Weaning your baby from milk to solids is an exciting journey for both of you – a messy one and sometimes a frustrating one, we grant you, but an exciting one nonetheless.
But after months of relying on milk alone to sustain your baby, the big question is, where to start?
Once you've got yourself armed with the necessary tools and vital know-how, a simple plan can really help to structure what can otherwise seem like an overwhelming task.
But remember – we've said it before and we'll say it again – this is an instinctive process, led by the signs and signals from your baby. The following steps are just a basic guide to help you along the way.
1. First spoonfuls
These early mouthfuls are about experiencing taste and texture, taking food from a spoon and learning to swallow. Don't worry if your baby doesn't swallow it at first, and most of it ends up on her chin. This can be something of a sensory overload to someone who has only ever tasted milk. Just be patient and keep trying – she will get the hang of it eventually.
Baby rice and all vegetables and fruits are suitable for your baby's first tastes. But ensure they are cooked – or in the case of soft fruits, ripe – and puréed or mashed to a smooth, lump-free consistency.
It's fine to introduce a new taste at each mealtime. If your baby rejects a particular food, try it again at another mealtime. Remember this is all new to her, so give her a chance to get used to each new flavour.
Recommended first foods: Baby rice (mixed with a little breast milk or formula), sweet potato, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, parsnip, pea, banana, apple, pear.
Babies tend to like sweet tastes, so sweet potato and carrot are popular starter foods. But conversely, some people believe starting with fruit can help to cultivate a sweet taste and prefer to introduce vegetables first.
TIP: Keep smiling! However difficult or frustrating you might find things – remember to be positive and happy at all times, so your baby feels comfortable and relaxed. That way she will be much more responsive to new experiences.
2. Introduce breakfast
We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so get your little one into good habits from the outset.
Baby cereals are a great starter food for tiny taste buds, as they are smooth in texture, packed with nutrients, and unlike their grown-up counterparts, they are low in salt and sugar.
Introduce a little baby porridge along with your baby's morning milk feed. But be sure to offer the milk first. At this stage your baby should still be consuming the majority of his nutrients from breast milk or infant formula. If you offer solid food first, you could inhibit the desire for milk, so offer the cereal last.
Even as adults, many of us like to sweeten our cereal with sugar or honey. As both of those sweeteners are out-of-bounds for babies, mix with mashed banana, or apple or pear purée.
Step 3: Broaden their tastes
Introducing as many new flavours as you can, as soon as you can, will help to broaden your baby's palate and prevent picky eating habits further down the line.
All fruit and vegetables are fair game for your little one so head to the supermarket and pick a wide variety of tastes. Unusual flavours such as mango and avocado will really help to develop those burgeoning taste buds.
Dark green veg, such as spinach, or tart flavours such as tomato, can be an acquired taste, so be prepared to spend a little time gently coaxing your baby.
The key is to be persistent but not pushy. Don't give up the first time they reject something. But on the other hand, don't keep poking something in their face until they reach a point of abject hysteria.
Don't be afraid to mix flavours, but stick to accepted and trusted combinations, such as cauliflower and broccoli or apple and pear.
TIP: If there's a particular food your baby persists in rejecting, try mixing it with a more palatable flavour he loves.
Step 4: Fish, meat, eggs and dairy
Now your baby has mastered all those delicious fruit and vegetable purées, it's time to bring in the big guns. Yes, we're talking protein: that's meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
This is going to be quite a new taste sensation for your little one's developing palate, so to make the transition as smooth as possible, we recommend you blend your meat – or fish – of choice with a familiar vegetable. Think classic combinations, such as beef and tomato, chicken and carrot or fish and pea.
At this point you can also introduce cheese – the perfect accompaniment for cauliflower of broccoli.
TIP: Eggs can be mixed with a little butter and milk and scrambled but ensure they are cooked right through to avoid risk of salmonella.
Step 5: Establishing a routine (and introducing textures)
Well done! You've successfully transitioned your baby from a milk drinker to a happy little eater with a broad palate.
The next step is to establish a three-meal-a-day routine, consisting of breakfast, lunch and dinner.
You may have noticed that your baby no longer requires as much milk, as she will be getting some of her nutrients and energy from her food.
But remember that until the age of one your baby should still be getting a minimum of 600ml of breast milk or formula each day. If you're struggling to meet this quota, give your baby her milk at the beginning of the feed and offer her food only when you're satisfied she has had enough milk.
At this stage, you can also try introduce your baby to new textures, by mashing your food instead of puréeing it so it is lumpy, rather than smooth.