Written by Naresh Lane, Health Visitor Spaghetti bolognaise or shepherd’s pie would be a great first meal when practising Baby Led Weaning When and how to wean baby is a commonly debated topic with all new parents. As with so many parenting topics, advice will come from all sides, whether it is wanted or not – and often the advice will be conflicting. I recommend parents use Baby Led Weaning, and in this article I will explain why I do so – and also explain how you can get started yourself. When to start weaning Your baby will start to show signs of being ready to start weaning at about the age of 6 months. Around this age your baby’s digestive system and kidneys are mature enough to cope with food other than milk. Signs that your baby is ready to start weaning are that they are able to sit upright with little or no support, and that they are able to reach out and put things in their mouth. Because this is baby-led weaning, progress alongside your baby’s development. There is no nutritional benefit to starting weaning early. In fact, baby’s who are weaned early are more likely to develop infections or allergies. When NOT to start weaning There are several common reasons that parents start weaning their baby too early. The False signs that your baby is ready to start weaning are:
- Waking up at night after sleeping through
- Poor weight gain, or dropping on the weight centile chart
- Showing an interest in family food at meal times
- Baby is big (a big baby doesn’t need to start weaning earlier)
- Baby is small (a baby on the lower centile doesn’t need to wean early)
What about pureeing food? I don’t recommend weaning with pureed foods. Before 6 months, babies are not ready to chew their food. Giving a baby pureed food can increase the risk of choking as a baby of that age is only able to suck. Pureeing food also destroys nutrients when the food is peeled, boiled and watered down. Why I recommend Baby Led Weaning Baby Led Weaning is all about your baby learning through playing with his food. It is natural, safe, logical and enjoyable, and lays the foundations for healthy eating for life. There are many other reasons to practise Baby Led Weaning. One benefit is that as your baby handles their own food, they will learn about textures and tastes, and how different foods work together. There have been some reports to say that babies that have been weaned the baby led way are less prone to obesity. This is probably because your baby will be able to judge the size of food to bite off and will eat according to their own appetite. Baby Led Weaning also gives babies the confidence to do things for themselves. Meal times are easier for all the family, and babies are less prone to fussy eating. With Baby Led Weaning, there’s no need for gadgets to prepare or store baby food and you won’t need to buy jars especially for your baby; nor will you need to waste time preparing separate meals. With Baby Led Weaning, because your baby sits with you at meal times from the start, they also learn about socialising and taking turns. What food should baby be given? I find it easier to talk about the food that you shouldn’t give your baby, rather than the ones you should. Avoid adding any sugar or salt to their food: don’t give your baby honey until they are a year old. Avoid shellfish, shark and marlin - and undercooked eggs. Babies should also not have low fat foods. Almost everything else is suitable, unless they have any allergies or intolerances to any foods. Personally, I wouldn’t advise introducing spicy foods until later and it’s worth mentioning that you do not need to peel fruits (except fruits you would normally peel). What if they don’t like it? Rejecting foods is normal, and your baby may do this a number of times. Not everyone likes every kind of food, but do continue offering your baby the foods that he has rejected until he has rejected them at least 10 times. You will know when your baby has had enough because they start to shake their heads or push the food away. Getting Started Sit your baby at the table with the rest of the family in a high chair. It’s best to get one with a rimmed tray (to keep the food contained), and place the food directly onto the tray. If you give them a bowl they will show just as much interest in the bowl as the food. Cut the food into the chip-sized shapes that your baby can easily hold in their hand. Allow your baby to play with the food; they may begin by just passing it from one hand to another, then putting it into their mouth. Eventually, your baby will learn how to bite off pieces, chew them and swallow them. Be prepared to spend at least 30 to 45 minutes each mealtime with your baby. Offer them whatever you are having for your meal, as long as it is suitable (e.g. spaghetti bolognaise or shepherd’s pie would be a great first meal). By 8-9 months your baby will have developed pincer grip and will be able to manage foods as such as peas or raisins. It will be messier than spoon-feeding your baby, so you may find it easier to have your baby in just a nappy at meal times, then give him a good wipe down at the end of the meal. Alternatively, you could use a long sleeved bib. As you don’t need to boil drinking water for babies from the age of six months onwards, you can introduce a feeding cup at mealtimes with a full cup of water, so your baby can learn to drink from a cup. The Dos and Don’ts of Baby Led Weaning It is important to trust your baby and follow their lead. Don’t worry about the amount that they eat: it doesn’t matter at this stage, as long as they are growing and well, and continuing on their milk feeds. There are no set times for your baby to eat - just include them at each mealtime from the start; it’s ok if your baby can’t join every meal if they are asleep. The best time to introduce your baby to new foods is when they are not too tired or too hungry, as they need to be relaxed. And don’t forget, Baby Led Weaning is a “hands-off” approach to weaning - it is much easier, but messier. Have fun! --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Naresh Lane is on the Toddle About Panel of Experts. She is the founder of Northants Health Visitor, the only Private Health Visitor service available in Northamptonshire and bordering counties. Naresh is a Registered General Nurse and Registered Health Visitor. She has worked for the NHS for nearly 30 years, with over 20 of these years as a Health Visitor. If you have any further questions please email Naresh at firstname.lastname@example.org.