Weaning happens in 3 stages which reflect the way your baby’s eating skills develop between 6 months of age and their first birthday.
Stage 1 covers the very first foods you offer your baby and it’s recommended that you start with vegetables, especially those that are less sweet, so your baby can learn their flavours. Good veggies to try first are:
● Green beans
At this stage your baby can’t chew or move food around their mouth, but they can move smooth food from the front to the back of their mouth and swallow it. This is why you start with purees when you’re taking the traditional spoon-weaning approach. If you’re following baby-led weaning, however, this stage is more about exploration rather than eating.
Research has found that when they start weaning, babies who are introduced to vegetables first are more likely to still be eating vegetables when they’re older children. It’s thought that because babies are born with a preference for sweet foods, they have to learn to like bitter flavours – something best done before they know about sweeter foods.
After a week or so of bitter veggies you can start to combine foods, including fruits, protein foods (meat, fish, eggs, beans), carbohydrates (rice, grains, cereals) and dairy foods (yoghurt, cheese, milk).
It’s also very important that your baby is now having iron-rich foods, as this is one of the nutrients they can’t get enough of from their milk. Good iron-rich foods include:
● egg yolks
● dark poultry meat
● iron-fortified, unsweetened breakfast cereals
● nut butters
● dried fruits like raisins, sultanas and apricots
It’s a good idea to introduce a cup of water to your baby at mealtimes and from 6 months onwards, tap water is fine. Drinking at this stage is more about practice with a cup, so don’t worry if your baby doesn’t drink very much.
You can introduce an open cup when you first start weaning – a small one made from soft plastic is ideal. Some babies will struggle to manage the flow of water from an open cup and therefore a free-flow lidded cup suits them better instead. Look for one with a spout where water still pours freely if you tip it (non-spill cups with valves are best avoided, as they don’t actually help babies learn to drink).
Choose a time in the morning or around lunchtime for your baby’s first tastes. That way you have the whole day ahead of you to see how they get on with things. Make sure your camera is close by too, ready for some funny faces!
Your baby’s first tastes of food are like a fun new activity, after all, so opting for a time when they’re alert and not too tired is also important. If you think about their usual routine, it usually goes something like: sleep - eat - play. Introduce their first foods during the 'play' part of their routine.
At this very early stage, food isn’t going to satisfy their hunger, so if your baby is due a feed, offer milk instead. A good time of day is likely to be in between one feed and the next, so that they’re neither hungry nor full. It’s also good to make sure that you yourself have plenty of time, are not in a hurry and don't have a houseful of visitors. In short, your baby’s first experiences of food should be a really enjoyable experience.
Sit in front of your baby's highchair so that you’re at their eye level and can offer plenty of reassuring smiles and eye contact. Pop some of your baby’s first food on their highchair tray, say what it is and encourage them to explore it with their hands. You may need to go first and you very much need to let your baby get messy, as they learn to eat through the sensory experience.
If your baby picks up some of the food on their tray and brings it up to their mouth to explore, you can start doing exaggerated lip-smacking movements to encourage them to copy you and get their first taste. If you’re offering purees, you can dip the tip of a baby spoon into the puree and move the spoon up to their mouth, then pop a trace of the food on their bottom lip, before taking the spoon away. If your baby enjoys the experience, dip the spoon into the puree again and this time pop the spoon straight into your baby's mouth, just inside their bottom lip.
Keep going, but next you can introduce an 'aaahh' as the spoon moves towards them, to encourage them to open their mouth. Once your baby is content with you placing the spoon on their tongue, you can gradually increase the amount of food on the spoon with each mouthful, for as long as your baby is happy.
Over the next few weeks there are few hard and fast rules about what food to offer and when. It is a good idea, however, to introduce your baby to lots and lots of different flavours. It’s a bit of an old wives’ tale that you need to offer foods singly (this would take too long), so after those bitter vegetables have been introduced in the first week or so, you can start combining flavours.
Use the next few weeks to build up to two and then three meals a day, so that by the time your baby is 7 months old, they’re having breakfast, lunch and dinner. It doesn’t matter how much your baby eats at this stage – it’s more about exposing them to new tastes and flavours and starting on those iron-rich foods.