Baby Weaning – Our Chef’s Top Tips

Babies typically start with us at Park Academy around 6 months old. At this stage most have just begun their weaning journey and are starting to explore new foods and textures. Our team of chefs work closely with a child’s parents at this stage, gathering all the information they need to continue the process. We have lots of knowledge and experience in this area so we are always happy to provide tips and advice, as well as some tasty weaning recipes! For anyone beginning to wean, here are the most commonly asked questions and my advice on how best to approach it.

What is weaning?

Weaning is the process of introducing a child to solid foods.  It takes place between the ages of 4 months up to 12 months.  It is important not to start weaning too early, as a babies digestive and immune system develops slowly and introducing foods too early can cause digestive problems and allergies. Babies that are formula fed can begin weaning after 17 weeks, however if a baby is breastfed it is recommended that the process starts at around 6 months.

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What is baby led weaning? How does it differ from the traditional weaning process?

Baby led weaning is a process where children are introduced to whole foods straight away, as opposed to pureed foods. In other words babies skip the spoon feeding stage altogether and go straight on to finger foods.

The idea is that once they are provided with safe, whole foods, a baby is allowed to decide how much to eat and can eat at their own pace. Advocates argue that children learn to crawl, walk and talk at their pace, so feeding should be no different.

There is also the theory that by placing foods in front of children, they have a chance to explore its feel, smell and taste instead of it being spooned directly into their mouth. Some believe that baby led weaning can prevent a child becoming a fussy eater and can even reduce the risk of obesity, by teaching a child to recognise when they have had enough to eat.

However, while there are many advocates for this process, there are equally many arguments against it.
There is much debate as to whether a child is capable of feeding themselves properly at such a young age, as the ability to feed oneself requires a developed pincer grip and good hand eye coordination. Therefore, some experts have expressed concern that a baby may not get enough food by feeding themselves. At this stage babies have a high iron requirement and so it is important that this requirement is met through their daily diet.

There are also concerns about the safety of introducing children to whole foods before they have teeth, with some mums reporting gagging after a food was pushed too far into baby’s mouth. Those against baby led weaning also like to remind us that babies are well able to communicate if they dislike a food, or have had enough, simply by clamping their mouths shut or turning their heads away from the spoon!

Which approach do you recommend?

I always recommend that a parent research the topic thoroughly and decide if this is the route that they wish to take with their baby.  Personally, I would recommend the more traditional weaning process of starting with pureed foods and then graduating on to chopped and eventually whole foods. It is also important to remember that all babies are different and develop at different rates, so be patient and adapt the weaning to your baby.

What are the stages of weaning?

Weaning from 6 months  (4 months for formula fed babies)

As you begin weaning, introduce your baby to pureed foods while continuing your bottle/breast feeding regime.  Steamed vegetables, pureed fruits and rice cereal are ideal at this stage.  During the weaning process you should avoid the foods that contain the following; gluten, cow’s milk, honey, sugar, fruit juice, Shark, Marlin, swordfish, salt, cabbage, spinach or nuts.

The weaning process starts by introducing a single item at a time. I recommend sitting down with a list of vegetables, fruit and rice cereals and making out a three week meal plan.  I find that introducing a wide variety of vegetables at the beginning helps to ensure that your child will not become a fussy eater. After the three weeks you can start to combine the foods, for example apple and baby rice or carrot and courgette.  Again sitting down and creating a plan for this will make life much easier and will ensure that you introduce a wide variety of foods at the start.

Weaning from 9 months and on – Introducing meats and texture

Up to 9 months all food should be pureed but after this stage we can start to introduce meats and fish, as well as beginning to introduce foods with texture. When it comes to introducing meats and fish, it should be one type at a time.  I would start with something like chicken and carrot puree.  Gradually I would introduce pork, beef, lamb and fish such as cod and salmon.  Once all the foods have been introduced, your child can start to eat the same meals as the rest of the family – but without any sauces or added salt or sugar.

At this stage you can also start to introduce texture into the meals, so instead of blending down the meal fully, just half blend it and leave some small pieces in the puree.  This can gradually increase to chopped meals and finally lead on to whole meals.

Important note

Parents can be often competitive about how quickly their child learns to walk and talk etc.  With food it is very important that children are not weaned too early as this can cause issues with their digestive system.  Please bear in mind that the timelines I have given above are guidelines. If your child is not ready to wean at these stages then just try again in a few weeks – don’t force the issue. All children are different and progress at different rates.  Persisting with a stage of weaning when a child isn’t ready could lead to more problems later in childhood.

I hope that this article has been helpful! There is a lot of information about the weaning process out there, so the main thing is to do as much research as possible and prepare yourself for the process before starting.

Weaning can be a messy, time consuming process but always keep in mind that this is the first step in introducing your child to good nutrition and to one of life’s greatest pleasures – food!

Chef Rohan

Park Academy Childcare Bray