Breastfeeding is best for your baby. The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of your baby’s life. This can help to ensure that your baby will have a lower risk of allergies, a lower risk of obesity in later life, and a great start for their immune system. After the first six months, it is important that you then start to introduce some solid food to the diet. If you’re bottle-feeding however, you can start to introduce solid foods between the ages of four to six months.

** Please note the guidelines have changed – The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (2012) recommend that all babies are weaned onto solid foods at about 6 months of age, no earlier than 17 weeks and not delayed beyond 6 months (26 weeks) **

Next we will talk about the first stage of weaning.

What is weaning? Weaning is really the term used to describe the introduction of solid foods for the first time to your baby. If you’re breastfeeding, it will be around six months when you can start to introduce solid food. For bottle-fed babies, between the ages of four to six months, it’s important that you do not commence weaning, or introduce solid food to your baby’s diet before the age of four months, because the digestive system is not fully developed at that stage, and you may put your baby at a higher risk of developing allergy. So after four months for bottle-fed infants, or six months for a breast-fed infant, you can start the exciting process of weaning. However, be warned, it can also be a little bit messy.

What are the best foods to start for weaning your baby? One of the most popular foods is baby rice. This is because baby rice is quite a bland taste and you can mix it with your baby’s own usual milk. So, whether that’s expressed breast milk or baby infant formula, the baby will be quite used to the taste of their own milk, they will be more likely to accept the rice for you.

To do this you take a package of baby rice, and just mix out a very small amount in a bowl. Now, it’s important to start weaning at a time when your baby is not really hungry for their usual milk, whether it’s their breastfeed or their bottle, because then the baby will be quite hungry and won’t be interested in starting this new and exciting process. So maybe a time between feeds when the baby is not too tired, maybe when you’re all relaxed and the house is quiet, it’s a good time to start trying weaning.

The best spoon to use for the weaning is one of these flat types of spoons. It’s quite shallow, so you’re really going to get just a small amount for the baby to take and lick off the spoon with their lips. So when you take a spoonful, you don’t want too much on the spoon, don’t overfill it. Just a small amount and you will be ready to feed your baby. Now remember, have some paper towels to hand, maybe put a little bit of an extra cloth around the table, because it can be quite messy, and of course, your baby might want to put their hands in it as well.

For the first few days, you’re not going to drop any of the baby’s breastfeeds or bottles, because they are still going to need the same amount of milk to get all of their energy needs. However, as weaning progresses the meals will become larger, and then you will find the baby will have less of an appetite for milk. This is the normal process of changing over from a purely milk-based diet in the early days to more of a family diet by the age of one year. Baby rice is great for the first few days, and then you can start to bring in some popular fruits and vegetables to help to introduce a wide range of tastes to your baby.

Carrots are a good vegetable to introduce. Carrots can be washed, peeled, steamed or boiled. Steaming is a great way to cook the vegetables, because you’re not going to lose any of the nutrition into the water surrounding them. You should firstly steam the carrots and then puree them with a hand-held liquidiser. This is a really a great investment if you’re at the stage when your baby is going to start weaning. It’s very easy to do small quantities, and you don’t have to wash out a big, large food processor after every time when you’ve prepared a meal. Ensure that the carrots are nice and soft for the baby’s meal.

This can take a little bit of time, and it’s a good idea to add a little bit of the baby’s own usual milk, again, the breast milk or formula milk into it, to allow the consistency to be a little bit smoother. So when you’ve pureed the vegetable to the right consistency, we’ll just put a little bit in here, and again, it’s a good idea to make a large quantity, and then your baby certainly won’t be using all of this in the one day, because at the moment, they’re really just using a very small amount for mealtimes. So what you can do is, you can freeze this for future use. I’m just going to show you the consistency there again, and you can see just a small amount on the spoon.

With the extra that you have leftover, it’s a good idea to maybe use an ice cube tray, so you can put individual amounts of puree in here, and that can be frozen for future use. When you’ve put all your puree in here, the ice cube tray can be popped into the freezer, and then you can defrost as much as you need, as it’s required. Also, small little containers like these can be very useful. Use a small container with a lid on it and pop it into your freezer. This way you are preparing meals as you go. You can keep a little bit extra prepared, because you may find in the initial stages that really your baby is only taking a very small amount. This makes a lot more sense, in terms of your time. Then it can be defrosted as you need it.

As you’re progressing from day to day with weaning, it’s a good idea to introduce a range of different vegetables and fruits, because this is going to encourage your baby to have a wide choice and preference of different foods as they get older. So root vegetables are great, so I’ve started with some carrot here today. Parsnips are a really good choice, sweet potato, butternut squash, any of those foods that are easy to puree. Don’t start with potato puree at the beginning. Because sometimes it doesn’t puree as well, but it’s great to add in as mashed potato as your baby grows and becomes more adept at eating from a spoon.

So, we’re going to move on to some fruit purees now, and one of the really handy, no-cook purees is a banana; because obviously, it’s an easy one you can bring with you as you go. There is a very simple way to prepare a quick and easy snack, and introducing a new taste to your baby. Choose a nice ripe banana; black spots on a banana would suggest that it’s nice, ripe and sweet. Put the banana into a bowl. I’ll even just put in half of the banana for the moment, because again, at the early stages, the baby is really going to be just taking a very small amount.

Rather than having to use any liquidiser, a ripe banana can be very easily mashed with a fork. Now, you really need to mash it quite a lot, so you can keep at it for a little while. It is best to have no lumps it will be nice and easy for the baby to take from the spoon.

Remember, this is a really new experience, both for you and especially for your baby, and it’s a learned skill, so it might take them a little bit of time to get used to this new way of getting their meals, rather than their breastfeed or their bottle.

Now again, you can add a little bit of the baby’s regular milk, again, so a little bit of breast milk or a little bit of infant formula, just to make it nice and smooth for the baby to take from the spoon. Ensure that you have a very nice, smooth consistency. No lumps and a nice, tasty introduction to fruits for your baby.

Be adventurous. Try lots of different fruits and vegetables. Don’t just stick to the ones that you generally have at home. It might mean the whole family will start trying new fruits and vegetables at this stage. I have some avocados here, and there again, very nutritious food to include in a baby’s diet. Peel the avocado and mash it in with the banana, as the baby becomes a little bit older, and is used to different tastes. So again, a nice ripe avocado, you can generally tell if they’re ripe by squeezing just on the bottom, and if it’s nice and soft, it’s probably a good one that’s ready to eat when you bring it home. Avocado and mashed banana is really handy to take out and about with you if you’re going out for the day, throw them in your nappy bag, and wherever you end up for lunch, you can have a nutritious meal ready for baby in minutes with no cooking at all.

Any food left uneaten after your baby’s mealtime must be discarded, and then at the next mealtime, start afresh. This is important for food safety, so don’t leave any uneaten food lying around. If you have any more questions about the first stage of weaning, don’t hesitate to call us on the care line, where the nutritionist will be delighted to chat with you and answer any questions you may have. The very best of luck to you.