Like everything to do with Elle, weaning was something I worried about for months. I read everything I could possibly find about different approaches, the best time to start, what foods babies can and can’t eat…and then it just sort of happened. And everything was fine. Typical.

We decided pretty early on that we wanted to wait until as close to six months as possible before we started weaning. I was also keen to try to stick to a baby-led approach. (This was a joint decision that involved Elle too, as the little monkey refused to eat from the spoon for a good few months).

When did we start?

We knew that Elle was ready for food when she started reaching out and trying to grab things that we were eating. I would let her suck a piece of apple and she would get REALLY excited and then cry when I took it away from her. She wasn’t able to sit completely unaided at this point – but she would sit happily in her highchair and so we actually started at five and a half months. Looking back, I feel like this was right for her, especially as within a few weeks she was sitting up by herself. (The NHS website has lots of info about when to start weaning).

What foods did we give her?

Before we started I had thought that I would begin with one meal a day, and slowly increase this as she ate more. But to be honest, it very quickly became three meals a day, partly because it was so nice to be able to sit and eat my dinner without a baby on my lap or boob and also because although she wasn’t necessarily eating three full meals a day, we figured that practising the motor skills associated with feeding herself couldn’t be a bad thing. So whenever we sat down to eat, I’d put Elle in her highchair with a few bits of food and let her play.

To begin with, we gave Elle strips of toast, wedges of roasted vegetables, rice cakes, avocado, banana, and chunks of soft fruit. This all went down really well, so I quickly started to dip her toast in soups, or spread it with almond/cashew butter/humous, add a bit of cheese to things and give her chunks of fish or strips of moist chicken to suck. A device I found really useful was this crinkle cutter, which gives the things you chop up a bit more grip.

We didn’t introduce different foods slowly – I know this is something lots of people would be wary of, but we made this decision based on the fact that I had eaten a varied diet during my pregnancy and during the first six months of breastfeeding, and we have no food allergies in our families.

This worked really well for us, as it meant I didn’t have to cook anything different for Elle, which made my life easier. I know pureeing doesn’t take up much time, and I totally understand why some people prefer this method, but for us baby-led was the right way to start.

Difficulties we’ve encountered

Something I like to try to remind myself is not to expect too much from Elle. Is she going to sit there quietly three times a day and polish off everything I give her? Hahaha no way. There are days where she has refused to eat anything but strawberries and toast, but then sometimes there are days when she eats more than her Dad (I’m not even joking!!)

Foods that are soft enough for toothless babies are usually pretty slippery and can be difficult to hold – which is where the aforementioned crinkle cutter helped, as did leaving the skins on things (like a peach or a banana). In those early weeks, I did sometimes find myself holding the food for Elle to eat, rather than her holding it, but I’d make sure her hands were guiding the food to her mouth.

Refusing to eat from the spoon (and actually BLW) did feel a little restricting at times – I wanted to be able to give her stews/chilli/soup and things like Oatibix for breakfast, or yoghurt with her fruit, without it going all over the floor and to be honest, I’d got into a bit of a rut with feeding her (Matt was getting sick of eating the same foods too)!! Luckily, in the last few weeks she has mastered the art of getting the spoon into her mouth. We have to load it with food for her, but she’ll take it from me and feed herself and she hasn’t learnt that she can ping food across the room with it (yet), so it’s actually saved a lot of mess.

Which leads me nicely onto the post-meal clean down. Let’s just say to begin with, most of the food ends up on the floor. Or ‘smooshed’ into the highchair tray, their clothes, their hair or up their noses. It’s messy. Get a dog. Then be prepared for the dog to get fat. And for the dog to try to eat the baby.

You have to remain patient – which isn’t always easy when you’re tired and all you’re trying to do is get something nutritious and home-cooked into your baby. This would be the case with purees and spoon feeding too. Sometimes they just aren’t bothered by food and sometimes, whatever you do, your child just wants to eat chips. There’s no getting around it.

Positives of Baby-Led Weaning

We noticed an improvement in Elle’s hand and eye coordination within a few weeks, her hand to mouth movement improved massively, she could pass things between both hands within a month or so. She then started to be able to manipulate the thing she was holding so that she could get to a different part of it (i.e. a nice cheesy bit, or to avoid a crust) and now at nine months she’s close to developing her pincer grip.

She also learned to chew things pretty early on, which meant that I could relax a little more when a big bit of food went into her mouth. (She didn’t have any teeth until a few weeks ago, so when I say chew, I really mean ‘gum’)…

The reason why I was keen to avoid pureeing was that it felt like an unnecessary step in the weaning process – if you wait until 6 months to wean, you are encouraged to make sure babies progress to lumpier textures, a combination of flavours, and fingers foods quite quickly anyway, so if your baby is good at picking things up and can sit well, I’d definitely recommend this approach.

Most days, I actually get to eat my all of my meals while they are still warm, with both hands. I know – what a luxury 😉 It’s lovely to sit down all together and enjoy the same meal.

9 Months – milk to food ratio

Initially I was so excited to have a bit of relief from being the main source of Elle’s diet that I kind of forgot that she wouldn’t just drop milk feeds overnight. At nine months, she still has three to four milk feeds a day (as we’re still breastfeeding I’m not sure what volume this equates to but some of my friends babies of a similar age drink three 7-10oz bottles of formula a day, but every baby is different).

Things that helped me

Finger Foods
Matt, being a typical no-nonsense male, refused to call it ‘baby-led’ weaning as to him it’s just giving Elle finger foods, which isn’t anything new or fancy or revolutionary…this actually helped me to relax about the whole thing.

The River Cottage Book
If you want to buy a book on weaning, I’d highly recommend The River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook. There is almost as much text as there are recipes, but it’s just really helpful stuff – it discusses the importance of milk (breast of formula) in babies diets before they are one, purees and baby led weaning, what foods to avoid giving babies, nutrition for children, there’s a seasonal guide to ingredients and then lots of delicious recipes which can be adapted for any age. I honestly recommend this book to everyone – it really is amazing.

The Gag Reflex
This sounds totally crazy, but bare with me…once I’d seen Elle bite off more than she could chew, and bring it back up – it actually made me relax more. Babies and children have a heightened gag reflex in order to prevent themselves from choking. Understandably, it does make you nervous watching your child have free reign over what goes into their mouths, but just make sure you’re always there and that you know what to do should you child choke. (And remember them gagging on something is NOT the same as them choking). You soon learn what your child can or can’t cope with by watching them.

Have a clean little finger
Again, bare with me on this one, but I ALWAYS keep the finger nail on my right hand really short – I sound totally insane, but there is method to my madness; if Elle does start to gag and I’m concerned that she can’t get the food out because it’s stuck to the roof of her mouth, I will use my little finger to ‘hook’ the food out. (*UPDATE* – never do this if you think your child is actually choking as it can make it worse – see above for the NHS link on guidance if your child chokes).

It’s a process
Weaning is a process. It’s not going to happen overnight – it’s supposed to be a gradual transition to food being the main part of their diets rather than milk. I try to remember this when Elle refuses to eat something and just wants milk.

A week not a day
And finally, probably the most helpful thing I read about weaning is to look at what they’ve eaten over the course of a week, rather than a day. If you look at the weeks meals, plus milk, it’s likely that they are getting everything they need.

I wouldn’t say we have stuck steadfastly to a baby-led approach in terms of only allowing Elle to eat what she picks up herself, sometimes Elle is fed from the spoon and she’s no stranger to an Ella’s Kitchen pouch, but we have tried our best to allow her to feed herself and to follow her signs with her appetite. Like EVERYTHING with babies, there is an absolute wealth of information out there, and I found a lot of it to be just full of rules and restrictions. Ultimately, it’s up to you how you wean your baby and it can be lots of fun I promise.

Our next focus is to increase the amounts she eats at lunchtime (as this is probably our most hit and miss meal) and then slowly introduce snacks.

Are any of you approaching the weaning stage? Have any of you skipped purees too? Do any of you Mummies with older babies have any lovely recipes you can share with us all?

Fern x

Image by Anna Clarke