Weaning is the process when your child starts to take nourishment from sources other than your milk and ends when nursing stops altogether.
There are different stages to weaning, whether it is something you choose or your child chooses. There may also be circumstances where you are forced to fully or partially wean because you are returning to work or you may be pregnant again.
Weaning can take weeks, months and even years depending on how fast or slow your baby enjoys other foods and sources of nourishment. Breastfeeding does not have to stop because weaning starts. It’s really important to remember that your breast milk will still be your child’s main source of food until they are around 1 or 2 years old. Let’s say that again - your breast milk will still be your child’s main source of food until they are around 1 or 2 years old.
For the first 6 months or so when you start the weaning process, your child will be tasting food and playing with food. They may not actually eat much. They still need your milk for nutrition. So if you stop breastfeeding your child at 6 months they will still need milk as they won’t be eating proper meals until much later.. This is why the WHO recommends breastfeeding children until they are 2 years old. Does that mean that a 2 month old and a 2 year old will be having the same amount of breast milk? Of course not. But it’s a source of nutrition that takes time to transition away from.
Find helpful tips from La Leche League about weaning.
Baby led weaning
This is the method where you allow your baby to try foods without giving them special ‘baby food’. Think unprocessed, raw food. Normal food that a healthy adult would eat. If you notice that your baby wants to eat from your plate, this is pretty much the concept. You should be able to find courses on baby led weaning from your health visitor. And there are loads of books written about it. But it’s common sense really - can the baby eat it?; can they eat it safely?; do they want to eat it?; etc.
Weaning is one of those areas we as mothers can get really stressed about. We want to do it right and worry about harming our babies or getting them onto bad eating habits. So, because no two children are alike, and no two weaning experiences are alike, here are our stories. Hopefully you can take something useful away from them.
As common I’m sure as with many of us, with my first child I was both excited and nervous about giving him his first bits of food. Due to the nerves, we waited until six months on the dot, by which point the poor boy was more than ready! He’d been gazing at us putting food into our mouths for some time by then. We opted for ‘baby led weaning’, and sat him in his high chair with a chunk of soft avocado to grab as both parents sat at the table, wide-eyed, watching the show. Well, it didn’t last long. He managed to grab it, stuff it into his mouth, and promptly choke! We dashed across the table, knocking over drinks left and right, patted his back, and ended up turning the poor little mite upside down for a good back pat to get that pesky avocado to make its way out - onto the dining room floor.
After this, we continued in much the same way - fortunately without the choking on most occasions! We would offer him soft, cooked vegetable sticks (carrot / sweet potato / courgette…). I got quite interested in roasting up all sorts of bits for him to try, and he devoured them with gusto. Broccoli was a favourite - easy to hold and munch on.
I realised quite quickly however that he was getting a bit frustrated. He wanted more than he was capable of grabbing, crushing in his mouth and swallowing. It was all just too much hard work - bits were coming out, it took a long time to pick the food up in the first place, chewing with no teeth was hard work… So I chose to start making him purees, and offer him things like rice porridge for breakfast. I cooked all sorts of yummy mixes, and made cubes of these in the freezer so that I could mix and match as I pleased. We would combine the baby led weaning approach with some spooned puree to fill up his hungry little tum.
The mix of both baby led weaning and purees worked well for us, with all three of our children. It certainly made a mess of the house - but it did the job that it was meant to do. I am pleased to say that the children are now happy, (relatively) good eaters, and I feel that they received the textures, flavours, nutrients and energy that they needed from their food through this mixed approach that we offered to them as babies.
So my first son was really interested in food from about 4 months. He was probably teething and just wanted to put something in his mouth. So I let him gum soft things like banana pieces. At around 5 months I did start giving him purees, and he loved these. So I started making my own smoothies mixed with breastmilk and froze them in ice cube trays. I spoon fed him one cube at ‘lunch time’ and another at ‘dinner time’ and for breakfast I made him baby porridge. He really liked this and it worked well for us. It’s not really baby led because I had to spoon feed him, but he was happy to be fed and seemed to enjoy the new flavours. I found it was pretty easy and I thought it would be the same for my second son. No. My second son hated being spoon fed. So I did a more traditional baby-led weaning style with him. No purees. Just real food that he could hold. Every time I tried to eat an apple near him he would steal it and suck it! It meant that he didn’t really eat that much but that was fine as I was still breastfeeding him. Eventually, my second son started being spoon fed at 1 year old, by which point he could hold the spoon himself. I think he was just more independent and wanted to do it himself all along. But that meant it was much messier the second time around!! I didn’t use a bib as it wouldn’t have helped - so I just stripped him to his nappy and let him go at it.
Let’s just say with my first born I was very ‘well read’. At the time there wasn’t such a movement with baby weaning and pureeing seemed to be what most mums were doing so I prepped up and got reading. At about 4 months Fenn started to show an real interest in food so we started him on the baby rice, which he devoured, and after that I hit the kitchen with gusto making 130 ice cube trays of different flavoured purees all with different combinations. I would introduce the ‘correct ‘foods at the ‘correct’ time and followed a strict schedule making sure he had the full array of nutrients in each meal. It was all working well and Fenn loved his food, I, however was exhausted. And with the birth of my second son the thought of spending hours holed up in the kitchen with my food processor filled me with dread. So I did the complete opposite! From the start Albi ate what we ate (albeit bland and squashed up versions). I didn’t have a schedule and I didn’t worry about introducing certain foods at certain times and it was SOOOO much easier. In fact within a few weeks I didn’t really give it any thought. I was still breastfeeding and so I didn’t have to worry that he wasn’t getting enough of the right nutrients and we carried on that way until he was eating full meals with the family. I’ve been lucky that both my boys are ‘eaters’... (they eat constantly… all the time). But they are also good eaters and I think the wide array of choice of foods we offered may have helped that - however is there a difference between my puree led and baby led boy? No… the difference was in how I felt when I approached it and I think that’s the key to any weaning programme. The happier, less stressed the mother, the happier, less stressed, the more likely to eat baby!
Well, both my first and second were so into the boob that they were not that interested in real food until about a year or more. I do remember like Abi, waiting until 6 months to the dot before offering my son a banana and I’m pretty sure it just felt nice in his hands. For my son, he just saw food as a fun activity rather than a source of food and nourishment - which is what it remained until my daughter came along.
I also waited to that 6 month dot before offering my daughter any solids. She was a little more interested than my son to begin with and conversely, would be keen to be spoon fed, rather than do it herself, in fact, she’s not a lot different now and she’s 5! Because my daughter would see my son eat, she was willing to try more foods more often.
Food is a weird thing for some children. My son who is now 8 won’t eat half the foods he ate as a toddler and only likes it presented in a certain way. I followed baby led weaning with him and I can’t say it’s made him particularly open to trying new foods. My daughter on the other hand liked to be spoon fed and she is much more open to trying more foods and isn’t so bothered by how it looks.
I was really excited to try baby led weaning with my first child. I loved the ease of giving him the same food that we were eating and the thought that this would result in him having really varied tastes. When we were going out I made him little packed lunches with lots of fruit and cooked vegetables for him to try. I did find it a bit frustrating that most of it ended up on the floor but it was OK because I knew that he was getting everything he needed from my milk. With my second son I ended up doing a mixture of baby led weaning and spoon feeding. It turned out that my first son has very limited tastes in food, even now at 8 years old he has a very limited diet. My second son loves his food and eats pretty much anything. So it just goes to show that every child is an individual and will be what they will be!
I followed the baby led weaning route with my first, he was just shy of seven months old when he was ready - could sit unaided, good head control and had lost his tongue thrust. I gave him what I was eating. So breakfast was things like toast, with unsalted butter and crushed raspberries on top, lunch was pieces of chicken, salad and pre-loaded spoons of yogurt that he picked up and fed himself. I think his first dinner was spaghetti Bolognese. Baby led weaning is fantastic, it's so much fun! His main source of food was still breast milk, but we had a great time exploring different foods together. My second son has just turned six months, and I'll be following baby led weaning with him too, we aren't in a rush though, I'll follow his lead and go from there.