Get the lowdown on fuss-free weaning Baby-with-hand-in-food-plate-280

When should you start weaning? What foods should I try? Weaning needn't be a mindfield says founder of Mange Tout, Lucy Thomas

Lucy is also mum to one year old Molly and answers your weaning questions.

1. What are the up to date guidelines on when to start weaning?

The official World Health Organisation and government guidelines recommend introducing solid food when your baby is six months (26 weeks) old. But weaning is one of those hot potato baby issues that everyone has an opinion on. So, my advice is to trust your instincts, ignore peer-group pressure from other parents and tune in to the signals from your baby. Some babies will need complementary foods before 6 months in addition to breast milk or formula milk, others don't. But babies under 17 weeks are not developed enough for weaning, and should not be fed anything other than their usual milk.

2. Will I know if she's ready to start weaning?

If your baby is under 6 months, and seems to be interested in food, you can chat to your Health Visitor or GP, and they will be able to help you decide when to start weaning.

There are 3 signs that tend to appear together at around six months, rarely much earlier. The important thing to remember is that if your baby is ready for solid food all three signs will be there.

Your baby is ready if they can:

• Co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth, can look at food, grab it and put it in their mouth all by themselves.
• Stay in a sitting position and can hold their head steady.
• Swallow their food. Small babies instinctively use their tongues to push foreign objects out of their mouths, and until this reflex fades, they are likely to do the same thing to a spoon or a piece of banana.
Parents often assume their babies are ready for weaning if they put their fingers in their mouths constantly (it's more likely teething) or watch mum or dad intently as they eat (chances are your baby just finds this fascinating!).

3. What is the best time of day to start on solids?

Lunchtime often works best as there are fewer distractions, and you can offer your baby their first taste of food halfway through or just after a milk feed. However Molly was always ready for a nap at lunchtime and often fell asleep on her milk! I found that mid-morning or mid-afternoon worked best for us as Molly would be happy, alert and more interested in playing and exploring my culinary delights. If we were out and about, a frozen cube of puree in a pot – (with a secure lid!) was handy to have with us and would defrost in time. Experiment with different times of the day to see what works best for you and your baby, remembering that ultimately you'll be aiming for a meal time routine further down the track, but don't get hung up on these timings in the early days.

4. What are the best first foods to try?

It's best to try some soft, cooked, mashed veg or fruit, or smooth cereal or baby rice mixed with your little one's usual milk. Molly didn't take to weaning very easily and certainly didn't want to be fed by me with a spoon! Finger foods seemed to interest Molly far more as she could do it all herself. When I gave Molly her first finger foods, I gave her soft cooked slices of apple, roasted sweet potato, and batons of soft carrot. Avocado and banana were good first finger foods too, although rather slippery!

5. What foods should be avoided when starting weaning?

Most foods can be enjoyed even quite early in weaning, but there are a handful of foods that you need to avoid at first:

• Honey needs to be avoided by under-ones
• Salt should not be added to any food and salty foods, such as bacon, should be limited. Babies under seven months should eat less than 1g salt per day.
• Sugar should be avoided in foods and drinks made for babies
• Nuts (e.g. peanut butter or ground nuts) can be eaten after 6 months of age, but whole nuts should be avoided until the age of five years.
• If you wean your little one before six months, some other foods should be avoided, these include: wheat, gluten, nuts, peanuts, peanut products, seeds, liver, eggs, fish, shellfish, cows' milk and soft or unpasteurised cheese.
• Whole cow's milk can be used in cooking from six months, but should not be given as a drink until over one year.

6. How do you know if your baby really doesn't like something or is just being fussy?

It can be easy to misunderstand a baby's facial expression in response to a new taste or texture – a frown, gag or wince is very rarely anything to do with dislike, in fact it's more likely to be shock or surprise at something new.

Babies are not really born with a sense of like and dislike, they are born with a preference for sweet and they need to learn other flavours. Little ones also need to develop the mouth control they need to enjoy different textures and consistencies – having only experienced liquid milk even a thick yogurt, let alone a soft cooked carrot, will feel wildly different!

Molly had lots of problems with reflux so when it came to weaning she wasn't keen, and would stretch and turn her head away from food. For a while I felt quite low about it – given that my area of expertise is helping children to learn to love food! But then I took my own advice, and I sat down at mealtimes with Molly and chatted, and concentrated on enjoying my food. Molly had the same food in front of her, and she began to copy me. It wasn't long before she was crunching and munching...just like mummy!

Babies might need to try new foods up to 14 times before they like them. Molly didn't like the look of blueberries, and I put them in front of her every lunch-time for 10 days before she finally picked one up and squished it. Then she tried a lick, and gradually she learned to enjoy the new flavour – and now she loves blueberries.

I also realised with Molly that a change of location helped her. If she refused a new food at home, I would offer it to her while we were sitting on a bench in the park or she was sitting in the supermarket trolley. Once she was in her buggy, and I offered her a strawberry even though she had no bib on and was wearing a pale outfit. But I thought if Molly ate a strawberry for the first time and ruined an outfit, I'd frame the outfit and jump for joy! As it turns out I was close to tears by the time I'd pushed the buggy home having watched her carefully hold the strawberry and take huge bites from it, not letting it once slip from her grasp. Yes she was head to toe in strawberry juice and I could not have been happier!

Read on for more fuss-free weaning tips

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