Weaning onto solids

Weaning – when the fun, mess and smelly poo really starts! But when is best? What solids do you give? And how do you wean? Theres a lot of advice and opinion out there making weaning confusing, overwhelming and a bit scary. Just when you’ve gotten into a routine and are confident at breast/bottle feeding, no sooner are you needing to introduce your baby to solid foods. Before going through the weaning process with Evelyn I knew very little about it and I was anxious about how best to do it. I still don’t know how best to wean and by no means am I an expert, but I’ve learnt quite a few things along the way that I wanted to share, even if it’s just to help me remember for next time. Though what worked for us may not work for another baby. They all progress at their own rates, with their own unique little personalities, their own likes/dislikes and potentially additional obstacles like allergies/intolerances or medical problems. Follow their lead, trust your instincts and be guided by your doctors/health visitors and reliable sources of information (NHS website).

One of the biggest things that I’ve realised about weaning, is how time consuming it is. Just when leaving the house had become a military operation, the additional paraphernalia needed for her meals required another level of planning and coordination, let alone the subsequent chaos of feeding her out and about. The extra time needed for weaning, along with many other reasons, was a big factor as to why I decided to continue breastfeeding Evelyn after she turned 6 months old. Breastfeeding was quick, easy and I didn’t have to worry about sterilising and making up bottles in the midst of learning how to wean. Plus breastmilk can help reduce the risk of infections and reactions from the solid foods. No doubt weaning is time consuming, it made our days busier and more challenging, and it took Evelyn a while to ‘get it’ (‘it’ being solid food in general, finger food and sippy cups). It’s been a messy, sometimes frustrating and longer than expected mission. There were days where we felt like we weren’t getting anywhere, in fact maybe going backwards. Times where Evelyn would vomit everything back up, have poo explosions during or immediately after eating, or would through all of the food (plus her bowl, spoon and cup) over me and the kitchen. There were also times where she completely refused any food at all – its amazing how everything BUT food would go in her mouth! There are still some days where Evelyn doesn’t want to eat anything but yoghurt or melty puffs (usually when she’s unwell or teething), but on the whole is a pretty good eater now.

Another important thing that I’ve realised about weaning, is the need to be flexibile. During pregnancy and motherhood I’ve found that I’m the type of person who likes to have a plan rather than just going with the flow. So that was no different when we needed to wean Evelyn. I wanted a definite plan to follow, the more detailed, step-wise and day-by-day the better. Although I knew some basics, I was anxious not to ‘do it wrong’. I managed to amalgamate a plan to approach weaning from a few different sources, however no matter what I had planned for Evelyn, we needed to be flexible and follow her lead. Weaning didn’t go completely as I’d imagined. The favoured and popular Baby Led Weaning (BLW) method that I’d hoped we’d use didn’t work for us, cooking all home-cooked meals was unrealistic for me and more often than not we need to use multiple distraction techniques just to get her to eat something. Though Evelyn has got to eating ‘3 meals a day’, managing finger food and successfully drinking water from a sippy cup at her own rate. With all that said, introducing Evelyn to the wonderful world of food has been a fun journey, and just as well since Rob and I are big foodies!

When?

When to start weaning?

This can be a controversial subject, especially as previously babies were weaned younger than nowadays. The current advice is that if your baby was born at term (37 weeks+) and is healthy then you shouldn’t start weaning until they are at least 17 weeks of age, but ideally waiting until they are 6 months old. Mums may feel pressure to wean early but importantly before 17 weeks old, babies are not physically or developmentally ready to cope with solid food. Weaning early may also result in adverse reactions and allergies, and could increase their risk of problems like obesity and diabetes in later life. Until 6 months of age breastmilk/formula is all that babies nutritionally need, however their requirement for milk may increase as they approach this age. It’s advised to wait until 6 months old to start solids, so to avoid filling them up with less nutritional solids. After 6 months old babies nutritionally need more than just milk, in particular they need more iron in their diet, so this is why it is ideal to introduce solids at this stage. If breastfed, prior to 6 months old babies need vitamin D drops and after 6 months old they need multivitamin drops. Though I’m yet to find multivitamin drops that taste decent enough so that Evelyn will actually take it!

If you decide to wean before 6 months of age there are a few things that you should do to make it safer. You need to sterilise everything to avoid the risk of infections and you should stick to just pureed food instead of finger foods and baby led weaning methods, this is because younger babies cannot effectively move food around their mouth to chew and swallow it properly so their risk of gagging and choking is much higher. Note that even though babies can start on simple finger foods from 6 months of age, it can take a few more months to be able to cope with different types of foods. This is because their tongue and jaw movements improve and develop. The phrase “Loud and red let them go ahead – Silent and blue they need help from you” is a great way to differentiate and distinguish between gagging and choking. The NHS website has a really clear and practical guide to help if your baby is choking, and I’d recommend reading it before starting weaning. Note although it is tempting, that it is dangerous to interfere if your child is gagging as it could possibly make the situation worse i.e. push the food down and cause choking.

We decided to wean Evelyn at 5.5months old. From 5 months old she started to started to wake more frequently at night to feed (4 hourly) which we felt was a sign of increased calorie requirement. Although increased night waking isn’t necessarily a ‘sign’ that babies need solids, as waking could be due to the 4 month regression and sleep associations, but since we had ‘cracked’ those, my gut was telling me that Evelyn was waking more because she was hungry. Recognised signs of readiness for solids include being able to sit upright, being able to bring a spoon to their mouth and being interested in food. Other things can be misleading, such as chewing on their fists, which is often just teething/exploring their hands. We did hold off weaning for a couple of weeks until Evelyn was showing all of those other signs of readiness for solids. It is important to say that the increased night waking didn’t stop as soon as we started solids however. She would only take a spoonful or 2 in the beginning so she continued to wake frequently until she was taking a good amount of solids, which took around a month. During those 4 weeks I fed Evelyn as soon as she woke overnight and assumed hunger as opposed to leaving her to try and self settle. Despite being a good eater she didn’t sleep through until a further 5 months, at 9.5 months old.

When to give solids?

There are different opinions on what time of the day is best to start offering solids and whether you should offer solids before or after a milk feed. I chose to follow the ‘Little Ones’ programme as a guide for this so started at lunchtime and always offered solids after milk. As mentioned in my previous blogs, I followed the Little Ones programme for both sleep and milk feeding and can’t recommend it enough. As it worked so well for that I trusted it as a weaning guide. They emphasise the importance of getting the timings right for sleep and feeding as if one is off, then it can certainly can affect the other and may become a vicious cycle. It may seem simple but offering solids when they are tired will often mean that they won’t take that much and then subsequently won’t sleep for very long as they aren’t full enough. Just like with milk feeding and a feed-to-sleep associations. A common theory is that starting at dinner is best to ‘fill them up’, but it can actually do the opposite as when they are young digesting solids can upset their tummies. Starting at lunch is the ideal time, then adding in dinner when taking a ‘good amount’ (classed as half a cup) and then add in breakfast when taking a good amount. Finally add in 2 snacks a day (mid morning and mid afternoon) when taking 3 ‘full meals’. Offering milk first before food is best as ultimately milk is the most important source of nutrition up until they are 1 year old. Giving milk 30 mins beforehand usually means that they aren’t too full from the milk not too hungry to get frustrated by offering solids.

When to drop milk feeds?

Prior to starting solids, Evelyn’s daytime milk feeds were at 7/10/11:30/2:30/5/6:30. From just after 6 months old we dropped a milk feed. We combined her mid morning and pre-lunch milk feeds, so that her daytime milk feeds were 7/10:30/2:30/5/6:30. This helped her to take more solids at lunch and dinner. Then from around 8 months old we dropped another 2 feeds. We dropped the pre-lunch and pre-dinner milk, so that her daytime milk feeds were 7/2:30/6:30. This helped her to take 2 snacks a day on top of her 3 meals. From 9.5 months old she stopped feeding in the night and subsequently took more solids at breakfast. Evelyn remains on 3 milk feeds a day, unless I am in work, when she misses the afternoon milk feed. The aim is the drop the afternoon milk feed altogether by 15 months.

What?

Whats needed?

Food prep – blender (we use the Nutribullet), silicon ice cube trays, small lidded pots.
Feeding – ikea antalop high chair with tray and inflatable insert (cheap, easy to clean and a good size), weaning suction bowls/plate, weaning spoons, sippy cup, non spill trainer cup, feeding dummy (Nature bond).
Trying to keep clean – all in one feeding bibs (ideally 3 for the 3 meals/day) plus a catch all bib (its surprising how the food gets everywhere!), splash mat (to avoid hard to clean food stuck in the tile grout), kitchen roll, wet wipes and all in one surface wipes.
Additional things that help – Cleanable toys, highchair toys (suction ones), a floor level baby seat for another room (we used the Mamas and Papas Baby Snug and Activity Tray as they tray and toys came in really useful).
Storage – compartmentalising food in the cupboards using boxes/Tupperware/bags. I’d have a bag for breakfast food, a bag for lunch food, a bag for dinner food and a bag for snacks to make the whole preparation process much easier. Also a ‘bag for life’ bag to store the essentials – cleanable toys, all in one bibs, catch all bibs, splash mat and a packet of wet wipes.
Out and about – lunch bag (skiphop lunchie) for food/bowl/spoon/cup/bibs, flask (Tommee Tipee bottle warmer) to warm up the food and breast milk pouches for putting the puréed cubes in.

What to give?

Although from 6 months of age babies can eat a lot of the same types of food as us, it’s important to say what they can’t have. They can’t have honey until they are 1 due to the risk of infant botulism, avoid raw fish and  shellfish because of the risk of food poisoning, avoid whole nuts as they are a choking risk, and minimise salt and sugar as too much can damage the kidneys and cause tooth decay respectively. It’s recommended avoid ‘allergen risk’ foods like dairy, eggs and nuts until 6 months of age. I basically introduced the different food groups gradually over a few weeks. Starting with vegetables first, then fruits, then grains, then dairy and then meats/fish. I followed the ‘first tastes of vegetables and fruit’ guide in Ella’s Kitchen First Foods Book and the App. They had a day-by-day plan on how to introduce different veggies for the first 2 weeks and then a guide for ways to combine different veggies and introduce fruits. This structure was good for me and helped eliminate some of the stress of weaning! Also I liked how the book shows you how to prepare and cook each veg and fruit. It may seem really obvious and although I consider myself to be a reasonable cook, it was useful as I don’t usually puree our food! I found that when I tried to buy single veg pureed pouches, there aren’t that many different options so I needed to make them myself. Also quite a few of the combination veggie pouches include a fruit in it, resulting in the whole puree tasting sweet so they can’t actually taste the savoury veg. The book is also handy for ways to introduce a bit of additional flavour such as with spices and herbs (mixed spice/cinnamon/cumin/coriander).

Prior to weaning we didn’t give Evelyn any water in addition to breastmilk, it is only formula fed babies who made need some for additional hydration from water when its hot and to avoid/treat constipation. When we introduced water it was cooled boiled water until 6 months and then just normal tap water. Ideally only use water as an additional drinks to milk. We always offered water with her meals and snacks in a sippy cup. We tried lots of different ones and Evelyn took to some better than others. Over time she got better, though it did take quite a few months for her to get the hang of it, initially she either just chewed the cup, wasn’t interested in it or would take on too much water and end up coughing and spluttering. Sometimes she would just blow raspberries with the water or spit it back out for fun. We initially used a Tommee Tipee Free Flowing sippy cup, but found that she was better with the Tommee Tipee Training Sippee cup. I had introduced the Munchkin Miracle 360 Degree Trainer Cup early on, but that took a few months for her to get the hang off, it’s now really useful to minimise spillages out and about. She also uses the Nuby Drinking Cup which she is good with it. We’ve yet to try any cups/beakers with a straw.ith 

What food prep?

We spent almost a month preparing and cooking purees and finger foods for all the veggies and fruit. Although making things in batches helped reduce the prep time, it was still pretty time consuming and required some forward planning, something which is hard to do with a baby and even harder with a hungry baby. It was also frustrating when little actually ended up in her mouth and even less in her belly, even worse if it was vomited back up. So to reduce the prep time and because it was a convenient way to introduce pureed meats/fish, we started using the ready made Ella’s pouches. We basically followed the packaging advice for when to move onto the next stage of food, stage 2 food at 7 months and then onto stage 3 at 10 months. I found that with the increasingly lumpy texture of each stage, the increased portions sizes kept up with Evelyn’s growing appetite.

Finger foods are a great way to let babies explore, touch and try foods themselves. The finger food we gave Evelyn was either the same food that had been purées and the easier packet bought finger food. This Annabel Karmel page is a useful guide for different types of foods to use. Its safest to remove the skins to avoid choking, such as on apple/grapes/cucumber etc, keep them soft enough and to cut them into 2-3 inch sized batons or into pea-sized chunks. As time went on Evelyn was able to cope with semi-circular cut finger food. Although that all sounds pretty straight forward and simple, I did find preparing finger food a bit stressful. How much do you cook the food? How soft is soft enough? How exactly do you cut it? I would worry that the food was too hard/too soft/too thick/thin/big/small.

We liked the Ella’s kitchen melty puffs, Kidilicious Wafers/Biscottis/Veggie sticks for the convenience, ease and safety. I would followed the age advice on packaging when buying finger foods. They usually advise if they are safe from 6/7/9/10 or 12 months of age. Initially I gave Evelyn a few older ones thinking that they were fine, but no that wasn’t the case! Its the hardness of the food which makes a difference and too hard and they struggle to chew and swallow it. The ‘melty’ things are ideal first ones to use. Once Evelyn gagged and vomited up some veggie crisps that were a couple of months too old for her, I felt terrible and realised that I should definitely only use the age recommended food! I found that although some snacks may have been appropriate for her age, she just didn’t get on with them until later. In particular rice cakes where she would put the whole thing in her mouth, and biscottis would stick to the roof of her mouth.

How?

How to feed?

The main methods of weaning that people use are Puréed food exclusively, Baby Led Weaning (BLW), and Puréed food with finger food. As we started weaning Evelyn when she was under 6 months of age, we offered exclusively pureed foods for those first few weeks. I wanted to adopt mainly a BLW method after that because of all the ‘less fussy eater’ benefits. Though Evelyn had her own plan. I’d tried different ways of offering the finger foods – either on her Bamboo Bamboo fox weaning plate which is a fun way of presenting the different foods for her to explore. I also tried just giving her a couple of bits at a time just on the highchair tray so not to be overwhelming for her. But Evelyn either just stared at the finger food, only to pick it up, mush it in between her hands or smear it on the tray, or throw it on me or the floor. Just sometimes would she actually take a bite, only for her to end up taking a huge bite (those first 2 teeth must have been sharp) and me to panic that she would be vomit or choke on it. She often would ‘bite off more than she could chew’, and although never choked, she did often gag and vomit from her big bites. The NatureBond feeding dummy was a really useful and safe ‘toy’ for Evelyn to eat some fruits and veg from.

So I thought that I’d combine purée and finger foods since we weren’t getting anywhere with the exclusive BLW method. I tried offering finger food first before puree thinking that if she is going to vomit with the finger food then at least its less to vomit back up. However she did better when I offered the finger food after or along side the purée. Even if she just held the finger food, it provide a source of distraction which enabled Evelyn to more readily take the purée. In general she seemed to do much better with more of a focus on pureed foods as her main source of solids and finger foods as something to hold, explore and taste but with less emphasis on quantity eaten. Also along with the continued night wakes from being slow to take solids and the whole vomit/choking worries stressing me out we we’re all happier doing that way.

How long for meal times?

Another thing that I’ve realised is that you need to set aside quite a lot of time for meals. We found that each meal would take roughly 30 mins and then it would take at least 20 mins for both the prep beforehand and clean up afterwards. I frequently felt like all I was did with the day was feeding her and prepare/clean. It was difficult to factor in time to going out or doing things in between meal times, another reason why I found that opting for ready made pouches was more practical.

How to get baby to actually eat the food?

Beforehand, I was aware of ‘what not to do’ in order to avoid a fussy eater – not to offer sweet foods first, not to clean their face until the end (since ‘mess is best’), not using purée and not relying on distraction to get them to eat. Although we didn’t do the first 2 things, as I said above we used purées and we found that the right amount of distraction enabled Evelyn to take more food. We would used toys (cleanable plastic ones), videos on our phones (often of Evelyn herself as she liked them the most), as well as the bowl/spoon/pot/sachet/packaging and the food itself. Also trying to make the meal time as fun as we could would help, we would play peepoo (her favourite, and she loves it when we hide under the highchair), making silly noises and songs, and pulling faces to show that we like the food. Also Evelyn seems to loves it when we drink from her sippy cup! Eating with her and showing her what to do with the food really helps, especially during those early days when she would look at us blankly. Additionally, Evelyn has become better at eating finger food since being at nursery, whether it’s because she’s watching the other babies eat or maybe because the staff are less lenient that I am!

It’s also so easy to offer the same thing again and again because you know that they will like it and its easy to prepare. I’m guilty of that. I think babies easily get fed up of the same food and go through phases. I try to give Evelyn the option of foods, which I know may sound pointless at this age, but she really does deliberate and make her choice, it’s quite impressive really! Although I haven’t, trying to keep the food and meals varied is another way to reduce the risk of a fussy eater. Evelyn’s nursery offers a variety of different foods which I haven’t given her at home which I’ve noticed has improved her willingness to try different things.

Like with everything in parenthood, just when you get comfortable and confident at something, your child goes and changes. Now at 12 months I am noticing that Evelyn is starting to get fed up of the spoon and wants to feed herself more. She wants to either use the spoon herself or pick the food up with her hands and feed herself, which is proving very messy but fun! It’s an exciting new change in her food journey which is opening up a wider range of foods and meals. I’m trying to adapt what I am offering her to fit in with her changing preference and development, preparing more meals like we eat and presenting it in a ‘baby led’ way, in the hope that she can easily pick them up and feed herself.

Summary of Our weaning journey

5.5months old = 1 meal/day

Week 0-2 = First tastes of veg at lunch (puréed).

Week 2-3 = First tastes of fruits plus mixing different vegetables at lunch (puréed).

6 months old = 2 meals/day

Weeks 3-4 = Introduce food at dinner (excluding protein). Introduce finger foods. Introduce carbs/diary/egg.

(Baby rice/baby porridge/pasta/wholemeal toast/rusks; cows milk in cereal/yoghurts/cheese; eggs – scrambled/omelette).

Weeks 4-5 = Introduce meats/fish at lunch.

Weeks 5-6 = Introduce food at breakfast.

Weeks 6-7 = Add desserts at lunch and dinner.

7 months old = 3 meals/day

8 months old = 3 meals/day plus 2 snacks/day (mid morning and mid afternoon). Stopped using baby rice/porridge and used normal porridge.

9.5 months old = Add in protein at dinner

What Evelyn Eats

Breakfast

– Cereal (Quakers Oats porridge oats sachet/weetabix/shredded wheats) and fruit.

– Egg (scrambled or cheesy omelette scrambled) with tinned tomatoes and wholemeal toast.

– Fruit (banana/clementine/berries) and Farley’s rusk with plain yoghurt, ella’s smoothie sachet and chia seeds.

Lunch/Dinner

– Finger foods – melty puffs/veggie sticks/pitta bread/bread sticks/vegetables

Main – Ella’s sachet meal or a blended homemade meal (Spaghetti Bolognese/curried yoghurt lamb/salmon and sweet potato/cottage pie/chicken pasta bake). Ella’s frozen big kids mini foods.

Dessert – Ella’s dessert pot mixed with biscotti/Petit filous with fruit/plain yoghurt and Ella’s smoothie sachet mixed with a Farley’s rusk.

Snacks

Fruit/toast/pitta bread with hummus/petit filous/welshcake/Kiddylicious wafer/veggie sticks/Ellas’s muffin.


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