We chat to Charlotte Stirling-Reed, baby and child nutritionist and founder of SR Nutrition, about the ins and outs of weaning and her support with the NHS Start for Life weaning campaign.
The nutritionist behind Joe Wicks’ ‘Wean In 15’ as well as the founder of her very own nutritional business SR Nutrition and with more than 300 thousand followers on Instagram, Charlotte Stirling-Reed has really made a name for herself in the world of weaning.
Here, she tells us some of her top tips for weaning your baby and safety tips to follow which tie in with her backing of the NHS Start for Life campaign as well as what it was like weaning her own two children…
What is weaning your baby?
Weaning is introducing your baby to solid foods, alongside breastmilk, or infant formula, starting when your baby is around six months old.
Weaning is a crucial milestone within the first 1,001 critical days of a baby’s development as it teaches babies how to eat, including how to move food around their mouth, chew, and swallow, and we know it also influences children’s eating habits and health later in life.
Why do so many of us parents find it confusing?
Weaning can be a really confusing time for parents! Research from the Start for Life Introducing Solid Foods campaign shows that half of parents in England feel overwhelmed and confused by all the conflicting information out there on how much to feed their baby, and what age to start weaning.
The research also found that nearly half (46%) of parents are weaning their babies at five months or earlier, meaning that many babies are being weaned onto solid foods potentially at the wrong time.
With so much conflicting information online, it difficult to know what to trust. However, help is at hand to build your confidence when embarking on your weaning journey. The Better Health Start for Life Weaning Hub is packed with NHS advice and has everything you need to know in one place!
When is the right time to start introducing your baby to solid foods and are there any signs to look out for?
With so much conflicting advice, whether it be from sources online, or family and friends, it can be hard to know exactly when to start weaning your baby. The research from Start for Life Introducing Solid Foods campaign showed that nearly half of parents are also influenced by behaviours that baby is ready, such as seeing their baby grabbing food or looking at food.
However, NHS guidance recommends weaning from around six months old – and there are three key signs to look out for that can help you spot when your baby is ready to begin trying solid foods. At six months, they should be able to:
- Sit up and hold their head steady.
- Coordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at their food, pick it up and put it in their mouth.
- Swallow food, rather than push it back out.
Why is it important to wait until your baby is around the 6-month mark before starting weaning?
It is so important to wait until your baby is ready before weaning, especially as for around the first six months of their lives, breastmilk and infant formula will provide everything that babies need for healthy growth. It is only around the six-month mark when they will start to need solid foods to meet their nutritional needs.
Waiting until they are around six months old will mean your baby is able to cope with skills needed such as moving food around their mouth, chewing, and swallowing foods properly. Also, they’ll be more capable to lead the weaning process, exploring all the food on offer for themselves, and beginning to eat their meals independently!
What should parents who are starting their weaning journey be feeding their baby?
When you start out on your weaning journey, your baby will only need a very small amount of solid food – so you can start slowly, by introducing solids once a day, at a time which suits you both. Single tastes of vegetables are a great place to start.
There is a method I generally recommend called ‘veg-led weaning’. This simply means focusing on vegetables at the start of their weaning journey, starting with bitter, savoury veggies before moving on to sweeter ones and more in the way of variety.
Broccoli, avocado or courgette are great veggies to start with. You can offer most of these foods as mash, puree or as finger foods, based on how much your baby is enjoying them.
What was your own personal experience of weaning your children?
My two babies were both very different and took to weaning in very different ways. It was a real eye-opener to me that babies really do lead their own journey if you let them and also highlighted how important it was not to compare.
I was lucky to have the knowledge to know that there will be ups and downs when it comes to feeding babies, so I really enjoyed weaning my two children. I want to help others to enjoy weaning too, it’s one of my main aims!
Were there any particular favourite foods that your two children couldn’t get enough of whilst weaning?
My son actually loved broccoli and still does to this day. He has a really diverse palate and is very experimental with foods. My daughter has always loved mushrooms – she has a sweeter tooth than my son for sure and is a little less adventurous with new flavours and savoury foods, but for some reason mushrooms have always been something she loves to eat.
They both vary in their favourite foods over the years but helping them to explore a wide variety of flavours and tastes and textures has really helped them both to be familiar with foods and enjoy a variety of foods as they’ve got older too!
How can you avoid triggering allergies or choking?
Many parents worry about allergies during weaning, but it’s important to introduce the foods that can trigger allergic reactions one at a time and in very small amounts so that you can spot any reaction. Examples of common allergens includes cow’s milk, eggs, nuts and peanuts, soya, and shellfish.
Once you’ve introduced these foods to your baby and you know they can tolerate it, then you can continue to offer these foods as part of your baby’s usual diet. Evidence has actually shown that delaying introducing peanuts and hens’ eggs after 6-12 months may increase the risk of developing an allergy to these foods.
Choking is often the most common worry for parents when starting to wean their baby, that’s why it’s so important to wait until they are ready to be able to swallow solid foods, from around six months of age and when they are showing those signs of readiness.
Is there anywhere parents can find useful recipes and more information on weaning?
Absolutely, the weaning hub is packed with NHS-endorsed advice, videos and tips, plus simple, healthy recipes, it puts everything parents need to know in one place. Just search Start for Life Weaning Hub to find out more.
What is your top tip for a first-time parent who is just starting their weaning journey with their baby?
My top tip is to introduce your baby to a range of textures fairly quickly to allow your little one to learn how to chew and swallow a variety of textures nice and early on. Finger foods are a great way to get your baby used to textures, by offering them super soft finger foods that easily squidge between your finger and thumb. This allows your baby to explore food, self-feed and practice skills around eating more easily.
Plates, bowls, bibs, there’s so much choice! What do you actually need when weaning your baby?
There are plenty of options available, and really, it’s likely to be dependent on what works for your family and your individual baby.
I’m a fan of suction plates at the start of weaning (ideally with removal suction pads) and also full length bibs to help keep baby’s clothes clean.
A good highchair and some soft tip spoons are also super helpful at the start of weaning. Other than that, your own kitchen equipment will be all you need to wean your baby!
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