Guest List: Weaning Without The Stress


Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 3.19.56 PMFirst time round I got my knickers in a right-old twist about weaning. I spent many weeks thinking and talking about when to start. Reading books. Investing in fancy gear. Planning how I’d introduce one veg a week. So complex!

5 years later Bertie’s fave foods are houmous, pesto pasta, cheese and crisps. He eats an ok amount of veg but still is irrationally fearful of anything that constitutes ‘salad’. I’m almost certain that his choices have nothing to do with the way I steamed and mashed stuff when he was 6 months old.

One things for sure I would LOVE to have had someone like Beth Bentley @young_gums around when I did it:

  • Oh my god. Anyone else find weaning to be the most confusing stage of new motherhood (so far)? The conflicting advice. The equipment. The supermarket shelves laden with jolly products emblazoned with vague pleasantries…‘no nasties!’…‘pure!’. The feeding strategies. The feeding schedules. The constant questions and the unsolicited advice from that bloke in the corner shop (this one’s full of sugar love). The cartoon advice leaflets and that talk you went to, the one with the flashcards. The knackered-out feelings of guilt, whatever choices we make. The Google searches. The oneupmumship.

  • I was so wigged out by the whole experience that I’m writing a book about it. To try and demystify all the conflicting advice and bring a bit of real talk to the pretty simple question of what a balanced, healthy baby diet looks like, and how to make nice baby food yourself at home.

  • Here’s my list of things not to stress about while weaning your baby:

  • What anyone else thinks. First and most important. Everyone around you will have an opinion, almost always shared in a way that’s well-meaning and lovely. Sometimes that’s great but sometimes you’re knackered and it’s a pain in the arse. You know your kid. Trust your parental instinct.

  • Fluctuating appetite/interest in food. Honestly, you hear this all the time but every baby is different.

  • Some are brilliant, curious eaters from day one. Some are wary and need a bit of encouragement – to see you eat a bit of it, or to touch and smell their dinner before they’ll put it anywhere near their mouth. Some get upset about different food touching each other. Some like waggling things about to mix them up. Some seem to like foods at a certain temperature, or eat more at a certain time of day.

  • Teething can see off a baby’s appetite for what can seem a quite worrying number of mealtimes. They all go through little phases: ravenous one day, high-chair averse contortionist the next. For the first few months of learning to eat their milk will remain the major source of nutrition, so just chuck the uneaten meal and keep offering their usual milk.

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  • Weaning stages. This might be controversial but I don’t think month-by-month stages are very useful. Gradually introducing certain flavours, ingredients and textures can add an extra pressure to parents and mean your baby’s not getting the chance to eat as widely as they’re physiologically able to. A 6-month-old baby can safely eat a staggering range of ingredients and flavours (we’re omnivores – look at how babies are weaned in other cultures).

  • It’s a myth that young babies need, and like, only bland, plain foods. In fact there’s compelling evidence that a weaning baby’s more receptive to new flavours, textures and tastes than they’ll ever be again in their lives. Of course there are some foods that pose a safety- or allergy-risk so we shouldn’t be cavalier. But babies are braver than we give them credit for.

  • Spoons vs. baby-led. It’s not a decision you need to make. You can do both. Even in the same meal. There are good things about both strategies: finger foods help develop motor skills, independent choice and familiarity with what different foods look and feel like, and the important skill of chewing first before swallowing. Spoon-feeding can be a nice bonding experience that allows for eye-contact, chatting and socialising at the table, and can help a hungry baby avoid becoming frustrated and upset trying to get food into their mouths. But you can have the best of both: blend half of the meal and leave some pieces whole for biting and dunking.

  • Your equipment. You need less than you think, and it doesn’t need to be fancy. I started with a £5 stick blender from Lidl and a hacked-together vegetable steamer I made by clamping a metal sieve between a pan of simmering water and its tightly-fitting lid. Rubber-tipped spoons are nice because they’re soft on sore teething gums and don’t get hot on contact with warm food. Bamboo-fibre bowls and plates are lovely, dishwasher-safe and have a lower impact on the environment than plastic. I also use mini-sized enamel Falconware dishes for my baby.

  • The amount of food your kid eats. One of the most confusing bits of weaning is how much to give. At the start of weaning a meal can often be really tiny…the equivalent of just one or two teaspoons of food (although plenty more than that might end up all over the place). Once they get used to eating, their ideal meal size can ratchet up quite quickly or become a real slow-burn.

  • Don’t be concerned if your baby can’t seem to finish anything like a standard portion size of shop-bought baby food – even if it says 6m or 9m, it doesn’t follow that every baby that age can manage that amount. And some might want more. Encourage and help your baby to eat their meals, of course, and offer as much as they seem interested in, but there’s no need to cajole or stress about the amount. A baby doesn’t know about finishing the amount in front of them and will naturally stop when they’ve had enough (or demand more). There’s evidence it’s good to let our babies learn to recognise that ‘I’m full’ instinct as it will help them when they’re older. A baby or toddler will probably give you back half a banana or whatever (nice sticky handful when you’re trying to push the pram/lift the kid/carry your bag/find your keys), but by the age of around three lots of kids have come to understand that food comes in units/portions and keep eating until the packet/portion is gone whether they’re hungry for it or not.

  • Spending every weekend batch-cooking. I rarely do this. I prefer to cook quick little meals as and when I need them. Most of my recipes can be made in 15-20 mins max, and some of them require no actual cooking at all. I freeze leftovers, which can be really useful to grab when I’m busy, but it’s not often I spend the afternoon batching up 20 pots of baby stew.

  • Making a different meal for your baby vs the grown-ups. Generally speaking if you leave out the salt (and the super-fiery chillies) until the very end of the process, there are loads of meals that you and your baby can eat together.

  • We make coconut curries, tagine, pot roast, pasta sauces and stews that I just plonk in the middle of the table and we all share, with some rice, cous cous etc. Sometimes the dish needs a bit of mashing/whizzing for her, but often she can eat straight out of the big sharing pot with us. I tag those recipes #OneFamilyOneMeal.

  • Gagging and spitting stuff out. Weaning babies gag and spit things out all the time while they’re learning to eat. It’s a sign they’re figuring out how to chew and move food around in their mouths, and how not to.

  • But know the difference between gagging and choking. Gagging’s loud and usually a bit messy. But choking can be silent so make sure you’ve had a demo from the health visitor or watched a decent online video. And stay with your kid when they’re eating and drinking.

  • The mess. Oh the mess. No point stressing about something you can do literally nothing about. Maybe put the highchair on top of a few sheets of the Sunday newspaper. And away from any soft furnishings. And ornaments. Maybe get yourself a haz-mat suit to zip on over your clothes. And a helmet. And a shield. Or maybe don’t bother and embrace a life where everyone has porridge in their hair. Resistance is futile.

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