As I’m sure you’re bored of me saying, Mama is very big on routine. I’ve gone to bed at exactly the same time for the last 340 days (except for that one time in Portugal when we all went out for dinner and I sat up with everyone in the restaurant at 10pm and Mama’s blood pressure got very very high) and I followed an incredibly structured weaning plan.
When it comes to raising us little ones, the BigBabyBelly crew are however strong believers in doing whatever the hell works best for the whole family, so while we will continue with our quasi-military schedule, we love to hear about other weaning approaches, especially those that are a little more relaxed.
On that note, Mama shimmied along to a My Little Piccolo nutrition event to pick up some new tips and learn about their very cool and happy approach to weaning. Piccolo is a lovely organic baby food company that is strongly committed to the Mediterranean way of life (it’s this diet which is the key to my Grammy looking so pretty and young). All their pouches, even those for little six monthers, have lots of herb and spices – a pinch of cinnamon here, a hint of vanilla there. Plus they support the NCT, so whom we are eternally grateful for a) teaching Dada how to time contractions and b) introducing us all to a group of lifetime pals.
So what did we learn from Piccolo’s in-house nutritionist? Here are the key topics we all discussed, with some topstips for those little ones about to take their first tastes (so exciting!) and some great wisdom for us bigger babes.
When should we start the weaning process?
Six months really is the recommended age, and it’s for the very simple reason that before then our guts just aren’t fully developed. Otherwise, we need to be able to sit up and display at least some ability to grab (your glasses, your earrings, the food off your plate..).
Night waking between 4 and 6 months is frustratingly just a development stage babies go through, and unfortunately isn’t something that early weaning will stop. Just dose up on caffeine and repeat after me: this too shall pass!
What food should you introduce first?
During the first year, weaning is all about taste, not nutrition. Milk actually provides all the nutrition we need, so weaning is more of a development process that introduces us to different flavours and textures and eventually leads to the whole family eating the same meals.
Don’t obsess too much about the first foods to introduce (unless you live in the BigBabyBelly household in which case do not deviate at all from typed-up plan that’s taped to the kitchen wall). If you think about it, babes across the world eat all kinds of crazy food that don’t at all resemble baby rice or organic sweet potato purée. Who says that we need to eat porridge for breakfast?
Veg is of course a key priority. Getting veg in as early as possible is important because while babies normally accept sweet food first time round, bitter and savoury tastes take us 10-12 times. Therefore, get the veg in asap while we’re young and open-minded! Don’t project your own personal tastes onto us – Mama absolutely can’t stand onions, but I adore them. Equally, Dadada is not a big citrus fan (unless it’s accompanying a vodka and tonic), but I quite enjoy nibbling on a slice of lemon.
The Mamas at the Piccolo event discussed which foods we can and can’t eat because aren’t there just SO MANY rules and who on earth knows which ones you should follow? When I was about 7 months Mama asked the doctor if she should introduce nuts, and he said that some studies showed that introducing them early could trigger an allergy, but equally other studies show that delaying them could trigger an allergy. If you found that advice as painfully unhelpful as she did, you’ll be pleased to know that anything other than added salt, sugar and honey is a-ok.
While those naughty whole nuts are off the menu, a good quality peanut butter is a great first taste. Peanuts are apparently a very common weaning food in Israel, and Israeli children are thought to be ten times less likely to develop peanut allergies. If you have a family history of an allergy, let us try just a little smidge in a controlled environment, literally in a doctor’s waiting room!
We also give a big thumbs-up to eggs, as long as they fully cooked. Omelettes and eggy-bread make great finger food.
Oily fish is a great source of good fat. While Mamas and Dadas (especially Dadas) need a low-fat high-fibre diet, we need the opposite. Icky looking fish like mackerel is especially good while we’re young, before we turn into fussy toddlers who only eat food that isn’t slimy and “doesn’t touch”.
Yoghurt is a great food for babes, just check the ingredients because so many have added sugar. Also don’t limit us to dairy, there are lots of great goats milk yoghurts out there and we might just surprise you with our adventurous tastes!
How much should we eat?
Ah, the eternal worry. Are we eating too little? Too much? Just right one day but nothing at all the next? Unlike Mamas and Dadas, we have a wonderful sense of hunger and naturally stop eating when we’re full. Fancy that?! It is so annoying when I’ve eaten enough and Mama keeps trying to sneak in another mouthful despite me turning my head repeatedly! Portion size also varies hugely from day to day, so monitor what we’ve eaten over a week, not just one day.
What kit do we need?
Being a first-time parent, Mama naturally went all-out buying as much hardware as possible. This included a snazzy steamer/blender, unusually expensive plastic boxes and Global Hypercolour style spoons. With hindsight, this was perhaps unnecessary, and as Piccolo points out you could save yourself a lot of money (and mess) by mashing veg with a spoon and using the smoothie machine you already own. The ice cube trays you’ve had for years are most likely more than adequate, plus our favourite spoon is the one you get free in a box of baby rice!
We went to the doctor a few times when I got a rather unappealing red rash around my mouth. It’s pretty hard for the doctor to work out what is causing it, so keep a food diary for a good week in preparation. Btw, I used to get red-mouth all the time, but we often grow up of these things and for me they stopped at around 10 months.
Baby led or puree weaning?
Baby led weaning, or #BLW if you’re a cool dude Instagrammer, is the exact opposite to how I was initially weaned. You basically offer the baby a variety of whole foods and they pick what and how much they want. Despite the fact that Mama is too much of a control freak to follow this method, she 100% recognised that giving finger foods as early is possible is great for developing our chewing muscles (the same as the speaking muscles) and fine motor skills (e.g. the pincer movement). There also came a stage when I outright refused to have her shove a spoon in my face especially if it was accompanied by annoying aeroplane sounds, so actually finger food was the only way I’d eat. Even if you don’t go down the full BLW route, try a bit of finger food as soon as possible.
A few of the Mamas at the Piccolo workshop were worried about choking, and we totally empathise we this – the prospect is terrifying! Before I was born Mama and Dada went to an NCT first aid course, but by the time weaning came around they needed a refresher. If you haven’t already, watch the Red Cross or St John Ambulance videos. Stick to long thin foods, like a broccoli or asparagus spear, and of course round food like cherry tomatoes or grapes need to be cut into quarters. It look pretty freaky, but when we gag it is actually really good for our development, and perfectly safe!
We loved the Piccolo workshop because it was informative and relaxed, and above all because it was a reminder to RELAX! Weaning should and can be very enjoyable, and contrary to Mama’s opinion, how you do it is not going to define the rest of you’re child’s life. Did you follow a structured weaning plan or were you more chilled? Do you have any tips to add?