Weaning is one of those milestones in a baby's development. To me it marks the start of the transition from newborn to child - I know this sounds a little dramatic, but that's how I feel when it comes to my children getting older! I know that my little Jesse will be a baby for a long time to come yet but at six months, and the start of weaning, I feel a little bit sad to wave goodbye to those exclusively milk filled cuddly days. As a Registered Nutritional Therapist specialising in weaning, people are surprised that I'm not more excited about getting started with solids, but it's another job added to my seemingly endless list. Milk is just so easy, especially if like me, you're breast feeding!
But it's not just my denial about Jesse growing up that has led me to wait until six months (or 26 weeks), it's also the science behind it. At the moment, the research suggests that the safest time to wean a baby is at six months. This is thought to help reduce the risk of developing food allergies and ensure that a baby's digestive system is mature enough to digest foods. There are always articles in the media, based on new research, which seek to challenge this recommendation but for now the expert advice is to wait. This is especially so if your baby has a family history of atopic conditions (so a parent with asthma, eczema, hayfever etc.) or if they have already been diagnosed with eczema. Poor Jesse falls into both these categories.
Then there are the other factors that you need to consider before hitting the high chair. These are known as the 'signs of readiness' and the point at which each child reaches these milestones can vary greatly. For example, being able to sit up comfortably for a period of time (supported) and hold the head steady is a really important factor when it comes to weaning. It reduces the risk of choking as it helps keep the airways clear. Imagine trying to eat if you're slumped over or laid back - it's definitely harder. Now imagine this when you've never actually had to swallow anything but milk!
At 5 ½ months (about 24 weeks) Jesse hadn't reached the sitting stage and I was adamant he wouldn't be ready for weaning at six months. I had planned to make a video demonstrating this but as ever with two young children, life ran away and then before I knew it, 10 days later he was sitting (you can see this video on our Youtube channel)! It's amazing how quickly things change with babies.
When 'wean-day' came on 16th March (the day Jesse turned 6 months) life threw a bit of a curve ball in the form of mastitis, a potential breast abscess and two days in hospital. Needless to say we didn't stress about sitting Jesse down for his first bite and just waited for things to calm down. Then just when I thought we'd get on with it, he came down with an awful chesty cough and so we decided to wait again. He was feeling pretty ropey and the last thing I wanted to do was create a negative association with his first experiences of solids. Equally with his immune system already under pressure I certainly didn't want to challenge it by introducing new things.
So he actually got to have his first breakfast of avocado with us at six months and nine days old! On this occasion, he squashed and squished and then licked his fingers. The following day he enjoyed some veggies from our Mother's Day lunch and actually grabbed the carrot and put it straight to his mouth - cue much excitement around the table! We're slowly introducing some of the more allergenic foods such as dairy, gluten and nuts, just to ensure he doesn't react to anything. But other than that he's being offered little bits of whatever we're eating and is having lots of fun. His big sister thinks it's hilarious the way he pushes the food about, squashes it and generally makes a real mess!
It seems he was definitely ready.....and, against all predictions I'm thrilled and excited to see him experience all of this for the first time!