What is weaning?
Weaning is the introduction of solid food into a baby’s diet during the first year of life. During this process, the baby will progress from breast milk or formula milk only to a fully mixed diet with foods of different textures and tastes. The goal of the weaning process is that by one year of age, a baby will be eating modified family foods, i.e. foods with no added gravy, sauces, or salt.
Why is it important to give babies solid foods?
A baby’s birth weight doubles by six months and triples by one year, a process not repeated at any other phase of the life cycle. A nutritious and adequate diet is needed to support this.
By 6 months of age, a baby’s stores of nutrients such as iron zinc and some fat soluble vitamins (A and D) are decreasing, and nutritional requirements are increasing. At this stage, neither human breast milk nor infant formula milk intake alone are sufficient to meet a baby’s nutritional needs. Therefore, to support continued growth and development, the introduction of solid foods to the diet is essential.
Current guidelines state that you should wait until your baby is six months of age before you begin weaning. The FSAI recommends that an infant should be weaned as close to six months as possible and no earlier than seventeen weeks. The timing of introducing solid food depends on each baby’s nutritional and developmental needs.
Each baby will show signs of readiness. There are a number of signs your baby will give you when they are ready to be weaned:
- They are hungry and restless after a milk feed.
- They can sit propped in a sitting position and hold their head steady.
- They open their mouths and ‘chew’ when they see other people eating.
Decide on a day that suits you and your baby and a time of day when both of you are relaxed and not under any time pressure.
Begin by offering tiny amounts of food so your baby can get used to this new experience and taste. Never force solids on a baby. This should be a gentle and enjoyable experience – for both of you. If your baby refuses food, stop and try again in a few days. Do not rush your baby; this is a daunting time for them as they learn these new tastes and hardest of all, how to swallow. Up until now all they have had to do is suck.
Many parents find lunchtime a good time of day to try solids with their baby as they are alert and hungry and eager for playtime. Start with one or two spoons of food, waiting until the baby opens her mouth to offer more. It’s a good idea to let your baby hold her own spoon to get a sense of feeding herself. Remember not to add salt, sugar or stock cubes to your baby’s food. While it’s important to purée all of your baby’s food at the beginning, most babies can chew soft lumps, such as mashed banana or mashed vegetables even if they have no teeth. Varying the texture of your baby’s food not only helps them to chew but also helps them to develop the muscles used for speaking.