This article was guest written by our friend, baby care specialist and motherhood coach Millie Poppins.
The topic of weaning will pop-up in the minds for many new parents around the globe. Here’s you most frequently ask questions, answered — and how to get started!
When should I start baby-led weaning?
When it comes to introducing any purees, solids or experimenting with the early stages of baby led weaning, there is no definitive start date but the NHS does advise that you begin the process of adding solid food to your baby’s diet around six months of age. Factors such as prematurity, poor muscle tone or reflux can affect the weaning process and the optimal time to start. If you are unsure then please discuss with your GP.
Weaning does not replace breast milk or formula but compliments an already established feeding schedule and allows your baby to begin learning the skills of chewing, swallowing and moving food around in their mouth.
What are the benefits of baby-led weaning?
- Increased autonomy
- Fine motor skill development and increased dexterity
- Family bonding through shared meal times
- Opportunity for baby to eat until they are full and to follow their own hunger cues
- If opting to solely give your baby soft solids, then you cut down on food preparation time by not making pureed meals
What are the downsides?
MESS. Oh, the mess. I definitely recommend having your baby eat over tiles or hardwood floors. If you have carpet you can buy a PVC drop sheet (JoJo Mama usually have them in store and online). A wet and dry handheld vacuum is super useful. Also a dust pan and brush with a long handle to stop you from having to crawl around on the floor chasing that last pea.
It can be difficult to determine how much your baby is actually eating. That is why I advise that when you begin the weaning process it can be reassuring to take a more relaxed approach by combining soft solids, some purees and also continuing to breastfeed or formula feed your baby.
Is my baby at risk of choking?
Often this is a parent’s biggest fear when starting baby led weaning. I’ve worked with many parents who cannot even be in the same room when their baby is presented with a big juicy steamed carrot! This is a totally normal concern to have and weaning can be quite nerve wracking.
Yes, your baby is at risk of choking. They may struggle and gag but generally they will reflexively cough up any piece that is lodged.
Another reason a baby may choke is due to an unknown allergy. Always have an antihistamine such as children’s Piriton on hand incase your baby’s lips start to swell or they are gasping for air. This is highly unlikely but best to be prepared for any eventuality.
Whether your baby is choking or having an allergic reaction it is very important to stay calm. Your baby will look to you for comfort and reassurance. If they notice you panicking they will panic too.
What are the best safety tips before starting weaning?
Ensure that you, and anyone else who may feed your baby, know how to quickly get your baby out of their highchair. That the seat belt clips are easy to unclip and that you can swiftly lift your baby from their chair and onto your lap if needed.
Try new ingredients one at a time to minimise the risk of allergy. For high allergen foods such as nuts, eggs and dairy you can rub a small amount on your child’s arm or leg to see if there is a reaction. If no reaction this does not mean that your child isn’t potentially allergic but can be used as a precautionary measure, especially if allergies are prominent in your family.
For any parent who is nervous I would definitely recommend completing a Pediatric First Aid course. These can often be done online and may help give you peace of mind not only when it comes to choking and allergies but also in many areas related to treatment of common childhood illnesses and events.
How much should my baby be eating depending on their age?
In the beginning just think of baby led weaning as an enjoyable activity without worrying about how much your baby is actually swallowing. Your baby is learning a complex new skill and this takes time and patience.
Start with one meal time per day between 6-8 months. I usually introduce a lunch time experimentation with foods such as steamed fruits and vegetables or wholegrain toast. By 8 months you can increase to two meals per day – lunch and dinner and then by 9 months your baby can be offered three meals a day.
Just like anyone else, the amount a baby will eat varies. Instead of focusing on how much or how little they seem to be eating you should consider other areas of their routine and temperament to establish whether they are meeting their developmental and nutritional basics. Factors such as sleep, responsiveness and skills development all go hand in hand to determine whether your baby is meeting their caloric needs.
My child constantly gags on food with textures, how do we overcome this?
Adjusting the consistency of the food can definitely help by adding boiled water or blending a dish further. If giving solid foods, then ensure that they are steamed through to avoid large, solid chunks.
Gagging is a completely normal reaction. If you find that your baby is becoming increasingly upset, vomiting or unable to swallow soft food at all then it may be best to have a chat with your GP so that they can examine the inside of your baby’s mouth/ Often tongue tie babies take longer to learn to chew, move food around and swallow as their tongue has restricted movement.
What do you do if your baby won't open their mouth for spoon feeding?
It is important to remember that weaning is a new skill and is therefore stimulating, exhausting and overwhelming at times for your baby.
Try to experiment and feed your baby straight after a decent nap so that they are not overtired and fractious.
Never force your baby to open their mouth or push the spoon against their gums to encourage them to open up. This can lead to a food or spoon aversion and baby can become stressed before you have even put them in their chair.
Distract them! Sing a song, read a book, play peek a boo… put CBeebies on if you have to - There is zero judgement with this!
Meal times, cooking and sharing a love of food is one of the basic ways that families and people come together. With baby led weaning I think it’s best to have an open mind and take the pressure off of yourself and your baby. There is no need to rush the process or to feel like a failure if your baby refuses to put anything in their mouth. Enjoy meal times together, celebrate small wins and NEVER give your baby anything orange in the vicinity of cream carpet
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