I have had a lot of conversations since becoming a mum about when the best time is to begin weaning. As with so many conversations between new mums, the perspectives inevitably gather momentum quickly and it is clear that there is no one answer.
The official NHS advice is that weaning should commence no earlier than 6 months after birth. Anyone wanting to wean their baby earlier should seek advice from their health visitor as there could be issues surrounding early allergies, risks of choking and concerns that baby’s tiny tummy might not be able to cope with the introduction of new foods any earlier than their half-year birthday.
Generations before ours were less influenced by the 6 month advice. My mum happily shares that I had my first spaghetti bolognese at 11 weeks old…and thoroughly enjoyed it. She would not have been alone – the mums of 2018 will all have experienced balking at stories from parents and grandparents that babies started solid food as young as three months, just because it seemed like the right thing to do and babies appeared to be hungry.
Many mums choose to wait longer than 6 months – some people I have spoken to are nervous about choking, or simply find that weaning is a bit of an inconvenience to an otherwise clockwork breastfeeding schedule. I also have friends who have dabbled in weaning, only to find that their babies have not taken to it well and have therefore moved back to milk feeding until their baby feels more able to take food.
So our story is that we began feeding A at just under 4 months. Shock horror! It flies in the face of all official advice and I think many people were surprised that we were starting so early. However, to me it seemed like the perfect middle ground. A was a VERY hungry baby. I will freely admit that I mix fed as breastfeeding alone did not sustain him, and the only way I could get off the sofa and not have a child in floods of tears would be to add in formula regularly.
He also took an interest in food from a very young age. Starting with wanting to drink from our glasses of water (which he still does…oh the backwash…!!) he used every opportunity to try and climb over our plates of food, pawing our toast and watching intently as we ate. As I do a lot of cooking anyway I would have him in his bouncer with me in the kitchen, and he would experience cooking sounds and smells with lots of ‘oooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ pretty much from newborn. We also noticed that his head control was excellent which is really important to make sure children can actually cope with solid food in their mouth.
As a person who is never happier than pottering in the kitchen, I revelled in making up some basic purees – parsnip, butternut squash, carrot, that kind of thing. He loved it all! I tried baby rice but it seemed to have a spooky texture and didn’t feel like real food to me -so that was very quickly ditched. I started making some basic soup recipes using roasted veggies and low salt stock and we all shared it together, which was great fun. I will document more about our move onto solids another time, but for us the puree method to begin with worked beautifully.
We were happily munching on more veggies than you can shake a stick at until around the 5 month mark, when the emails from baby food companies started arriving in my inbox. I was sent a Cow and Gate weaning guide, and my friend lent me an Ella’s kitchen recipe book for first weaning. Friends started talking about baby led weaning. It left me feeling confused – they all had different methods of how to introduce food and I had just kind of…already done it. I started reading up on weaning and immediately began worrying I been doing it all wrong. Should I have not fed A fruit to begin with as it will mean he will begin to prefer sweet food over savoury? Was I limiting his ability to feed himself by spoon feeding at the start?
Three months later it all seems like needless worry. A enjoys all food and has had no tummy issues (apart from a couple of bouts of gastro but I attribute this more to him putting EVERYTHING in his mouth!). He can use pre loaded spoons and is also happy to scoop up Ready Brek with his hands. He has a wide variety of meals and does not seem to express a preference towards sweet or savoury. Basically he is a happy little eater and we have broken all the rules and followed zero advice getting him there.
My moral of this story? Mums should feel empowered to make their own decisions about when weaning is best. Read the literature, or don’t read the literature. But most importantly do what you feel is best – the text books do not know you or your child. Use common sense – can your baby swallow easily? Are they interested in your food? If so – go for it! But only as much as you dare. There is way too much for new mums to worry about without having to feel they need to buy a new cookbook stash, or have a frustrated baby who just wants to eat while you wait for that all-important 6 month mark.
You know that saying really is true. You know your baby better than anyone, and you really do know best. Happy weaning!