What is weaning?

Weaning is the process in which a baby is introduced to solid food. Very young babies need no food other than milk. As they start growing and getting more physically active, they begin to use up more and more energy. A milk-only diet can no longer fulfil these energy requirements or give them all the different nutrients they need.

Your baby will probably seem hungry after a feed and offering more milk won't help. The amount of milk a baby's stomach can hold is limited.

When should I start weaning my baby?

While it is not set in stone when you should wean your baby, you should aim for between four and six months. (If you are still breast-feeding at this point, you may take this opportunity to wean your baby off the breast as well.)

There are a number of reasons why you should wait until they are over four months old:

  • Children younger than four months cannot bite and chew.
  • They don't usually like different tastes and textures.
  • They are more prone to allergic reactions therefore it is safer to wait until the baby's body systems have matured a bit more.
  • Giving energy-rich foods too soon may result in the baby becoming overweight.

There are also a number of reasons why you should not leave weaning too late (ie. after six months):

  • Your baby needs to get used to the foods before he/she actually needs it. By the age of six months, your baby will have used up the store of iron he/she was born with. Therefore from this point on, iron will have to be included in the diet. However if you wait until this store is used up and then your baby doesn't take to the solids, there is going to be a period of time when he/she is taking in no iron at all.
  • Delaying weaning also means the process may prove much more difficult. This is because babies are usually most willing to try new foods and flavours when they are between four and six months old.

At around six months old, babies should be introduced to drinking from a cup. This may take a while. Breast-fed babies, even if they drink readily from a cup, may still want to breast-feed as well, especially when they are going to bed. Similarly, bottle-fed babies are often very reluctant to give up their bottle for a cup.

When your baby starts to take solids, they will often get thirsty. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce a cup rather than giving them their usual bottle. Get them used to drinking water. Apart from the fact that fruit juices are sugary, your baby will get used to the sweet taste and may then refuse to drink water.

Two-handed plastic cups with a tight lid are the best containers for this stage. If your baby wants to hold the cup by themselves, let them. This is an important learning stage for your baby.

How do I feed my baby?

You may find in the beginning, your baby doesn't even want to taste the food. This is normal. Try letting them taste food in between their normal bottle or breast-feed.

Weaning is a gradual process so don't be disheartened if your baby takes a while to get used to solids. Try giving them tiny tastes of the food (a fingertip amount) at one feed a day.

You may find your baby just doesn't like the spoon so dip you (clean) finger into the food and let him/her taste it that way. If they enjoy the food, they won't be so suspicious of the spoon.

Each day try to gradually build up the amount of food. Then offer it at other feeds. The more the baby eats, the less milk they will take, although they will still probably look for a bottle or the breast after the meal.

What kind of food should I give my baby?

First solids should be smooth and semi-liquid. They should also be bland or else the baby will simply not eat it.

Introduce new foods slowly. Remember your baby has survived on just milk up to this point, so different tastes and textures will take some getting used to.

Baby cereals are a good starting point, especially baby rice.

After this, pureed fruit and vegetables should be introduced. This is the perfect opportunity to get your baby use to 'good' foods such as vegetables.

Pureed meat, poultry and fish should be introduced between six and eight months.

Your baby should be able to eat lumpy food by the time they are nine months. It is important that you do not puree their food for too long. Remember, even without teeth, babies can chew very efficiently.

Commercial foods are fine but try to introduce home-cooking as well. This means your baby will become used to a wider variety of foods.

Are there any foods that I shouldn't give my baby?

My baby is determined to feed herself but the food just ends up everywhere, except in her mouth. What can I do about this?

While mealtimes may become longer and much messier, do not stop your child from playing with their food. This is a step towards independence and they have to learn somehow.

You must still help your baby. Give him/her their own spoon to play with while you feed them with another spoon.

Mealtimes may prove less problematic in the future if initially they are fun for the child. If they are forced, the child will probably equate mealtimes with something they don't enjoy.

My toddler refuses to eat foods that I know she enjoyed in the past. What can I do?

By the time a child is two, they know what they like and what they don't. This can be a very frustrating time for parents because the child may simply refuse everything.

There are a number of things you can try out:

  • Keep offering a variety of foods, including things she will eat. Her hunger or curiosity will get the better of her eventually.
  • Remember a child will be much more willing to try something new if they are really hungry. Therefore offer a new or healthier option when she has the best appetite.
  • Try giving foods in different ways. She may not like sliced carrots but she may like mashed carrots. She may not eat a boiled egg but she may eat scrambled egg.
  • Make food look interesting. Some children react to food arranged in, for example, a funny face.
  • Try to have family meals. Your toddler is more likely to eat something if she sees her family around her eating it too.

Remember at the end of the day, if she is hungry she will eat something. Do not let her see how annoyed or frustrated you are. Otherwise mealtimes will become a battleground.

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