How to wean your baby
Dietitian Megan Pentz-Kluyts outlines the different ways you can get your baby to start eating solids.
When the time comes to wean your baby onto solids (from six months old and onwards), there are various methods that can help your little one to learn about the different tastes and textures of solid foods. Whether you choose spoon-feeding or baby-led weaning (BLW), or the mix method, here are some pointers to ensure your baby gets the best nutritional start on solid food.
Method 1: Spoon-feeding
Spoon-feeding is not just about the introduction of solid foods to your baby via a spoon, but the characteristics of spoon-feeding are that the food is usually smoothly pureed – making the transition from milk to solids that much easier – and that only small amounts are given slowly. Only introduce one new food at a time, and when you know that a specific food agrees with your baby, gradually increase the number of spoonfuls you give.
Foods that are recommended for spoon-feeding include rice cereal and pureed fruits and vegetables like banana, pear, and carrot. Introducing a range of foods to your baby helps to teach your baby how to eat, and lets them experience new tastes, flavours and textures. Eventually they will also hone their hand-eye coordination with finger-feeding.
From the age of seven to nine months, you should progress from pureed foods to food textures that are lumpy, mashed, or finely chopped, and cooked foods should be soft. Increase food textures so that by nine months old, your baby will be able to cope with small pieces of soft foods. Be careful to not keep your baby on pureed foods for too long as this may hamper his desire to experiment with different food textures.
From 10 to 12 months, your baby will be eating more independently and will be able to chew, so you can introduce more finger foods that are coarsely chopped and/or well cooked. It’s exciting to know that not only will your little one’s coordination and ability to chew be improving, but that the variety of textures you introduce will improve his oral motor skills, which he needs for speech development.
Method 2: Baby-led weaning
Baby-led weaning (BLW) works on the approach that your baby is ready for solid food by six months of age; that he is most likely able to sit upright, pick up pieces of food, put them in his mouth and chew. Socially, baby-led weaning involves the baby in all aspects of eating with the family, which he can join whenever he is ready.
Method 3: The mix method
The mix method mixes both spoon-feeding of purees and the eating of finger foods from the beginning. It’s not true spoon-feeding, as your baby feeds himself; yet it’s also not true baby-led weaning, as there is some spoon-feeding involved. The mix method is spoon-led weaning with a side of finger foods from the very start of his solid food experience.
What makes the mix method work… or not?
There will always be proponents on both sides of the BLW vs spoon-feeding debate, but whether the mix method works depends entirely on your baby. When parents decide that spoon-feeding works for them, or they prefer baby-led weaning, they may end up combining both methods because of the pace at which their baby progresses. Whether you are spoon feeding, using the BLW approach or mixed method, don’t compromise on introducing your little one to a variety of food tastes and textures.
Should there only be one feeding approach?
It may help to know that some babies simply respond better to one weaning approach over another. If your baby refuses to eat purees from a spoon, then offer him solid pieces of well-cooked food as an alternative and see how he does. Another option would be to offer some pureed meat or an iron-containing food to ensure an optimal intake of essential nutrients while still allowing your child to explore and experiment with new whole foods and textures. Until there is more evidence to diminish or eliminate the concerns discussed, either method or a combination of approaches may offer the best of both worlds for your baby. If you have any concerns, discuss your individual circumstances with your healthcare practitioner.
Weaning tips for either or both methods
- You and your child are different from other parents and children, so find the weaning method that works best for you.
- If your child’s appetite fluctuates, trust their response to it. Don’t force your child to eat everything on their plate – any duress during mealtimes can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, which can cause problems later on.
- Offer milk or water regularly – in an open cup.
- Eat together as a family as often as possible and create an enjoyable mealtime environment.
- When you first introduce new tastes and textures, understand that it may take 10 – 15 tries before your baby takes a liking to them. Be patient.
- Continue providing your baby with a nutritional variety of foods and encourage a wide spectrum of tastes and textures so that your child doesn’t become a picky eater.
- Your baby does not need salt and sugar on his food – offering your child foods without salt and sugar may actually establish a lower threshold for salty and sweet tastes later on in life, and a healthier diet in the meantime.
- In amongst the bits of carrot and pumpkin, and the messy, sticky food tray is a child enthralled in the tastes of new food and his newfound ability to satiate his hunger. Weaning doesn’t last long, so make the most of it with a positive approach… and keep the camera ready to capture this tasty milestone!
The most important thing to remember is that good foundational nutrition (during the first two years of life) has both short and long-term effects on your child’s health, and it’s up to you to make the best nutritional choices from the start.