Highlights from our live VIP chat…

In our experience, weaning seems like it’s going to be enormous amounts of fun until you actually start doing it, and your baby looks at that debut blob of porridge with all the disdain of a top restaurant critic who’s found themselves dining at a service station Wimpy. 

We know it can be a testing time, especially when you realise that it’s going to be your responsibility to keep that baby strong and healthy for YEARS. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of the hottest chat topics on the app, so we thought we’d give mums a chance to put their most pressing weaning queries to an expert: nutritional therapist and author of Baby Weaning Step By Step, Julie Clark. 

Julie was on hand last night to chat live with Supermushers about all things weaning. Supermushers are mums who subscribe to Mush to get expert advice, personalised content and access to exclusive live chats every Monday evening. You can give it a whirl here.

In the meantime, here are a few highlights from Julie’s brilliant session. 

Q: How will I know when my baby is ready to start weaning and can I start weaning before 6 months?

Julie: The current NHS guidelines recommend weaning at six months old. This is when a baby’s digestive system is typically ready to process solid foods. However, all babies are different, and some may be ready around five months and others will not be interested in food until well after they turn six months.

It is currently not recommended that you start weaning any earlier than 5 months old unless you’ve been advised to do so due to medical reasons. If your baby was premature or has health issues, it is best to speak to your Health Visitor or GP before starting weaning.

Babies usually need to start eating solids from six months, because this coincides with certain nutrient levels declining in breast milk. For example, iron levels start to drop after six months of breastfeeding and your baby will need to top up their iron stores with whole food. The nutrients don’t suddenly disappear overnight, so don’t be too concerned about this. Your baby doesn’t need to start eating three square meals a day from six months to counter the decline in the vitamins and minerals from breast milk.

Solid feeding starts when your baby can show that he or she is ready for it. Usually it will begin by your baby trying to grab food from you. You are looking to see if they then put it directly to their mouth. If they are intently watching you eat this is a good sign that they are getting prepared for food. If a baby grabs your food but doesn’t then opt to eat it, they may not yet be ready.  

We also want to make sure that your baby can sit upright and hold their head up. They do not necessarily need to be able to sit for long unsupported, but you need to see that they can sit up straight in their highchair with no slumping.

You may also notice that your baby’s milk feeds are not keeping them satisfied.

The most important thing to look for is a keen interest in food. If they are showing all the signs you can start to include this ‘play’ activity to their schedule. It is good to let them play with food and get used to the different shapes, textures, colours and smells.

And then when they do try food you want to see that they have lost the forward tongue thrust and are able to show a chewing motion.

Unfortunately, there is no link between early weaning and improved sleep. I often get asked this question by tired mums and I’m sorry to say that starting on solids will not suddenly make your baby sleep through the night!

So, look for all the signs and be guided by your baby. 

Q: What are the differences between traditional weaning, mixed weaning and baby led weaning?

Julie:  You may see or hear these different weaning terms and it can be a little confusing!

Many years ago, we used to wean early (as early as 3 months!). Because a baby hadn’t developed sufficiently to feed themselves at this age, we used what is called ‘traditional weaning’. Traditional weaning (sometimes called weaning with purees) is where you liquidise or puree the food and spoon feed this to your baby.

A schedule was often used whereby foods were introduced one by one or in combinations of two or three foods. It had to take into account the fact that the baby’s digestive system was very immature at this age. Lumpy food was then typically introduced around six months old when a baby had lost the tongue thrust and was able to move the food around their mouth to break down the food.

The main disadvantage with following a traditional route now is that we have moved the weaning age. It can therefore be very late when lumpy and finger foods are introduced, and I have seen this cause a few problems. For example, a baby’s gag reflex moves back in their mouth as they get older. It can then make it difficult to introduce lumpier foods as the safety mechanism for choking has been reduced. It is better to include lumpier foods when the gag reflex in far forward. That way a baby will learn to breakdown the food before it travels to the back of the throat. I have also seen babies stuck on pureed foods well after 12 months old. This can increase the chances of them being fussy!

When the weaning age was changed back in 2001 to six months, many mums found their babies wanted to take control of the food and the spoon. At this age they were simply equipped to take control themselves. The term baby led weaning was coined and it has become very popular.

Basically, a six month old baby can pick up food and/or a spoon and be able to feed themselves without the need to be fed purees. Their mouth and physical development allows them to do this. In my opinion, as a nutritionist I recommend this method. It has so many benefits with regards to developing a healthy relationship with food.

Babies can simply join in with family meals from the outset and it really does help with fine motor skills and the progression of the mouth and tongue movement which you need for speech.

So, baby led weaning simply means allowing your baby to feed themselves. You do not need to puree any food. You do have to be patient though as learning to eat is a tricky skill and it can be a little frustrating for the first few weeks.

Which is why some people prefer a mixed approach. In a mixed approach you provide your baby with finger foods to play with, handle and try to eat as well as giving them a few spoons of pureed foods at the same meal. In my experience this can give a parent the confidence they need that their baby is getting sufficient nutrients as well as the experience of eating themselves.

The most important thing to take into account is how you feel. You need to be confident when introducing food to your baby. If the thought of your baby picking up chunks of foods and eating it leaves you feeling terrified they will choke then a baby led approach won’t be for you! Your baby will know if you are stressed so choose the method you feel most comfortable with. This is THE most important consideration.

Q: What do I do about milk feeds when my baby starts weaning?

Julie: When you first start weaning, you need to keep your milk feeds to exactly the same schedule.

Typically, this means a milk feed when your baby wakes up in the morning. You may then have breakfast around an hour later. Then there will be a mid-morning feed and nap, then lunch, then mid afternoon feed and nap and then dinner and finally the bedtime feed.

Keep the milk feeds the same and if your baby is awake and happy when you are going to eat then you can also give your baby some food. If they miss a few meals at the start it really doesn’t matter, they will still be getting most of their nutrients from the milk feeds.

In the first few weeks of weaning you do not want your baby to be starving at mealtimes. Think of food as a play activity during those initial stages. Taking on food is such a tricky skill to learn and you really do not want your baby feeling utterly frustrated and hungry.

If you are using formula milk, then you should be using the correct stage of milk for your baby’s age and progression. This makes allowance for the fact that your baby will also be getting some calories and nutrients from food, even if only a small amount is consumed.

If you have been using hungry baby formula you should no longer need this. You do need your baby to want to eat the food you are giving them! If they are completely full of the formula milk, then they may show little interest in trying any solid food.

For breastfed babies you can simply continue as you have been, as your baby will let you know when they want to drop any feeds. As your baby starts to take in solid food you will probably notice that they automatically reduce the time they breastfeed.

Again, it’s another situation where you need to be guided by your baby. Just remember that a milk feed is a meal, not a drink. If your baby is really not showing any interest in food, then they may be simply full of milk and not need the food. On occasion it may become necessary to reduce milk feeds to encourage a baby to eat.

If you are at all concerned about your baby’s milk feeds, then please discuss this with your Health Visitor.

Every Monday night we do a live chat for Supermushers with an expert (and a few special guests you might have heard of) on the topics that are keeping you awake at night (sometimes literally…). Find out more and sign up here.