Up until a baby is 6 months old, their nutritional needs are met by breast milk and / or formula. Every child is different, and although the recommended time to start weaning is 6 months, some people start a week or two before this if their baby seems ready. Breast or formula milk remains an important part of your baby’s diet until 12 months old, but from 6 months needs to be supplemented with other foods to ensure they have all the nutrients they need for healthy development.
There are no ‘best foods’ to start with but here are some tips to help get your weaning adventure off to a good start:
- Offer a good variety of foods so your baby is exposed to a range of different tastes and textures from early on
- There’s no need to start with bland flavours – adding small amounts of herbs and spices is fine
- Some nutritionists and weaning experts recommend starting with savoury foods so your child doesn’t get too used to sweet flavours
- Don’t stick to fruit and vegetables for too long – add in protein such as meat, fish, eggs (as long as they are well cooked) from early on
- Introduce new foods at the start of the day – so if your baby suffers a reaction, it’s less likely to be in the middle of the night
- If there’s a history of allergies in the family (wheat / dairy etc.), it’s worth checking with your doctor or health visitor about when’s best to introduce these foods
- There are lots of different weaning guides and meal plans online nowadays or in baby weaning recipe books, which can be useful when starting out.
- In the early days, it’s worth introducing one new food at a time, so you can check for adverse reactions.
- It’s certainly worth trying foods a number of times, even if they are rejected at first. Research shows babies often need to try a new food 10 times before they are happy to accept it.
Good foods to start with
From 6 months – foods can be mixed with a little breast milk or formula to get the right consistency for your little one:
- Steamed vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower
- Steamed or baked root vegetables such as sweet potato, butternut squash, carrots and parsnips
- Easy (and no cook) foods such as avocado and banana
- Combinations of the above vegetables with some steamed apple or pear
- Gluten free cereals such as baby rice
In all cases, these can be offered as purees or in manageable chunks if you are baby led weaning.
Foods to introduce from 7- 8 months
When your baby is happily eating these foods, it’s time to start introducing other tastes and textures such as:
- Bread, rice, pasta
- Dairy foods such as cheese and yoghurt
- Meat, fish, eggs
- Beans and pulses
If following the traditional weaning route and using purees, by 8 months, foods should ideally be mashed rather than smooth purees. Finger foods can also be introduced at this point. Babies who are not given lumpy food until after they are 10 months old are more likely to reject it – a frustration for both mum and little one!
By 12 months, your baby is ready to eat a diet similar to adults – with foods chopped / minced if necessary rather than pureed. However, added salt and sugar should still be avoided.
What should babies drink?
Babies should only be offered breast / formula milk and water until a year old. Fruit juice, squash and soft drinks are not recommended for young babies due to their sugar content and other artificial ingredients.
If fruit juice is offered, it should be well diluted, in a beaker or feeding cup rather than a bottle and only offered at mealtimes to help limit tooth decay. Bear in mind, it may be harder to get your little one drinking good old fashioned water if they become too used to fruit juice – even if it is diluted.
Foods to avoid:
There are a number of foods which should be avoided in your baby’s first year:
- Honey: Very occasionally, honey can contain a bacteria which causes botulism
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners: Can encourage a sweet tooth and lead to possible tooth decay and obesity as they grow up. Foods can be sweetened with mashed banana or pureed fruit if needed.
- Salt: A baby’s kidneys can’t cope with salt and again, we don’t want to encourage little ones to like salty foods. Stock cubes and gravy granules can also contain high levels of salt so should be avoided when preparing your baby’s meals.
- Nuts: Whole nuts should not be given to children until over the age of 5, due to choking issues. If there’s no history of food allergies – babies over 6 months can be given nut butters
- Low fat foods: Fat is an important source of calories and vitamins for babies. Low fat versions also often contain artificial ingredients. It’s better for babies and toddlers to eat full fat varieties of milk, yoghurt and cheese until they are at least 2 years old.
- Shark, swordfish and marlin: These fish may all contain traces of mercury, which could affect your baby’s nervous system
- Raw and undercooked eggs: Eggs can be offered from 6 months, but make sure they’re cooked until both the yolk and egg white are solid, to avoid the risk of salmonella.
- Foods carrying a risk of food poisoning: Soft, mould ripened cheese such as brie or camembert, shellfish, soft boiled or raw eggs and liver pate carry a risk of food poisoning so are best avoided when feeding little ones.
Starting weaning can be exciting, but it can also feel quite daunting. I remember worrying that if I didn’t get it right, I might end up with children with eating issues forever more! There are likely to be ups and downs along the way – days when your little one will enthusiastically eat whatever you put in front of them and days when they’ll reject everything and not want to eat anything…
The key, as with many aspects of parenting, is to stay relaxed and enjoy this new, if rather messy stage in your little one’s development!