So, you’re ready to start weaning. You’ve sorted the splash mats, bibs and a drawer full of plastic cutlery – and are prepped to dodge carrot missiles and flying purée. Nearly there...
RELAX ABOUT WHEN TO START
The government recommends weaning at six months, following guidance from the World Health Organisation. However, some people do choose to start weaning before then if they feel their baby isn't getting enough from milk. Always talk to your GP or health visitor if you decide to wean before six months.
‘You’re about to introduce your tot to one of life’s great pleasures, so relax,’ says paediatric dietician Judy More. ‘Your baby can read your facial expressions long before he understands language – if you look anxious when offering food, he’ll worry that something awful is going to happen. Your smile will set him up to expect something good instead.’
RICE IS NICE
Baby rice makes a great starter food. It has very little flavour, lets your baby experience a change in texture, and can be mixed with other foods. If he’s not that into it, make it runnier, so it resembles milk, then gradually thicken it.
EMBRACE THE MESS
‘Going in with the kitchen towel every few seconds, trying to keep your baby, his highchair and your floor clean is distracting for everyone,’ says Tracey Murkett, co-author of Baby-Led Weaning: Helping Your Baby To Love Good Food (£10.99, Vermilion). If you haven’t got a dog to hoover up the mess, put down some clean plastic sheeting or a mat, or just accept you’ll have to do a good clear-up afterwards.
TAKE IT SLOW
‘He’s learning valuable skills at mealtimes, such as picking up and chewing food, and this takes time,’ says Tracey. ‘Letting him eat at his own pace means he can concentrate. It also allows him to realise when he’s had enough.’
EXPECT PORTION SIZE TO VARY
‘Don’t worry about how much your baby eats at any one time,’ says Judy. ‘When he eats more food, he’ll drink less milk, and vice versa – it will all balance itself out in the end. See weaning as a time for learning new skills, not a competition to eat as much food as possible.’
GIVE HIM A MILK STARTER
It won’t help if your baby sits down to try his first food when he’s feeling ravenous, so give him a little milk half an hour before. Then he won’t get upset if he can’t get the hang of swallowing food. The first few weaning sessions are more about getting used to the sensations and flavours rather than needing to eat it.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
‘When food comes straight back out on a first attempt, your baby needs more practice,’ says Judy. ‘He needs to learn to move his tongue backwards so he can swallow the food, rather than pushing his tongue forwards, as he would do when he’s feeding from your nipple or a bottle teat.’
TRY THE BLENDING TRICK
If your baby refuses a particular food, don’t give up. ‘Try combining the new flavour with a favourite one,’ says nutritionist Ravinder Lilly. For example, if your baby loves banana, but isn’t so keen on avocado, start by mixing the two together, then gradually reduce the amount of banana.
HARNESS PEER PRESSURE
‘One of the best ways to get babies to try new foods is to offer them while in a group,’ says M&B nutritionist Lowri Turner. ‘If you have a friend with a slightly older baby, invite them round for lunch or go out for a picnic. Hopefully, when your baby sees the other one tucking into something, he’ll want to be in the same gang.’
CREATE A SOUNDTRACK
‘If things are getting fraught, play some classical music,’ says Lowri. ‘A bit of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite works wonders to calm fraying nerves (yours, mainly). It can also distract your baby, so you may be able to get a spoon of food he’s resistant to into his mouth without him realising. At which point, he’ll see it’s not so bad after all.’
MIX UP YOUR OWN YOGHURT
Many brands have lots of sugar and not much fruit. Make your own using full-fat yoghurt and flavour it with fruit purée.
BALANCE A SWEET TOOTH
Most babies prefer sweeter tastes, but it’s important to offer savoury foods first – if your baby sees there are grapes around, he’ll never munch his broccoli. You could try blending veg with some fruit purée to sweeten it, or offer less-bitter vegetables, such as pumpkin and sweet potato.
GET TO GRIPS WITH SOLIDS
However messy, encourage your baby to touch all food – yep, even soft, runny ones like yoghurt. ‘It’s vital that your baby learns to recognise and adapt to different textures, as well as flavours,’ says Judy. ‘It will encourage him to be a more adventurous eater in the future.’