Weaning is the process of gradually introducing your baby to solid foods, eventually your baby will be eating the same foods as the rest of the family. This is a big milestone in your baby’s life and I have all of the essentials covered including when to start weaning, which foods to avoid, freezing and defrosting guidelines and what to look out for.
What is weaning?
Weaning is the process of gradually introducing solid foods to your baby until he is eating the same, healthy foods as an adult. Babies get all of their nutrients from milk; the amount of milk your baby wants will naturally and gradually reduce as he eats more solid foods. Toddlers, preschoolers and school children continue to need milk as part of their everyday diet.
When should I start weaning my baby?
It is advised that you should start weaning at around 6 months old. Your baby is ready to be weaned when all of the following applies:
- He is able to sit in an upright position and support his own head
- He is able to focus on food in front of him and pick it up unaided and place it in his mouth (using his hands)
- He is able to swallow the food rather than push it back out with his tongue
If he is unable to do the above and has started waking more often during the night, wants extra feeds during the day or has started to chew his fists, this is not necessarily a sign of being ready for solid foods. In this situation try offering more milk feeds. Let weaning happen at its own natural pace and talk to your health visitor if you have any worries or concerns.
What equipment do I need when weaning?
If you are already in the habit of cooking freshly prepared meals then you may not need to buy any additional cooking equipment for when you start weaning. As long as you have a saucepan, frying pan, mixing bowl, chopping board and colander then you are pretty good to go. Some parents find it easier to use a 3 tier electric steamer, particularly if cooking large quantities of different foods at the same time (to store for later use). You will also need a hand blender if you are feeding your baby puréed food rather than using the ‘baby led weaning’ technique. I used the following items, (my advice would be to borrow a bumbo seat if you can as you won’t need it for very long):
- A Bumbo seat with a tray
- A high-chair
- plenty of bibs
- Splash mats
- Storage pots or ice cube trays with lids (for storing your baby’s food in the fridge/freezer)
- Training cup (for water)
- Weaning spoons and bowls (if feeding your baby purées).
How do I get started with weaning?
To avoid the risk of choking, never leave your child alone when he is eating, he should always be sitting upright and facing forwards in a high-chair or a Bumbo seat with a tray. For first tastes, you only need to offer a few teaspoons of mashed or puréed vegetables/fruit per day. To reach the right consistency, this can be mixed with your little ones usual milk. Try offering a variety of different tastes and textures, let him touch the food and allow him to feed himself with his fingers. If you are using a spoon, never force it into his mouth, just try again later if he doesn’t seem interested. It is not important how much your baby eats to begin with as he will still be getting most of his goodness from his usual milk feeds. The best advice I had when I started weaning my first born was to invest in a weaning and meal planner recipe book.
What foods should I avoid?
There are some foods you should avoid giving altogether, some which should be avoided until a certain age (and the weaning process is complete) and some which can be given but pose a risk of choking so will need you to be extra careful. The advice is as follows:
- EGGS – At least 6 months old. If you have decided to wean before he is 6 months old then you must avoid giving him eggs. For babies 6 months or older; cook the egg until both the white and the yolk are solid.
- HONEY – At least 12 months old. This is a sugar and can lead to tooth decay and has also been known to cause infant botulism (a very serious illness that affects your baby’s intestines). You should not give honey until your baby is at least 12 months old.
- LOW FAT FOODS– At least 2 years old. Fat is very important for both your baby’s daily calorie intake and is a source of some essential vitamins. Children under two years of age should always be given full fat dairy products such as cheese, cheese spreads, yoghurt or fromage frais.
- RAW SHELLFISH – Avoid. This should be avoided as it may increase the risk of food poisoning
- NUTS – At least 5 years old. Due to the risk of choking, you should not give nuts to any child under 5.
- SALT – Avoid. You should never add salt to your babies food or use stock cubes or gravy as these also have a high salt content.
- SATURATED FAT – Limit the amount of saturated fats you give your baby such as chips, cakes and cheap burgers.
- SHARK, SWORDFISH AND MARLIN – Avoid. The mercury levels in these fish can have a negative affect on your baby’s growing nervous system.
- SUGAR – Avoid. You may find that by giving your baby sweet foods, you ecourage a sweet tooth, this could lead to tooth decay. For more information on how to prevent tooth decay, see our how to care for baby teeth page.
The following foods pose a choking hazard and you should be very careful if giving them to your baby:
- Raw carrots
- Large apple pieces
- Cherry tomatoes
What are the typical signs of an allergic reaction and what should I do?
If you have a history of asthma, eczema, food allergies or hayfever in your family then your baby is also more likely to develop an allergy. You can help to reduce this risk by exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months. If you are bottle feeding your baby, it may be worth getting a formula recommendation from your GP. You should also try to introduce foods that are known to cause food allergies at a time that you can watch for and quickly identify any allergic reaction (these foods are: milk, eggs, wheat, nuts, seeds, fish and shellfish).
The typical signs of a food allergy are:
- A cough
- Diarrhoea or vomiting
- Itchy skin or rash
- Itchy throat or tongue
- Runny or blocked nose
- Sore, red and itchy eyes
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
If you think your baby is suffering from an allergic reaction you should always seek medical advice immediately. Never cut a food out of your baby’s diet before discussing it with your GP.
How much milk should I give when weaning?
To begin with your baby will be getting all of the nutrients he needs from his milk feeds. As your baby starts to eat more solid foods, the amount of milk he wants will start to reduce. Once your baby is eating breakfast, lunch and dinner you can then drop a milk feed. You should continue to breastfeed your baby or if you are bottle feeding, make sure he gets at least 500-600ml (approximately a pint) of infant formula per day.
Is it safe to store food for later use?
It is absolutely safe to make your baby’s food in bulk and store it for later use as long as it is stored and reheated correctly. You should follow these guidelines:
- Transfer the meal into an airtight container as soon as possible
- Cool it down, preferably within 2 hours. You can do this by running it under cold tap water and occasionally stirring it. This will ensure the food is thoroughly cooled throughout.
- Once it has cooled, place it in the fridge or freezer.
- Food placed in the fridge should be eaten within 2 days.
- Food placed in the freezer should be thoroughly defrosted before being reheated.
- When reheating food, make sure it is piping hot all the way to its centre and allow it to cool before giving to your baby.
What is the best way to defrost frozen baby meals?
- In the fridge overnight.
- Place the frozen meal in a leak proof plastic bag (to avoid contamination) and fully submerse in clean, cold water. The water must be replaced with fresh cold water every 30 minutes until the food has completely thawed. The whole meal must be cooked/heated up immediately.
- You should never defrost frozen food on the kitchen counter or anywhere else not listed above.
How long can I store cooked food in the freezer?
Food stored in a freezer at a maximum temperature of 0 degrees Celsius is safe for an almost indefinite period of time. I do however recommend storing baby food in the freezer for no longer than 2 months, this way you can be sure that the quality of the food is not being compromised.
Do I need to sterilise my baby’s bowls and cutlery?
There is no need to sterilise your baby’s bowls and cutlery. If you have a dishwasher, they should be placed on the top shelf and washed using the highest temperature setting. If you are hand washing them, wash in hot soapy water.
I hope you found these weaning tips helpful, I would love to hear about your experiences of weaning and any comments, tips, information or advice you can offer that I haven’t covered. Thanks for reading!