Sinead Harrington chats with Caroline O'Connor of Solid Start to get some top tips for weaning children.

I love my food. Anyone who knows me would probably say that my schedule revolves around what I'm eating next. I'm lucky to have a husband who's a dab hand in the kitchen and I'll use any excuse to bake with my girls so I can inhale the goods afterwards.

For this reason, my approach to baby weaning has always been important to me. While my first two were 'grubbers', my littlest attitude towards feeding has me perplexed. I don't think I'm getting it 'right' with her and most of the time the food ends up on her hair, face and floor.

father feeding baby with another child on his lap

While patience is key I wanted to make sure I was ticking all the boxes with my approach because, yes, I've forgotten everything! There's so much information about baby weaning out there that it can be overwhelming, so I turned to dietitian extraordinaire Caroline O'Connor for help.

I was introduced to her during a Baby Beo event and I loved her no-nonsense, easy to follow advice. "There's so much information these days, almost too much." said Caroline "And, often, no two sources say the same thing. It's no wonder parents are confused. So here are my top five tips to help parents when starting baby weaning"

1. Watch your baby and not the clock
Whether to start at four months or six months is a common question. In Ireland, we recommend starting solids at around six months. It's inadvisable to start before four months or to delay much past six months.

So, what's the perfect time? That depends on your baby. Your baby doesn't change overnight, all babies are unique and develop at their own pace so watch your baby and not the clock.

There are three clear signs to watch for, and when your baby shows all three, start then.

  • Your baby can sit up with minimal support and hold their head up.
  • They can pick up toys in their hand and bring them to their mouth.
  • They've lost their tongue-thrust reflex.

2. Sit your baby for success.
Do you ever eat at a bar or a kitchen island? I bet the first thing you do is plonk your feet on the rung of the high stool. That's because you want to feel stable, it's hard to enjoy eating when your busy trying to stay upright. It's the same for your baby.

It isn't easy to coordinate those chewing muscles when your legs are swinging. Or you're wobbling from side to side. This means choosing the right high chair is vital for eating success.

You want:

  • An upright position-you want your baby at 90 degrees and not reclined backward.
  • A moveable footrest, so your baby's feet aren't dangling.
  • One that's easy to clean! 

Father feeding baby in high chair

 3. Keep an open mind
The spoon-feeding vs baby-led weaning debate is a hot topic online. But, which one wins? Neither, there are pros and cons to both. Finger foods let your baby experience family foods, develop motor skills and can save you time in the kitchen. But many worry about choking.

Research on baby-led weaning shows it's as safe as traditional weaning. Provided parents have the right safety advice. But does this mean there's anything wrong with spoon-feeding? Of course not. Spoon-feeding, done well is a sensible way to offer porridge, yoghurt and casseroles which, let's face it, are challenging to eat with your fingers.

Combining spoon-feeding and baby-led weaning gives an all-round great weaning experience. And for parents offers much-needed flexibility. Different meals work on different days. Also, keep in mind that you and your baby might not be on the same page. Not every baby likes spoon-feeding. And, not all babies have the ability or desire to pick up finger foods. So go with your baby, and you can't go wrong.

4.Think green
Your mum says to start with baby rice but your weaning book gives recipes for sweet potato and apple purée. You've read online that introducing allergens first is the way to go but is that the right choice?

There's no right or wrong, but there is some evidence that starting with vegetables is wise. One study showed that babies who start with vegetables, especially bitter greens, preferred vegetables later in childhood, and that's definitely something to aim for.

A vegetable-first approach is straightforward: Pick five vegetables (mostly greens) and offer a single vegetable from your selection every day. When you've done all five, start the sequence again. When you've done ten days of vegetables, either move on or go for another round of five days.

The keywords here are:

  • Repetition - your baby gets each vegetable 2-3 times.
  • Perseverance - you're not offering only preferred vegetables.
  • Variety - you're serving a new vegetable daily rather than providing the same one for days in a row, which is a bit outdated. 

 5. Size doesn't matter
'How much should my baby be eating' is the most common question I get. The great news is that there are no recommended portion sizes for babies. Every baby's different as we know.

What's important is watching your baby and responding. If your baby's leaning towards the food, waving their hands and opening their mouth, they want more - so give them more. But if they're turning their head away, pushing away the spoon or crying, they're saying "I'm full" or "not now". And the responsive thing to do is to end the meal or let them play with the food.

Don't worry. Their next feed is right around the corner. 

Caroline O'Connor is a registered paediatric dietitian, lactation consultant and founder of Solid Start. Solid Start's online Baby Weaning Class, Ready, Steady, Wean, brings you from confused to confident in no time at all.