamp their mouth shut at even the whiff of it. Roll with it. No amount of tantrums (yours) will change anything. It’s what babies, and especially toddlers, do.

10. The really important stuff to take seriously is…

  • Milk should still be the major food for your baby while weaning. Also, don’t forget that they will need other fluids – get in the habit of keeping water in reach.
  • Never leave your child unattended when they are eating. Make sure you know how to help a baby who is choking – it’s a good idea to watch a video like this one from St Johns Ambulance. 
  • The jury is still out on whether babies should be given nuts and seeds – due to the choking hazard and risk of allergic reactions. I opted out. This is one to do your own homework on.
  • Please, I implore you, chop, chop, chop those tomatoes and grapes into small pieces – they are the number-one cause of choking in babies and small children and one London Ambulance paramedic that I spoke to said he had seen so many over the years that they should be banned in nurseries and schools. 
  • Always test for temperature. Stir microwaved food for hotspots; it’s true what it says on the tin.

Photo: LB1860