The first question you’ll need to ask yourself is whether your baby’s ready for weaning – for having something other than milk. Babies differ in this, so what suits one baby may be too soon for another.
Current Department of Health and World Health Organisation recommendations are that babies should be given milk (breast-milk, preferably) for six months and not given any solids before that. However, historically, early weaning from four months was acceptable, and many parents find their children do begin to chew after four or five months. You should consult your health advisor, though, before encouraging your baby on to anything more than first milk before six months.
At this age, most babies’ digestion can tolerate other foods, they may be just able to chew as well as suck, they can enjoy exploring new tastes and textures, and they are reaching a sociable age when joining in with what the people around them are doing is good fun.
You might think about introducing solids if your baby is at least four months, and:
- is showing an interest in the food on other people’s plates, perhaps reaching out to touch
- seems to be often unsatisfied after his usual milk feed, yet refuses to be put on the breast again, or to have more formula
- his weight is causing concern, perhaps because he’s failing to gain adequately (however, some younger babies are better off increasing their milk intake, rather than taking solids – and don’t forget that a loss of weight or a poor weight gain can mean your baby is ill. Check with your health visitor).
- he has teeth
- he can pick objects up and suck them to investigate them more closely
- he enjoys a few offerings of solid food when he’s on your lap
Think about whether weaning fits in with you, too. You may be going back to work, and you’d like your childminder to give a solid meal plus a drink in the middle of the day, instead of you having to express breast milk. If you’re planning to go on holiday, now is not the time to introduce solids – don’t complicate life. Your baby can wait a week or a fortnight without harm.
Ask your health visitor for her opinion.
Very first foods
There’s a wide range of commercially-packaged dried first foods available for your baby, usually based on rice and sometimes with added vitamins and minerals. It’s often called ‘baby rice’ though there are other brand names. These foods are fine, and most babies like them as the taste is very bland and the texture is soft. They are easy to use because you can mix them, as you need them, in the quantities you want. You can also mix them with other foods. However, you don’t have to buy anything special for your baby. Here are foods you can share with him, and which are suitable for your baby from the very beginning of weaning. Mash, sieve or puree to get rid of lumps. Just don’t add any seasoning, salt or sugar.
- cooked potato
- cooked swede or turnip
- cooked carrot
- soft dessert pear, peeled
- soft, dessert apple, peeled
Whatever you choose for your baby’s first tastes, offer them in tiny quantities at first, and only one or two new tastes every few days. If you’re spoon feeding, a couple of teaspoons at a time may be all your baby will want at first. He may even turn his head away and refuse anything at all. Don’t worry. Healthy babies know their own appetites, and forcing the issue only makes mealtimes a source of frustration and anxiety.
When and how often to feed?
Once a day is fine at first. It can be before, after or even during your baby’s milk feed – do what suits you. As you build up your baby’s repertoire, you can begin to time the solid foods to coincide with your normal mealtimes, and some of the breast or bottle feeds will start to go, especially as you can offer a cup from about four months on. Some babies take three months or more to build up to breakfast, lunch and tea; others get there very quickly.
Foods to introduce later
Some foods are difficult for a young digestive system to cope with, or they may be linked with the development of food allergies or intolerance if introduced too early. They are fine after your baby has become used to some basic, simple foods.
cereals containing gluten. Gluten is present in wheat, and of course in any foods containing wheat. These include most flour products, including bread
- eggs (offer the well-cooked yolk after about six months, then the white at about eight months)
- citrus fruits
- cheeses and fried foods
- strong-tasting vegetables such as chillies
These are foods your baby can pick up and eat himself, without any help for you. Some babies never really ‘take’ to solids until they’re at this stage – usually from about six months – and they seem to prefer managing themselves instead of being spoon-fed.
Lots of foods can be offered as finger foods. Simply cut or slice the foods up into a shape your baby can hold and manoeuvre easily, chewing or gnawing or sucking .
Choose from foods such as:
- slices of bread or toast (breads like pitta, nan or chappati are good, too)
- slices of eating apple
- sticks of carrot, celery, cucumber
- tiny sandwiches with Marmite, smooth peanut butter, grated cheese, cottage cheese; sugar-free fruit spreads; mashed banana
- savoury cheese biscuits (no-salt versions)
- fingers of cheese on toast or pizza
- cubes of cheese
- peas (cooked, or even frozen, as a snack)
- cooked pasta shapes – bow shapes or chunky macaroni are easy to pick up
- cooked vegetables
Note: always stay with your baby when he’s feeding himself.
Don’t avoid lumps and chewy bits for too long. Some babies get so used to smooth textures they start to resist anything that’s not totally lump-free until well into toddlerhood. Mashing with a fork is sufficient for most foods, even for a young baby.
Packets, tins and jars – are they okay?
Most babies enjoy bought baby foods, and they’re made without added salt, and without artificial additives They’re also convenient, and help introduce your baby to a wide variety of tastes and combinations.
But baby foods have their critics. Added sugars make baby desserts, in particular, very sweet indeed. Many baby foods have a high water content, and this means they need starchy thickeners as a result. While these may do no harm, they are low in food value.
Read the labels on baby foods, to avoid the highly-sweetened varieties, and the ones with a high water and starch content. Thickeners are labelled as maltodextrin, vegetable gum, gelatine, modified starch and different types of flour. Remember the main ingredient of any packaged food is listed first on the label. You’ll find you pay more for better-quality baby foods, with a low water and starch content.