Keep it relaxed and happy
Weaning may be an anxious time for new mums, but focusing on your baby with eye contact, smiles, praise and encouragement will help you to relax. Babies quickly learn to read facial expressions and may pick up on your anxiety. Wherever you can keep it relaxed and happy. The first step for babies is about learning how to manage food in their mouths and then swallow, whether this is by conventional spoon feeding or self feeding with soft foods. Gagging is a common way to prevent food from sliding down the back of the throat, and is a helpful response to avoid choking. So don’t worry, and try not to show any alarm when your baby gags – until they learn what to do with the food. Your baby will be used to using her tongue during milk feeding, and will continue to do this with first weaning foods, sucking it off the spoon and pushing in back out with their tongue. Most food ending up down their bib! Don’t worry about how much is eaten at this early stage, the important thing is to encourage her to explore and develop confidence. Accept that weaning can get messy and perhaps get a floor mat – or call the dog in!
Acquiring feeding skills
Most babies are ready for solids when they can sit up unaided, have good head control and be able to swallow. Babies will of course vary in their own readiness for starting solids – one size does not fit all! So, somewhere between 4 and 6 months is right for most babies. Premature babies may be ready to start earlier, and babies with reflux may actually prefer solids to milk feeding, and this can be helpful in keeping food down in the tummy. There is considerable variation in when babies acquire the feeding skills they need to eat a variety of textured food. Differences in their physical and mental development as well as their social and sensory experience play a part. For most babies, simply watching family members eat and having opportunities to try foods, has a big impact willingness to try out these feeding skills. All babies learn by copying and practicing. In fact practice is the best way for babies to develop feeding skills, which happens in this sensitive window between 6-12 months
Sensitive window between 6-12 months
This period when new feeding skills are being learned and practiced, solids are best structured into 3 meals and 3 milk feeds. Going forward into toddler-hood, a wide range of foods are needed to meet needs for a range of nutrients. Milk intake provides energy and calcium, but as solids increase, milk should be limited to around 600mls to make room for increasing solids. The sensitive window between 6-12 months, is the best time for this to happen. Infants who have not acquired sufficient feeding skills during this time, by experiencing a wide range of foods and textures, are more likely to become fussy eaters in the early years. When nutritional needs during the first year are met with a structured approach, variety and sufficient iron rich foods and calcium, they are more experienced and confident to broaden their experience in the toddler years.