Sophie Fairfield and Zoe Christodoulides suggest a low effort approach to moving your baby on to solids

If you have a baby coming up to six months you are probably thinking about the world of weaning. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that solids should be introduced at around six months of age and there are three clear signs which together show your baby is ready:your baby can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady; they can co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth, and they are able to swallow food. Babies who are not ready will often push the food back out of their mouths.
You may have heard of baby-led weaning as an alternative to traditional spoon feeding of purees. It simply means that you let your baby feed themselves. Key benefits are that it allows babies to independently explore the taste, texture, colour and smell of different foods while developing hand-eye co-ordination and chewing skills. It also allows your baby to join in with family meals as the aim is for you all to be eating the same food.

Many assume that babies need to start on smooth purees then go onto lumpy food so they can learn how to deal with solids. This however is not the case as between six and nine months your baby develops the ability to bite or gnaw off small pieces of food with their gums. This means they naturally become able to manage chewable foods as their mouths grow and develop. The reason you may find the older generation adamant that babies need purees is because historically weaning was recommended at three to four months before this ability develops.

Many parentshesitate to introduce finger foods for fear of their baby choking. However,provided simple safety rules are observed choking is no more likely with baby-led weaning than with any other method of introducing solids. Allowing babies to control what goes into their mouths may actually help them learn to eat safely, but to minimise the risk of choking offer your baby soft pieces of food that are big enough for him/her to hold in their fistwhile sticking out of the top.

Whatever weaning method you choose remember to always stay with your baby while they eat and we’d recommend doing a baby first aid course or online tutorial such as www.nhs.uk/planners/birthtofive/pages/how tohelpchoking.aspx

The key thing to remember at the beginning of weaning is that it should be about your baby exploring food and textures, so don’t get too hung up about how much they are actually consuming. We like to follow the ‘Until one, food is for fun’ mantra!

These are some great first food ideas:
– Sweet potato – oven roasted until soft
– Steamed broccoli – perfect little handles!
– Avocado – make sure it’s nice and ripe. Cut into wedges with the skin on so your little one has something to grip hold of. You’d be surprised how quickly your baby will be able to use teeth or gums to eat just the flesh, discarding a perfectly sucked clean skin
– Apple or pear – microwave or steam briefly for a few seconds to soften them up
– Mango – skin on, very ripe and cut into strips
– Banana – make sure it’s ripe
– Porridge – made really thick so baby can shovel handfuls, or as porridge fingers (thick porridge zapped in microwave till firm).
Every baby is different though,and some babies get the hang ofeating straight away while others spend a good few weeks just playing with their food. To begin with, offer a few pieces of food at each sitting. Most babies know when they are full, so don’t make them finish anything they don’t want. Smaller, more frequent meals and healthy snacks often suit small tummies better.

When they are actually eating rather than just exploring the food (you will be able to tell from their nappies as their poo starts to change very quickly!) you may want to diversify with different foods. Popular options for baby-led weaners include:
– Pasta – larger shapes that are easier to hold
– Pancakes – make your own, mixing 50/50 wholemeal flour and white flour is a good idea
– Hummus – great spread on pitta fingers, with baby bread stick dippers, or raw cucumber fingers
– Omelette – cut into strips
– Grilled salmon or white fish – offer in finger size bits and do check for bones
– Chicken or steak –tear long strips that can be sucked on
– Home-made finger foods – such as oat burgers, bean burgers, mini savoury muffins.

Despite all the benefits of baby-led weaning it is indisputably messy! We recommend investing in a long sleeve bib and wipe-clean floor mat to go under the baby’s chair – and being prepared to spend time under tables cleaning up the debris.

Zoe and Sophie are two mums (a nutritional therapist and life and career coach) who write a recipe blog about baby-led weaningwww.littleoneled.comand run group weaning workshops across London for ante and post-natal groups. They also recommend Gill Rapley’s Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food, written with Tracey Murkett and published by Vermilion (www.rapleyweaning.com).