Baby Weaning: the gradual swap from milk to solid food and everything in between
By Jennifer Mansour (a.k.a Mama Melly), Founder of Little Melly and Baby Food Expert
June 15, 2021
There are a few things as exciting as your baby’s firsts: their first smile, their first giggle, their first full night of sleep, their first word, and yes, their first meal! As a parent, I know oh so well how we wait for our baby to achieve each milestone and Google search when to expect them. We grow so weary if they’re “late” in developing a certain milestone. In hindsight, I look at this and think it’s both funny and really cute how consumed we get as parents in every detail, especially during our child’s first year.
My passion for infant nutrition grew when I had my own daughter, Melanie, in 2018. I quickly recognized how vital it was for Melanie to get the right care, and this developed to become my mission: to raise awareness and educate parents on what is and isn’t healthy for their little ones. Did you know that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (from the point of conception up until their 2nd birthday) are crucial in determining how their brain develops, how well they grow, and even how much they end up earning later on in life? There’s a movement called the First 1,000 Days that has studied the effects of good nutrition during this phase and aims to raise awareness about it.
So, let’s dive into it. How can you ensure the best nutrition for your baby up until their second birthday? But first, a little disclaimer: you will hear a LOT of advice (sometimes unsolicited) about what and how to feed your child. Each piece of advice will differ from the previous, unfortunately, and that’s because there’s still a lot of opinion and debate about which way is best.
In this article, I bring information that is backed up by my experience running Little Melly and by the American standards – the AAP (American Association of Pediatrics) and the WHO (World Health Organization).
When is it best to introduce food?
Up until your baby is 6 months old, they will only need milk. While many specialists still advise parents to begin food introduction at 4 or 5 months of age, the AAP and the WHO state that a child gets their full nutritional needs from just milk all the way until 6 months of age. At 6 months, iron stores from mommy begin to decrease and thus food introduction is needed.
It’s also importantly to monitor for readiness signs to wean. There are 4 main readiness signs:
- Your baby can sit up straight without any assistance
- Your baby shows interest when you are eating in front of them
- Your baby has good neck strength
- Your baby is losing their tongue-thrust reflex and able to maneuver their tongue to push food backwards into the mouth and swallow
Where Mama Melly raises awareness
Your baby only needs one meal per day at this age! Milk is still a priority and food is not meant to come in and replace milk. Just one Little Melly meal of around 60ml was proven to meet a baby’s nutritional needs when drinking the right amount of milk.
Check this post below for the amounts of food and milk your baby needs each month until one year of age:
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How to begin baby food introduction
Your baby is ready for food. Now what? Here’s a big debate I love to be a part of. The newest studies show that you can begin with either fruits or vegetables. My personal recommendation, however, is to begin with veggies for the first two weeks at least (or until your little one is stable and happy eating veggies).
Newer studies also show that there isn’t a dire need to introduce 1 new ingredient every 3 days, especially that vegetables are low-risk foods. My personal recommendation here is to stick to it, however, for several reasons:
- It’s good to know what your baby is at least “intolerant” to. Some babies are heavily constipated by potatoes, for example, while other are not.
- Adding in one ingredient at a time is helpful for baby to associate tastes to appearance. They develop a better understanding for food
- Let’s take it easy on our baby’s digestive system. Yes, it’s exciting to be introducing food to our baby, but they do need time to adjust from a pure milk diet to one that includes solid food
- In my experience onboarding 250+ babies, I’ve seen them accept food better when we take it easy on them
Our ‘Introduction to Solids’ menu usually take around 4 to 5 weeks to complete. On the last week, we introduce chicken and then meat. After that, baby is ready for a standard menu which mixes between different animal protein, veggies and non-gluten grains.
Where Mama Melly raises awareness
You never need to give rice cereal (or other cereals). Cereals don’t actually add any value to your baby, especially in comparison to nutritious ingredients. They are mainly tummy-fillers and are heavily processed. High intake of rice has also shown to have negative effects on health in the future. The same applies for baby biscuits. They’re “made for babies” but they’re actually unhealthy for babies. Oops! I said it.
When can I give my baby which ingredients?
This is another area where there’s a lot of debate. The overview of it is that new studies show allergenic foods should be introduced between 6 and 12 months of age to reduce the likelihood of developing an allergenic reaction. Allergenic foods should also be introduced one week apart from one another.
In terms of non-allergenic food groups, your baby is almost ready for anything at 6 months with the exception of salt, sugar, and honey. I would add on these personal guidelines:
- Introduction Phase: only vegetables, then chicken and meat
- 6-8 months of age: fruits, fish, non-gluten grains, and soft spices
- 8-12 months of age: yoghurt, egg, gluten, pulses, grains, low-salt cheese, certain breads
- 12-24 months of age: honey, mushroom, more cheese variety, more bread options
Are purees or finger foods better?
There are a lot of options in terms of how to serve your baby the food, and quite frankly, they’re all great to me. You can opt for purees (fully blended food), grainy purees (partially blended food), or even the baby-led weaning approach which is finger-food based. Each of these methods offers advantages.
My personal preference is the dual approach. I like parents to start off the way they like and work up the ladder quickly so that by 8 months of age, babies are ready for something we call the “dual menu”. At this point, we mix and match between finger foods and spoon-feeding so that baby enjoys the advantages of holding food while also getting used to holding a spoon to self-feed like adults.
All About Liquids
At 6 months, when you begin to introduce solid food to your little one, water should also be introduced. It’s best to do this in a baby-safe cup to help them slowly transition away from the bottle. Your baby needs barely any water from 6-12months of age: just half a cup is enough per day.
Juice on the other hand is unnecessary and should be avoided before 1 year. Dietitians use this phrase a lot: eat the fruit, don’t drink it. When we eat a fruit like orange, we also eat the fiber surrounding it. When we drink the fruit, especially store-bought juice, the fiber and pulp are removed leaving only the sugar-y part. This basically removes all nutrition from the juice.
The One-Year Mark
As your baby grows, you’ll slowly be adding meals and reducing milk. At the one-year mark, this is when we confidently say food is more important than milk intake. Make sure to scroll back up and check out the post about the “gradual swap”.
At one year of age, your toddler will reach three meals per day and two snacks. In terms of milk, they’ll only need 2 to 3 cups each day. Which milk is the best for them? You’ll hear a lot of different suggestions, but know this: the AAP suggests whole cow’s milk for toddlers.
Where Mama Melly raises awareness:
Your baby never needs toddler formula. While toddler milk is heavily advertised as a necessary item for healthy and growing toddlers, I have to say it really isn’t. Skip it.
For a full round-up on toddler formula and an in-depth look into what the best milk for your toddler is, check out this blog article: https://www.littlemelly.com/mommy-asks-blog/whats-the-best-milk-for-toddlers