I had mixed feelings about weaning. After our massive failure to breastfeed, in some ways I was looking forward to it. Weaning puts everyone on an equal level – we all have to do it, and once babies are having solid food the breast or formula issue might seem less somehow. On the other hand, I had managed to try and stuff myself with just too much information from too many sources and somehow felt confused and stressed about the whole thing.
I felt that there was a Big Decision to make. A few, in fact. Do you wait until the government’s recommended age of 6 months? Do you do purees or baby led weaning? All organic and home made or is some ready made food ok? Suddenly, the more I thought about it the more confusing and stressful it felt.
First, a word on the age thing. The NHS currently recommends that you do not introduce solid food until the age of 6 months (link). I am lucky that my parents and other relatives don’t interfere and are happy to respect our decisions, but I have heard from others that older relatives can be very suspicious of this and might urge starting weaning earlier because ‘it’s what we always did’ or try to claim that you are ‘depriving’ baby to wait until 6 months. Personally, I see no reason to disregard the NHS and WHO recommendations, unless advised to do so by your child’s doctor, but everyone needs to make their own decision. One thing that does seem to be quite important is that if you do decide to start before 6 months for whatever reason, you should stick to simple fruits and vegetables prior to that age – definitely no meat or dairy (ignore the jars of chicken dinners on the shelves that claim to be suitable from 4 months…).
As A was born a little prematurely, we were advised by a health visitor to start introducing first tastes slightly early, due to the fact that apparently premature babies will run out of their iron stores sooner than those who were full term, and conversely may take longer to get the hang of eating solid food, so you want to start them earlier to ensure they are eating well by the time their iron stores are likely to begin depleting. I will point out that I have since been told by a different healthcare professional that this is not actually necessary, and trying to research it doesn’t seem to bring up a definitive answer one way or another. But at the time, we had been told to do this and the idea of ‘iron stores running out’ sounded sufficiently alarming to make us take the advice!
Anyway, we found ourselves offering A her first tastes at about five and a half months. I had spent the preceding few weeks in the kitchen beavering away, making and freezing simple vegetable and fruit purees. I had bought all the equipment and we felt ready.
It was a bit of an anticlimax. For the first couple of weeks, she was not really that bothered about eating the lovingly prepared purees I tried to force in her mouth. I got more and more stressed. I was having horrible flashbacks to her early days when I (and half the midwives in England, it felt) kept trying to stuff my nipples into her mouth, to no avail. When she would close her lips tightly and turn her head away from the spoon, it felt exactly like what she used to do when we tried to breastfeed. It became a source of upset and worry, rather than something fun and interesting. This was not good.
Due to starting to wean a little early, we had not considered baby led weaning. It was my husband who suggested that I try her with some finger food to see if it made a difference. She was virtually six months by this point, so I took a deep breath, put down a big plastic sheet on the floor, and let her at it.
We cracked it! Maybe it was because she was six months old and just hadn’t been ready earlier than that. Maybe it was the introduction of finger foods, so she felt like she had a bit of control. Maybe it was watching me eat (stupidly, before, I had been trying to feed her not when I was eating, because generally my meals would be while she napped. How did I expect her to get the hang of eating when she had no one to watch?!) Whatever it was, we suddenly had a baby with a huge appetite who positively lurch at the spoon to try and get it in more quickly.
We continued to feed her purees as well as finger foods – I wasn’t brave enough to go full on baby led. But it works, now. She loves food and wolfs down anything we give her. At nearly eight months now, she still takes mealtimes very seriously – very few smiles will be shared at the table – but she clearly enjoys eating and it is no longer a source of stress and worry. So my advice to those looking ahead to weaning would be:
- Wait as long as possible – the more ready baby is, the less stressful it will be for everyone
- If you do start and it doesn’t seem to be going well, don’t be afraid to stop and return to it a week or two later. I wish we had done this and not continued to try forcing purees down her throat that she didn’t want.
- Make sure you are eating something at the same time as baby (even if it is not a meal time for you. I used to put some yogurt into one of her little bowls, and eat from one of her spoons, so she could see I was having exactly the same as her)
- Be prepared to be flexible. We planned just to start with purees but it turned out that introducing finger food was what she needed to get going with it. Equally, I know of mums who have been determined to do completely blw but found their babies getting frustrated and annoyed by it, and have ended up spoon feeding them too.
- Just be prepared! Start cooking or preparing food that you can freeze in advance, read a book or two, go to a weaning curse if you can find one locally (local children’s centres often offer them), start gathering bibs and spoons and bowls in advance. If you plan to be entirely baby led, educate yourself on what they can and can’t eat at different ages (it is not quite so simple as just giving baby whatever you have. Their bodies can cope with much less salt than ours, for example).
- Try to have fun! If you are stressed, baby will pick up on that (I think A did!)
How have you found weaning? Do you agree or disagree with my advice? We’d love to hear from you below! Coming soon, a series of practical tips and useful recipes to help you whatever type of weaning you plan to try.