Breastmilk is the preferred milk for babies during their first year because it protects babies from some illnesses. It provides everything they need nutritionally for the first four to six months as well as containing antibodies to fight off infections circulating in their environment.

Some mothers struggle with breastfeeding and help is available. Offer both breasts at each feed as to stimulate your breastmilk production and offer a breastfeed each time your baby cries with hunger. Alternate which breast is offered first at each feed. Offering both breasts will not affect the amount of milk fat your baby gets over the day.

If you feel you cannot satisfy your baby’s hunger you can breastfeed at some feeds and give infant formula at one or two feeds per day so that you are still protecting your baby from some illnesses.  If you only  use an infant formula milk, it will provide all the nutrients your baby needs to grow and develop up until weaning but formula milks do not contain any antibodies. Choosing an infant formula

When to begin weaning

Sometime between four and six months your baby begins to need more nutrients, particularly iron, and food must be introduced to provide these. Some babies are happy to wait until six months to begin weaning but babies develop at different rates and some babies will be ready earlier than six months – he may be watching you with interest when you eat, putting toys and objects in his own mouth and able to sit up well with support. Four months of age is the earliest age at which to begin. If you delay until later than six months your baby may not get enough of certain nutrients especially iron.

How to begin weaning

Begin with a smile! No matter how anxious you may feel you are going to teach your baby to eat solid food which is one of life’s great pleasures. Your baby can read your facial expression before he can understand language so remember to smile and keep smiling encouragement when you offer something new. Try and make every meal a pleasure for both of you.The first skill for your baby to learn is how to take food off a spoon. Some mothers give the baby the small weaning spoon to play with for a few days before the first meal so that he will have put it in his mouth during play.

 

Which food to use

A baby cereal or mashed potato are good to begin with and you can mix in some of your baby’s usual milk so that they are thicker than milk, rather like a yogurt. Half way through a milk feed is a good time to try the first few times. This means your baby is not starving hungry nor so full that they don’t want to open their mouth.

 

Learning to co-ordinate their tongue

The second skill, which babies have to learn for themselves, is moving the food from the spoon to the back of their mouth. When babies suck at the breast they push their tongue forward. So when you first give solid food he will probably push the tongue forward and the food will come straight back out. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t like the food. It will take several attempts for him to realise that by not pushing the tongue forward the food will stay in his mouth. Eventually he will also learn how to co-ordinate the food to the back of his mouth to be swallowed. To learn these skills he needs time, practice and a smiling face encouraging him.

So don’t worry how much he actually eats, or doesn’t eat, in the first week or so. He will still be getting all his nutrients from his milk. Just try once a day, but every day, so that it becomes part of the routine. Just as you have to keep trying when learning to ride a bike, babies need to keep trying new skills in order to perfect them. Practice makes perfect!

Once he has mastered these skills he will begin to take a larger quantity and will realise that solid food also satisfies his hunger. You can give the solids before the milk feed now and make the solids a thicker consistency.

Next it is time to teach them to enjoy a variety of foods with different textures and tastes. Once again remember to smile and keep smiling encouragement especially if you are offering a new taste or texture.

When to introduce lumps

As soon as your baby is managing smooth food begin to offer thicker food and leave some soft lumps in it when you mash it. Babies’ gums are quite hard and manage lumps very well so the lack of teeth is no problem. Babies who are not given the opportunity to learn to manage lumps by 6 – 7 months may refuse to eat lumps and lumpy food quite stubbornly.

Introduce soft lumps by mashing soft ripe fruit, cooked vegetables, pasta and cooked fish. Meat may need to be continue to be pureed for longer. Give some soft finger foods alongside the spoon feeding so that your baby learns both skills - taking food from a spoon and self-feeding finger foods. It takes a while to learn to control lumps in the mouth so don’t be surprised if they come back out – it doesn’t mean your baby doesn’t like lumps. Sometimes if the lumps haven’t been chewed well enough they may be coughed back for more chewing. This is gagging and is a normal part of learning how to eat so there’s no need to clap your baby on the back as this may give him a fright and make him wary of eating foods with lumps. However there is always the possibility of choking so never leave your baby alone when he is eating. If your baby does choke then calmly lift him and turn him upside down. Try to do it gently and without panicking so that you don’t frighten your baby. If the food doesn’t come out on use your finger to dislodge it.

 

Involve your baby as much as possible

As meals get bigger, the time taken to eat them becomes longer. Babies like to have some control over what is happening and will become frustrated if they are not allowed to be involved in the feeding. Give him soft finger foods and his own spoon to try with and expect a mess. It will be quite a while before he can feed himself quickly enough to satisfy his hunger so you need to keep feeding as well.

 

Finger foods

Fine finger control develops around seven months and different shapes and colours of finger foods make interesting objects for babies to explore with their hands and mouths. Include some at each meal from the beginning of weaning. Start with soft pieces of ripe fruit such as pears, bananas, melon, apricot, avocado, mango, papaya, peach and kiwi fruit. Also offer cooked vegetables: sticks of carrot, potato or parsnip, baby sweetcorn, florets of cauliflower or broccoli. As your baby becomes more competent at chewing try:

  • cooked pieces of chicken or turkey, ham

  • pieces of omelette or hard boiled egg

  • cubes of cheese

  • rice cakes, toast fingers

  • cooked pasta shapes

From around 9 months you can offer harder finger foods such as

  • pieces of raw apple

  • dried fruit apricots, raisins, sultanas

  • raw vegetables such as cucumber, carrots, and peppers.

Always cut soft round foods in half to avoid choking e.g. seedless grapes and cherry tomatoes

 

How much should he eat and drink?

Always let him decide. Babies’ appetites vary from day to day and your baby will let you know when he has had enough by keeping his mouth closed and turning his head away or pushing the spoon or plate away. Take uneaten food away with a smile, never coerce or force feed. Babies who have learned the new feeding skills quickly will eat more food and drink less milk, whilst other babies will eat less food and drink more milk. Trust your baby to eat and drink enough for him.

 

Coping with mess

Teaching babies to eat and feed themselves is a messy business which is difficult to accept for some new mothers. Putting their fingers in their food is a way for babies to learn more about the food and enjoy eating so don’t discourage it. Trying to restrict the mess by limiting your baby’s involvement may result in him eating less.

 

Introducing a lidded sippy Cup

As your baby takes more solid food offer sips of water from a lidded non-valved sippy cup during the meal. Again sipping rather than sucking fluid is a new skill to learn so it will take quite a bit of practice before he can control the water flow himself. Encourage him to try holding the sippy cup himself. Once he has mastered drinking from a lidded cup you can begin to use a lidded cup rather than a bottle for milk feeds.

Develop a meal routine: by offering 3 meals based around your baby’s sleeping pattern. Feed him soon after he has woken rather than just before a sleep when he will be too tired to eat and practise his new skills. Finish each meal with a milk feed or plain yogurt or  milk pudding. As he takes more food he will drink less milk. Stop giving an early morning milk feed on waking at about 9 – 10 months so that he will eat more food at breakfast.

 

Towards the end of the first year

Offer as wide a variety of foods and textures as you can from 6-12 months. By 11 to 12 months most babies should be enjoying family meals and eating the same food as the rest of the family though hard foods will have to be cut up into bite size pieces. Up until about 11- 12 months most babies are very open to trying new foods and tastes but during their second year they start to become much choosier. Research shows those babies who have plenty of variety early on are less likely to become fussy and faddy with their eating as they get older.


“Thanks for our consultation the other day. It was very enlightening. Since then, Lily has been eating a lot better, at the kitchen table and in her high chair (well, standing up in her high chair). This is a huge improvement from the floor, coffee table and TV as a distraction. We have been giving her finger foods, as you suggested, and she seems to be enjoying her food again. She hasn’t had a puree since the consultation.”
— Mother of a 12 month old fussy eater