Does it matter what food you start with?
Just when you've got the hang of nappy changes, how to collapse the buggy, and getting dressed before midday, someone asks you 'when are you going to start giving them some food?', or even suggesting that a bit of baby rice in the evening might help them sleep (research says it doesn't, sorry).
When you start to look into it all it can seem daunting and overwhelming. Different websites recommending different things. Complicated schedules. Jars that say 4 months, health visitor that says 6. Baby led weaning, purees, snacks, drinks, ....... arrrrgggghhhhh!! What to do?! What's right? There are more questions than answers.
When should you start? Does it matter which meal? What food to give first? Baby rice? Spag bol? How can you tell they are ready? What if they sleep through a meal time? Does it matter if it is sweet or savoury? What foods should be avoided? What about spices? What happens to the milk? How do you get the balance right? What equipment do you need? Can you avoid a fussy eater? How do you avoid some of the issues around food that you may have? What about allergies? What the heck is baby led weaning? Can you combine approaches? What about choking?
My number one message is: don't worry! You almost can't get it wrong. Also worrying too much can actually make weaning harder because your baby will pick up on your anxiety and not eat as much.
The good news is that weaning doesn't have to be daunting. If you continue to follow your baby's lead, just like you have done with breast or bottle feeding, they will show you what to do.
Eating solid foods is a developmental step
Weaning isn't something that we impose on babies. It is a developmental step, a physical change, just like rolling over, crawling, and talking. We support our babies by giving them the equipment and encouragement to support that development. Just like with other developmental steps babies will be ready at different times. The guidelines say 'around six months' and for some babies that will be five months and for some that will be seven months.
Knowing the signs of readiness for solids is useful: they tell you when the physical changes have happened inside your baby's body, ready for solid food.
🍓Sitting up on their own tells you their gut has changed and is ready to digest more than just milk. 🥦Picking food up and putting it accurately into their mouth indicates their dexterity has developed in order to pick food up and eat it. 🍲Losing the tongue thrust reflex means their tongue and jaw have changed and they can now move food towards the back, masticate it, and then swallow it, rather than just move it around a bit and push it back out.
If they are the one to put food in their mouth then they simply won't be able to eat too soon; they won't be able to put the food in their mouth, move it around their mouth, and swallow it. If they do get it in their mouth they will push it back out again.
What first foods you give your baby depends on whether they have gone through these physical changes. If they haven't, then just fruit and veg, and only purees. If they have, then any family foods, except honey (until 1 year old) and shellfish and swordfish (until 2 years). So first food can be pizza 🍕, chicken drumstick🍗, or curry🥘. Just watch the salt and sugar content.
It can be finger food, mashed food, large food (like a whole pear), or purees (yogurt, porridge). They can use their hand to pick up the mashed food and the puree, or use a spoon. Just make sure that it is soft, and chop up grapes (longways) etc. And don't worry if they don't eat much to begin with. Milk is enough until they approach one year. You don't need to know how much they have eaten. It doesn't matter if they go off food for a week or more. It doesn't matter if your friend's baby is eating loads and yours is just picking.
Milk is still their main source of nutrition so give them milk first when they are hungry. The first few months are an opportunity for them to develop the skills to feed themselves, and to get used to the new tastes and textures. Letting them handle the food helps with both. Giving them the food to pick up, turn over, squash in their fingers, and then put to their mouths helps them to learn about the textures, it releases the smells, and improves their physically eating skills. It helps them to be adventurous, to enjoy food, and to try new things. And that's what it's all about.