It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: your baby decked out in a new bib, propped up in his highchair and ready to mouth his first spoonful of mush. Once 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 “smilestone” 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’t necessarily a complicated affair – it’s more about a messy, adventurous experience for you and your baby.
Is your baby ready for solids?Highlighted
The baby’s grandmother may say, “I started you before you were four months. What are you waiting for?”, the well-meaning friend may add, “Starting solids earlier will help baby to sleep through the night” 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:
- Seems still hungry after you have increased the milk feed.
- Wants feeding more frequently.
- Watches intently as you eat or tries to grab your utensils.
- Picks up food, put it in her mouth and chew.
- Can hold his head up well and sit up.
- Graduates from his tongue thrust reflex – an inborn mechanism in young babies that push foreign matters out of their mouths. Try putting some cereal thinned with breastmilk or formula in your baby’s 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’t ready for spoon feeding.
Not too early…
There are instances, however, when even a baby who seems developmentally ready for solids may have to wait – most often because there is a history of allergy in the family. The United Nations Children’s Fund recommends exclusive breastfeeding (consumption of breastmilk only – 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’s gut isn’t 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 dietician 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:
- 40 – 60% If both parents have had allergy problems.
- 20 – 40% If one parent has had allergy problems.
- 5 – 15% If neither parents have had allergy problems.
Not too late…
If your baby hasn’t shown signs of eagerness for solids, it’s still important to begin weaning.
Around six months, a baby’s 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 paediatrician,
First Things First – What You’ll Need
1. Shallow bowl with lid.
- MAM 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.
- The First Years Meal Mates Easy Grasp Spoons.
- Ikea Kladd Randig
Tip: The regular cloth napkin (kain lampin) works well in containing messes too. If you’re adventurous, let baby eat topless with just a diaper on! That will keep the stains on clothes at bay.
4. Sippy cup.
Thermos Foogo Sippy Cup with Handle
Pigeon MagMag All-In-One Set
Breastfed babies don’t 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.
- Fisher Price Healthy Booster Seat
- Graco Tea Time Highchair
- Totseat 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.
- HyGenie Portable UV Steriliser
- Little Bean Steriliser
- MAM 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 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. Manual food processor (for the budget-conscious).
- Jackson The Wean Machine
- Pigeon Home Baby Food Maker
- Munchkin Baby Food Grinder
- Conventional steaming with wok
8. Electrical food processor (for larger quantities).
- Little Bean Supertrio Food Processor
- Avent Food Steamer & Blender
- Babymoov 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.
- Beaba Food Jar Baby Portion
- KinderVille Little Bites Storage Jars
- Beaba Silicone Multi Portions
- Baby Cubes
Save time by cooking several meals in advance. Spoon the purée 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 purée.
- Kiddopotamus Tiny Diner Portable Placemat
- Munchkin Fresh Food Feeder
- Ikea MATA 4-piece eating set
- Munchkin Snack Catcher
- Thermos Funtainer Food Jar
The Grand Introduction
Let the mess begins! Get your camera ready and snap away as baby takes her first few spoons of cereal. Among the things to remember include:
- Time it right – many parents find that the best time to introduce solids is late morning after baby’s 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’s done.
- It will take some time – avoid timing or rushing baby during a feed. Baby feeding is time-consuming, so be sure to leave plenty of time for it.
- Sit comfortably – 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.
- Focus on the experience – At the beginning, the experience is more important than the input. Don’t fret about how much baby is taking and the mess he’s making. Instead, focus on making mealtimes a fun activity. Give lots of praise and encouragement.
- Enough is enough – 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 thrown around.
As Easy As 1-2-3 Stages!
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 puréed fruits and vegetables should be baby’s 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’s 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.
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 dairy such as yogurt and cheeses can be chopped, cooked, puréed 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’s 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.
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’s 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 diarrhea, 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
- X Cow’s milk
- X Egg whites (yolks after eight months)
- X Honey
- X Nuts or peanut butter
- X Shellfish
- X Salt and sugar
- X Organ meats (liver and kidney)
- X Sweetened foods (cookies, chocolates, and sweets)
- X Junk food
- X Spicy food
If there’s a family history of allergy, you may want to stay away from these for the first 12 months too:
- X Wheat
- X Citrus fruits and citrus juice
- X Strawberries
- X Tomatoes
- Always wash your hands with soap and warm water before handling food or feeding your baby.
- Once cooked, food should not be left for longer than 1½ hours at room temperature before refrigerating or freezing.
- Always cover baby food at all times, even when it is stored in the fridge.
- Always keep the surfaces around your baby’s eating tray clean.
- Heat homemade food until it’s 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’s 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’s diet. Due to a low level of iron and vitamins C and D, cow’s milk should not be their main drink until after 12 months.
When can I skip sterilising my baby’s bottles and utensils?
The purpose of sterilising is to kill germs on the surface.
As a baby’s immune system is not as strong as an adult’s, it is recommended to sterilise all of baby’s 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’s bottles and utensils up to one year old as after that, his immune system is stronger to fight off any germs or infections. Once baby turns one, encourage him to use a cup instead of 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 ‘neophobia’. 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 pediatrician, 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’s immature digestive system. You may begin with semi-solid food like mashed or puréed food, and move on to soft solid food (porridge in 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’s 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’s 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 ‘play’ by just preparing yourself for what’s 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’s on a chair, it’s 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 – 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.
Typically there are a few reasons why baby won’t 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 purée 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 purées over a few weeks until they become lumpier.
What should I feed my baby when we’re out?
Main meals: Freeze purées and main meals, and bring along when you’re 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.
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