Once the baby moves on from just milk, mealtimes will never be the same again. Welcome to the world of weaning. Introducing your baby to the delights of solid food heralds the beginning of a new and exciting stage in her development. By six months, milk alone is no longer enough to satisfy baby. This \u201cmilestone\u201d can also be a confusing process, with heaps of opinions on when to start, how to do it best, what to make and how to store them. It will probably be baffling initially, especially if you are a first-time parent. Rest assured that weaning isn\u2019t necessarily a complicated affair \u2013 it\u2019s more about a messy, adventurous experience for you and your baby. Is your baby ready for solids? The baby\u2019s grandmother may say, \u201cI started you before you were four months. What are you waiting for?\u201d, the well-meaning friend may add, \u201cStarting solids earlier will help baby to sleep through the night\u201d while your paediatrician asks you to wait until the baby is six months, citing the most recent studies. Whom do you listen to? Your baby! To decide if your baby is ready for the world of solid foods (most will be between four to six months), look out for the following cues in your baby: \tSeems still hungry after you have increased the milk feed. \tWants feeding more frequently. \tWatches intently as you eat or tries to grab your utensils. \tPicks up food, put it in her mouth and chew. \tCan hold his head up well and sit up. \tGraduates from his tongue thrust reflex \u2013 an inborn mechanism in young babies that push foreign matters out of their mouths. Try putting some cereal thinned with breast milk or formula in your baby\u2019s mouth from the tip of a spoon. If the food comes right back out after several tries, the thrust is still present and the baby isn\u2019t ready for spoon-feeding. Not too early\u2026 There are instances, however, when even a baby who seems developmentally ready for solids may have to wait \u2013 most often because there is a history of allergy in the family. The United Nations Children\u2019s Fund recommends exclusive breastfeeding (consumption of breastmilk only \u2013 no water, no juice, no non-human milk, and no foods) for the first six months. According to the World Health Organisation, earlier weaning raises the risk of gastrointestinal disease. Ideally, weaning should begin at 26 weeks. Your baby\u2019s gut isn\u2019t developed enough to handle the proteins in solids before 17 weeks old. If his weight gain slows down drastically, that might be another sign to wean, - says dietitian Ng Yee Voon of Sunway Medical Centre. Early weaning might also increase the risk of infection and allergy. The tendency of developing allergies is often inherited, but the type and levels of reaction may vary: \t40 \u2013 60% If both parents have had allergy problems. \t20 \u2013 40% If one parent has had allergy problems. \t5 \u2013 15% If neither parents have had allergy problems. Not too late\u2026 If your baby hasn\u2019t shown signs of eagerness for solids, it\u2019s still important to begin weaning. Around six months, a baby\u2019s reserves of nutrients such as iron deplete. A varied diet gives your baby the nutrients and calories needed. Additionally, the actions of biting and chewing develop the muscles needed for speech. If your baby was born pre-term, seek specific advice from your pediatrician, Ng says. First Things First - What You\u2019ll Need 1.\u00a0Shallow bowl with lid. \tMAM Baby Bowl Tip: Those with suction feet or insulated linings (great to contain food warmth especially if your baby is a slow eater) will be useful later once the baby starts self-feeding. 2. Soft-edged, long-handled plastic spoons. \tThe First Years Meal Mates Easy Grasp Spoons. Tip: Buy those that come in packs \u2013 one for you to feed, one for baby to hold and another as standby. 3.\u00a0Bibs. \tIkea Kladd Randig Tip: The regular cloth napkin (kain lampin) works well in containing messes too. If you\u2019re adventurous, let baby eat topless with just a diaper on! That will keep the stains on clothes at bay. 4.\u00a0Sippy cup. Breastfed babies don\u2019t need extra drinks but if the weather is hot or your baby is formula-fed, offer cooled, boiled water with meals. Tip: Get a 3-in-1 sippy cup that comes with various teats suitable for different stages. 5. Highchair or Booster Seat. \tBumbo \tFisher-Price Healthy Booster Seat \tGraco Tea Time Highchair \tTotseat Washable Squashable Highchair Harness Tip: Check that the highchair is easy to clean with minimal in-between cracks. Look out for possible dirt traps on the seat or around the tray. Make sure it is sturdy and rigid. If you dine out often and do not want your baby to share the public highchairs in restaurants, invest in a portable booster seat. 6.\u00a0Steriliser \tHyGenie Portable UV Steriliser \tLittle Bean Steriliser \tMAM Microwave Steriliser Young babies pick up infections easily, so it is important to clean and sterilise all cooking equipment before use. Tip: A more economical method is by boiling the utensils in a pot of water for 25 minutes or immersing it in a container of cold water with a sterilising solution. Larger items such as sieve, knife, pan, blender or masher, or plastic chopping board should be scalded with boiling water before use. 7.\u00a0Manual food processor (for the budget-conscious). \tJackson The Wean Machine \tPigeon Home Baby Food Maker \tMunchkin Baby Food Grinder \tConventional steaming with wok 8. Electrical food processor (for larger quantities). \tLittle Bean Supertrio Food Processor \tAvent Food Steamer & Blender \tBabymoov Food Processor Tip: The regular mini blender or hand-held electric multimixer found in most kitchens work well too! 9. Ice cube trays or food containers. \tBeaba Food Jar Baby Portion \tKinderVille Little Bites Storage Jars \tBeaba Silicone Multi Portions \tBaby Cubes Save time by cooking several meals in advance. Spoon the pur\u00e9e into sterilised food containers or ice cube trays and freeze until solid. Remember to label and practice the first in, first-out method. Tip: For the budget-conscious, recycle heat-safe containers with lids to store the pur\u00e9e. 10.\u00a0Accessories. \tKiddopotamus Tiny Diner Portable Placemat \tMunchkin Fresh Food Feeder \tIkea MATA 4-piece eating set \tMunchkin Snack Catcher \tThermos Funtainer Food Jar The Grand Introduction Let the mess begins! Get your camera ready and snap away as the baby takes her first few spoons of cereal. Among the things to remember include: \tTime it right \u2013 many parents find that the best time to introduce solids is late morning after the baby\u2019s first morning nap as the baby is well-rested and alert. Give a small amount of milk feed to take the edge off her immediate hunger, and then offer her some solid food. Finish with the balance of milk feed once she\u2019s done. \tIt will take some time \u2013 avoid timing or rushing baby during a feed. Baby feeding is time-consuming, so be sure to leave plenty of time for it. \tSit comfortably \u2013 Put some blankets or towels around the high chair if baby slides around or slumps. If he feels more comfortable on your lap, stow the highchair away. \tFocus on the experience \u2013 At the beginning, the experience is more important than the input. Don\u2019t fret about how much baby is taking and the mess he\u2019s making. Instead, focus on making mealtimes a fun activity. Give lots of praise and encouragement. \tEnough is enough \u2013 Never continue a meal when your baby becomes disinterested. Signs to look out for include fussiness, turned-away head, a mouth clamped shut, food spits up or food is thrown around. As Easy As 1-2-3 Stages! \t Stage 1 (6 - 8 months) The initial stage is about offering your baby his first tastes, as well as training his mouth to chew. Plain starches like baby cereal or potato and well-cooked thinly pur\u00e9ed fruits and vegetables should be baby\u2019s first solid food. They should be introduced one at a time, using the four-day wait rule before giving another new food. Start with about a tablespoon of solid food a day and gradually increase as your baby\u2019s appetite improves. If the baby is not accepting the spoon, try using clean fingers to feed. You may also opt to skip the cereal and begin with fruits such as avocado or veggies like sweet potato. \t Stage 2 (8 - 10 months) After the first tastes are accepted and once your baby masters the skills of swallowing and chewing, you may bring on a wider variety of foods, including more protein, and gradually making the texture lumpier. Fruits, vegetables, meats, pasta and dairies such as yogurt and cheeses can be chopped, cooked, pur\u00e9ed and served in tiny, soft bits. Finger foods such as steamed sticks of carrot, slices of apple, pieces of banana or cucumber, fingers of toast or sticks of cheese, can be offered now. Rule of thumb is, foods should be easily mashed between the gums. You may use a deeper spoon for this stage. Some of the baby\u2019s food can be served mashed while the other half for him to hold and gum. Continue to breastfeed but reduce the number of feeds per day. \t Stage 3 (>10 months) By this stage, your baby should have a few teeth. Her food can be served chunkier and you may offer three meals a day as well as snacks in between. She may already love self-feeding and may enjoy a variety of spices in her cuisine. Encourage a healthy exploration of foods, tastes and textures as well as the use of eating utensils. Make it a point to put her on the high chair and eat together as a family. It\u2019s likely that your baby may skip her mid-morning milk feed by now. However, make sure he still gets 500-600ml of breastmilk or formula daily. The Four-Day Wait Rule It is important to follow the four-day wait rule when introducing your baby to new solid foods, especially at the beginning. This is even more critical if you and\/or your family members have a history of food allergies. All you need to do is introduce new foods, one at a time and at a space every four days. Then check for possible reactions to new foods such as food sensitivities or allergies and possible digestive troubles. Signs of possible food intolerance include diarrhoea, vomiting, skin rashes, runny nose, irritability and\/or gassiness, breathing or other respiratory troubles, swelling of the face, lips and\/or tongue and closure or tightening of the throat after trying new food. This will help you to pinpoint the culprit and begin an elimination diet. Once you have introduced several new foods without a reaction, you can then begin to mix them together as you wish. No-Nos Before 12 Months \tX Cow\u2019s milk \tX Egg whites (yolks after eight months) \tX Honey \tX Nuts or peanut butter \tX Shellfish \tX Salt and sugar \tX Organ meats (liver and kidney) \tX Sweetened foods (cookies, chocolates, and sweets) \tX Junk food \tX Spicy food If there\u2019s a family history of allergy, you may want to stay away from these for the first 12 months too: \tX Wheat \tX Citrus fruits and citrus juice \tX Strawberries \tX Tomatoes Hygiene Matters! \tAlways wash your hands with soap and warm water before handling food or feeding your baby. \tOnce cooked, food should not be left for longer than 1\u00bd hours at room temperature before refrigerating or freezing. \tAlways cover baby food at all times, even when it is stored in the fridge. \tAlways keep the surfaces around your baby\u2019s eating tray clean. \tHeat homemade food until it\u2019s piping hot, then cool. Test the temperature, especially if you use a microwave, before feeding. Never reheat food. Your weaning questions...SORTED! Should I continue giving milk feeds once my baby starts solids? The recommended weaning period for a baby is at six months old. Breastmilk, infant formula or follow-up milk should still remain as baby\u2019s main source of food to meet his nutritional needs during the early stages of weaning. As mixed feeding continues, your baby will naturally cut down on the number of milk feeds, but milk will remain an important part of a child\u2019s diet. Due to a low level of iron and vitamins C and D, cow\u2019s milk should not be their main drink until after 12 months. When can I skip sterilising my baby\u2019s bottles and utensils? The purpose of sterilising is to kill germs on the surface. As a baby\u2019s immune system is not as strong as an adult\u2019s, it is recommended to sterilise all of baby\u2019s feeding equipment. This is especially important for the milk storage bottles used to keep your expressed breastmilk. How you store them matters too; if done improperly, you will just be wasting your effort in sterilising. It is recommended to sterilise your baby\u2019s bottles and utensils up to one year old as after that, his immune system is stronger to fight off any germs or infections. Once the baby turns one, encourage him to use a cup instead of a bottle for his milk feeds. This also helps in training his hand grip muscle, tongue, jaw and brain development. Once they wean themselves off bottle feeding, you can stop worrying about sterilising. What if my baby refuses solids? When it comes to dealing with new food, baby behaves the same as an adult. What is your reaction when you are asked to try a new food that you have never seen, tasted or smelled before? This characteristic is known as \u2018neophobia\u2019. For a baby to accept new things\/new foods, we need at least 15 attempts. Some babies can accept the texture very well, but not the taste; some can accept the taste but not in a different texture. The sensory ability for all babies is different. If you feel that a particular food is important or nutritious for your baby, keep trying and offering it to him. However, if your baby coughs, vomits or does not progress to a certain texture supposedly suitable for his age, please consult your paediatrician, ENT specialist or speech-language pathology for further assessment and investigation. It may be related to metabolism, sensorial or even neurological issues. If your child is under the third percentile in the length and weight growth chart or not gaining weight for a period of time, consult a dietician. What are the most nutritional foods for a baby, and how much should I give? The texture and type of food introduced are important due to the baby\u2019s immature digestive system. You may begin with semi-solid food like mashed or pur\u00e9ed food, and move on to soft solid food (porridge in the softer form) before integrating family food at 12 months. For example, you may offer grains, cereals, and rice-based food, followed by vegetables and fruits (except berries), meat and marine products and even the whole egg as long as there is no family history of the food allergy mentioned. It is best to avoid adding any flavouring such as salt, soy sauce and sugar in baby\u2019s food. This helps your baby or toddler acquire genuine food taste, making it easier for them to accept new foods in the future. How much to feed depends on your baby\u2019s body weight. In the beginning, start with a few spoons once to twice daily and increase the portion gradually from half a cup, one cup and eventually, a bowl size as they grow older. How can I stop my baby from playing with his food? What may seem like playing to you may not exactly play to your baby. In fact, your baby is exploring new sensations and learning to improve his motor skills. Sometimes it is good to encourage and find ways to reduce the impact of \u2018play\u2019 by just preparing yourself for what\u2019s ahead. As your baby learns to feed himself, you will find that he may make quite a mess during feeding. One technique that I often tell parents is to start your baby with a Bumbo seat before moving on to a baby\/high chair. This gives the baby the idea that when he\u2019s on a chair, it\u2019s mealtime. It would also allow you to contain the mess as he learns to eat. As baby begins to use his hands to feed himself or reach for the spoon, it will be a good idea to layer the floor area right below the chair with a newspaper before each meal. So when food starts to fall or should we say, fly around, the mess can be cleaned up by just tossing away the newspaper. At this stage of weaning, a baby may even find it amusing to put food everywhere \u2013 nose, face, hands etc., and so patience on your side is really crucial. Rest assured, playing with food is a passing phase in his growing years. What if my baby won\u2019t eat lumps in his food? Typically there are a few reasons why baby won\u2019t eat lumps in his food: Teething makes baby extremely uncomfortable due to tender and painful gums. When this happens, the baby will often move a step back from their current weaning stage. For instance, if a baby is in the lumps stage, he will want pur\u00e9e during the teething period. Every baby is different. Some will be very eager to start using his jaw and add new challenges to his experiences. Others will be happy at their current stage of weaning and will take their own time. There are, however, ways to encourage baby to progress to lumpier food. Gradually thicken up pur\u00e9es over a few weeks until they become lumpier. What should I feed my baby when we\u2019re out? Main meals: Freeze pur\u00e9es and main meals, and bring along when you\u2019re out for family activities. Heat up using microwave, baby food warmer or dip in hot water. Always choose natural food over processed varieties. Snacks: Depending on the age group, typically offer natural snacks like raisins, cranberries, and dried apricots. Bananas and little mandarin oranges (satsumas) are good choices too.