Weaning is a big milestone for your baby – not only has she got to master the physical skills needed to move from milk to solids, but her developing digestive system has to graduate to processing a growing range of foods.
But if you follow the guidelines and wait until six months to introduce your baby’s first solids, the vast majority of foods are safe and are unlikely to trigger allergies or stomach complaints.
Nevertheless, it’s sensible to proceed slowly with weaning, and first introduce foods that are palatable to your baby, easy to digest, and non-allergenic. This is especially important if you decide, on the advice of your health visitor or GP, to begin weaning before six months. Recent research has suggested that weaning can begin safely from four months on, but the current guidelines to wait until six months are based on the theory that before this point, your baby’s gut won’t be mature enough at first to cope with trickier foods like wheat, meat and dairy.
The safest first foods for the early weeks of weaning are:
Weaning first foods: Cereals and grains
Simple baby cereals like baby rice make perfect first weaning foods, as they’re bland, unlikely to cause an allergic reaction, and, combined with expressed breastmilk or formula to make a runny mixture, are only a gradual step up from milk.
You’ll find a good range of cereals available in the baby food section of the supermarket, made from grains like rice, quinoa, millet or spelt.
Although many packets of baby rice and porridges have ‘suitable from four to six months’ on the label, it’s not advised to wean your baby before six months without consulting your GP or health visitor.
Although it’s OK to give babies grains containing gluten (found in wheat, rye, barley and oats) once they’re six months, it should not be given if you wean earlier as it can be hard to digest at first.
Weaning first foods: Vegetables
Most experts suggest following on from baby rice with simple vegetable purees. The theory is that by introducing vegetables before fruit, your baby is less likely to become too accustomed to the sweetness of fruit, to the exclusion of everything else.
Root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes and swede, are good first vegetables to try as they have a sweet taste and smooth texture when puréed.
These need to be well cooked so they’re soft enough to digest, and can be thinned with breastmilk, formula or cooled boiled water; steaming rather than boiling preserves more nutrients.
Weaning first foods: Fruits
When you introduce fruits, usually a week or so into the weaning process, choose ripe fruits that have a good flavour – taste it before you offer it to your baby in case it’s too sharp. Ideal first fruits include banana, papaya, avocado, mango, apples and pears.
Soft fruit can be well mashed or puréed, but hard fruit like apples and pears are best cooked first to make them easier to chew, swallow and digest.