Here I am again, left with that feeling of “Where did my baby go?” You grow a baby, birth a baby, nurse a baby, and then, after all that, wean a baby, and the baby phase suddenly becomes a distant memory. At least, that’s how it goes for me.
As the primary caregiver that exclusively breastfed both of my kids for over a year, I got used to my girls being very attached to me. As much as I complained about those needy little beings, I secretly loved how much they required just me! But, food slowly replaces breastmilk, and then whole milk takes over for the last bit, and, here I am, able to wear regular bras and leave without planning and pumping. (Well, there is a pandemic going on, so I’m still not able to go anywhere, but, someday, yoga classes and Mom’s nights out will resume!!)
So, how did I get here? I’ve already detailed my daughter’s breastfeeding patterns in “My Breastfeeding Journey” (it really should say “journeys” because both of my girls ended up being pretty identical in this respect), so check out that article for of an in-depth discussion on nursing. Here, I want to tell you about the full weaning process, including some of my preferred tools, tips, and the timing that worked for us! (I refer mainly to breastfeeding, as that is my experience, but the same advice can work with formula feeding and I fully support the #fedisbest initiative.)
Here We Go
Oxford Languages defines the word “wean” as “accustom (an infant or other young mammal) to food other than its mother’s milk.” In the U.K., where I had my first daughter, the process of starting solids is referred to as “weaning,” no matter what type of milk the child is on. In the U.S., you’re more likely to talk about “starting solids” or “beginning solids” and look at the term “weaning” as the act of stopping breastfeeding more than the idea of starting solids. It’s really all the same thing since you need to supplement the milk with some other form of nutrition.
But, I feel the need to explain the terms because this international experience means I use many terms which leave many people confused as to what I am saying. I even had a New York City pediatrician (a horrible one I do NOT recommend) tell me she had never heard of the term weaning in regards to introducing solids. I pointed out the very popular term “Baby-Led Weaning” and she lowered her aggressive stance, recommended some horrible nutrition advice, and I never saw her again.
So, when do I start the process? To recap just briefly, I breastfeed on demand for the first three months. I spend between three and four months slowly starting to get them onto the ideal feeding and sleeping schedule, and then I full-on sleep train at four months, which includes very specific breastfeeding times. These details can be found in my sleep training post “Let’s Talk About Sleep, Baby,” but I’ll go into mealtime details below.
Once my kids hit six months, it’s time to begin weaning. At this point, they’re sleeping through the night and on a very predictable feeding schedule, so all I’m doing is replacing these feeds, one at a time, with solid foods. And I use the term “solid” very loosely! Get out that baby food maker, it’s time to puree!
But, first, why six months? I became a mother in England, so most of what I go by are U.K. recommendations. In the U.S., you’re more likely to see a suggested 4-6 month start date, but the NHS suggests right at six. Breastfeeding or formula provides adequate nutrition up until that point and starting too early can pose a choking risk. And, in my opinion, starting solids is a lot of work, so why do it any earlier than you have to? For this reason, I often refer to the 4-6 month mark as the sweet spot. Your baby is sleeping through the night (with a dream feed), taking long naps, not running away yet, and not requiring much more than your boob! But, yes, they do grow and grow to get to be so much fun.
Your Weaning Kit
So, right at six months I get ready to wean! What’s in my weaning kit? A baby food maker. These handy appliances save so much time! I’ll go into what I feed my kids a little later on, but I do want to say that my style is purees mixed with BLW (Baby-Led Weaning), so I consider a baby food maker extremely important. In the U.K., I used the Tommee Tippee Baby Food Steamer Blender, and while I liked the ability to steam and blend in the SAME cycle, without having to change the unit or press additional buttons, I thought the product was poorly made. It had a low food capacity, the container cracked repeatedly, and the water cover actually burned me multiple times.
When my second came of weaning age, I needed a new baby food maker anyway, since we moved to New York City and the outlets/voltages are different than in London. After researching, I purchased this Beaba Babycook blender, and am still very happy with that decision. You do need to transfer the items out of the steamer basket before blending, but it has a much higher capacity and more power, that a little extra step like that is no big deal. When you are taking the time to make purees, you do not want to have to be doing it every single day or meal. It’s nice to bang a lot out and store the leftovers.
How do I store? Well in the beginning you’re only serving a Tbsp at a time. We’re talking about tastes, so you will really have a lot of puree leftover. I spoon out a couple servings for meals to have the next two days into containers like these, and then store the rest in the freezer in these covered trays. And, I realize weaning may sound like an investment, but I really do use these products beyond the baby stage. I spoon any leftover tomato paste and chipotle in adobo sauce when cooking into the trays to eliminate food waste and to have some handy ingredients in my freezer! Also, I’ve made extra purees–like sweet potato, carrots, and applesauce–for all sorts of grown up recipes and meals!
You’re ready to puree and store, but how to serve? You need a high chair. No way around it. You’ll drive yourself crazy thinking you can get away with one parent holding the baby, or something like that. You also want a good one. The $20.00 Ikea high chair that so many people have is quite the steal, but without a removable tray, I say no thanks. Both my girls have used our trusted Stokke Steps 5-in-1 High Chair. It is high quality and could last a bunch more kids. It’s a grow-with-your-child type of chair if you purchase the bouncer to use in the early days, use as a high chair, and later as big kid chair. My then-two-year old was kicked out of this chair when my baby was six-months old and needed to start solids. We moved her into this Oxo Tot Booster which keeps her strapped in, but onto a regular dining chair.
Once the kids are in a chair, it’s time for them to get protected! I’m not a huge fan of totally covering them in those giant smock bibs. I’d rather just strip them down. I’m also not a fan of silicone bibs. I find them awkward and take up too much room when you’re out and about. So I just go for basic bibs. I buy a big bundle of cloth bibs for the baby phase, and once they’re into their toddler years, I transition them to this one. Both my girls wear this style now, so I have a ton of patterns and colors. I use one a day, rinse off after a meal, and the fabric dries quick enough to be ready for the next one! They’re great.
As for serveware, in the beginning I use whatever bowl, but make sure I have a soft spoon. This is a great beginning style, and then I’ll move onto a structured, coated one like this. I have several and like that they come with a travel case for feeding on the go. Once the kids get a little older, I use this collection of Skip Hop plates and bowls. They all stack together perfectly, the kids love the animals, and they’re nicely portioned.
When you start solids, it’s VERY important to introduce water with each meal. We give our kids tap water filtered through our ZeroWater system. As for cups, this is a GREAT time to begin the transition onto sippy cups. You want them off bottles by the age of one, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics, so the sooner you introduce sippy cups, and the more comfortable they get, the better! My beginner favorites include these from Nuk, Oxo Tot, and Nuby. They all have soft spouts and handles. Once the babies are comfortable with drinking, I switch over to a 360° drinking edge like these from Munchkin and Wow Cups.
Why is water important? Because constipation is nooooo fun. Having a constipated baby is heartbreaking. My first had a bad bout of it in the beginning of her solids journey, with led to a fear of the pain of going, so she would hold it in for long periods of time, making her more constipated and it all worse. She was dependent on Miralax for a good portion of her young life, and her constipation issues did not fully get resolved until she could properly communicate, understand the bathroom concepts, and was fully potty trained. I have spoken to GPs, pediatricians and gastroenterologists in both the U.K. and the U.S., so I am very well-versed in constipation troubleshooting!
My mission with baby number two was to make weaning as easy on her digestive system as possible, which I successfully achieved by utilizing all of the information gathered with baby number one. I’ll go into troubleshooting when you make the transition from breastmilk (I’m sure formula is similar, but I have no experience with it) to whole milk a little later on. But, for the early days of breastmilk and solids, these tips are key:
- Always offer water with every meal!
- Start slow! Take time to increase portion size and add additional meals to the day.
- My daughter’s constipation culprit was bananas! I later learned that while very ripe bananas can relieve constipation, unripe or not ripe enough bananas can cause it. Be careful!
- At the first sign of a harder stool, insert prunes. Pureed prunes are one of the few foods I purchase and not make for my babies since you aren’t really going to be dehydrating your own plums on a regular basis! I purchase these prune packets in bulk!
- Try a baby massage technique when struggling with a stool
So what to feed? Well, I am pretty conservative when it comes to feeding my kids. I strive for homemade meals of organic ingredients with no salt or sugar added. My kids first taste of sugar is in the form of their first birthday cake, and then not again until their second with the exception of a drizzle of honey or the sugars found in items like whole grain bread or those addictive baby crackers!
I start with lunchtime as the first meal to introduce. It’s best to introduce meals earlier in the day in case your child has an allergic reaction and needs care. Lunchtime is 11:30AM in my house. It’s also good to only introduce one new food at a time so that you could pinpoint allergy culprits. I use a chart, anything off google, like the one below, as a way to keep track of the foods I’ve introduced and when it’s best to introduce each one. Doctors say after 6 months, anything goes with the exception of honey and straight cow’s milk, but it is nice to start with the gentler ones first.
I chose sweet potato as the first food for both of my girls. After sweet potato was successful, I went through the entire list, checking them off as I went. I did have to delay some foods as I wasn’t able to find organic options out of season, which was fine, as there are SO many different foods to introduce. It really does take awhile since you’re going through one at a time.
All of these foods were introduced through single purees or in a Baby-Led Weaning style, which means you allow your child to self-feed to the best of his or her ability by offering soft, safe foods cut into strips or even whole. The latter makes some people nervous, but babies actually have a more sensitive gag reflex when they are younger to prevent choking. I controlled a lot of the eating with purees, and made it extra-fun with finger foods. For example, half of a whole banana that a baby can hold and gum, might be more exciting and exploratory than mashed banana you feed her from a spoon. The same goes for soft avocado wedges, baked sweet potato or carrot fries, flaked fish, toast strips, etc. (Note: TOAST strips, not bread. Since bread can moisten and clump together, it can actually be a choking hazard, as opposed to a crispy strip of toast.) If you like the idea, but are still nervous, you can try a mesh or silicone self-feeding tool like this.
In the beginning you’re only offering about a Tablespoon or two at a time, ramping up slowly. I give my kids a full month on lunch before introducing our 8:00AM breakfast, and another month after that before introducing a 5:00PM dinner. Once the early days are over, I will start making interesting puree combinations, adding herbs and spices, giving whole roasted vegetable pieces, getting creative with pasta dishes, and making my girls’ favorite: quesadillas! On my Instagram @mom_uptown I have some toddler and baby meals highlighted, and I will be bringing to you kid-specific recipes in a later post, but you can also check out U.K. baby food guru Annabel Karmel, or popular U.S. baby food books like this one. But, here is a sample menu for a ten-month old baby:
7:00AM:Breastmilk, full feed.
8:00AM: Breakfast of Multi-grain Baby Cereal with added Peanut Butter, smashed Blueberries (Note: it is advised introducing nut butters early and often. Consult your pediatrician.) Water.
10:30AM: Breastmilk, 1/2 feed.
11:30AM: Lunch of Salmon cooked in EVOO, Black Beans, and Yogurt mixed with a Broccoli Puree. Water.
3:45PM: Baby Crackers.
5:00PM: Dinner of Quesadilla (Whole-Grain Tortilla filled with shredded Cheddar Cheese and Ground Beef), Carrot Fries baked in EVOO, and Apples pureed with a little Cinnamon. Water.
This is just a sample menu for one of my kids, and you can feed your kid whatever you want. Make them gluten-free, vegetarian, whatever, just do it safely and consult with your pediatrician.
I do want to touch on baby cereals, though. I use this multi-grain cereal and this oatmeal, but I do NOT use rice cereal. There isn’t a huge nutritional value in the stuff, and it can contain levels of arsenic, so it’s best just to skip. Especially because my kids got enough rice in all the different baby crackers on the market.
Baby crackers help you survive. Stock up because they will get you through some tough times! More specifically, I would have never made it through a road trip up to England’s Lake District, or any car ride for that matter, our last family photo shoot, bridging the gap between breastfeeds and mealtime, weaning off the breast in general, going anywhere in public actually, or even making it to our 8:00AM breakfast this morning without them. They’re low-cal, like air really, so you don’t run the risk of taking up important room in the belly with less nutrient-dense foods, they’re not messy, and the kids love them. I start with these, then add these, and once they’re a little older offer them these.
Meals On The Go
When you’re making your own baby food, the idea of feeding your kid on the go might seem daunting. Save up your ripe banana and avocado days for those moments. Or, grab something cold from your fridge, put it at the bottom of your stroller, and serve it to them once you get to your destination and it’s at room temperature. Perfect! I lived in London and New York City, so I was on the go a lot. Once meal time hit, I’d grab all the food and tools from the bottom of my stroller, feed her in the stroller seat, or try to secure a banquette at a Starbucks, or if I was feeling bold, sneak into a restaurant and ask if I could have a few minutes with one of their highchairs. We’re talking about feeding a little baby. Most people are understanding, so don’t let it scare you, and don’t think that packets are your only way to have a life outside the house.
One your baby turns one, he or she gets the green light to transition to cow’s milk. This is also the age that you can introduce honey, and there are no longer any food restrictions, unless, of course, your child has some medical condition or allergies. I exclusively breastfeed until that one-year mark, and start replacing one breastfeed at a time. This is what my twelve-month old’s feeding schedule looks like:
(She is on a 7-7 sleep schedule.)
So, right at one I start to replace each feed with whole milk. I start with the one that is the least emotional feed. That means, I avoid the times when she is tired or extra-cuddly, morning and night. The post-nap feed is an easy one to swap since she is always on the go after her nap, really energized, and sometimes too distracted to eat. I just fill a sippy cup with whole milk and set it down. That’s it, breastfeed replaced. Both my girls were fine to drop that post-nap feed. Any time they did seem cranky, I would distract with a couple baby puffs, or maybe snuggles from Dad, but really they handled it well.
Once they were used to the sippy cup of milk (and cow’s milk, in general) I replaced the nighttime breastfeed. This happens about a week or two after the first swap, just to make sure their tummies are handling everything alright. I mentioned above that my first had a lot of constipation problems, and I never wanted to go through that again with either of my girls. So, I go slow, and I pay attention. At the first sign of a harder stool comes those prunes again, but also a probiotic. This works wonders and quickly! The powder dissolves in their mealtime water and they won’t even notice it’s there. Use code ASHLEY15 for 15% off LoveBug Probiotics.
After they’re fine with those two cow’s milk feeds, I say goodbye to our morning feed, and our breastfeeding journey is complete just before thirteen months. I cry after that final feed. A week goes by, and I forget what it was like to breastfeed altogether! Funny how it works.
They Eat What We Eat
I also want to suggest that you offer as much as you can in terms of variety to your children. I want my kids to eat alongside me someday, not be a short-order cook. A healthy relationship with food, including cooking and enjoying the final product, indulging occasionally, and trying new and exotic cuisines is very much a part of my life. I want my kids exposed to as much as possible so they view food that same way. I never assume that my child will not like something. I don’t cut off crusts, skip spices, or forgo parsley. I’m not going to put it in their head that they don’t like these things, they decide it on their own. And if my daughter does not like something, I trust her and respect those choices. I do not like the idea of force-feeding anything to anyone.
I do tone down the spice so they are not uncomfortable, and I do not add salt or sugar until after two-years old, but, aside from those restrictions, they eat what I eat. The girls eat at 5:00PM, and my husband and I eat around 8:00PM, so whatever I prepared for the grownups goes to the girls for their lunch the next day. It’s not all frozen chicken nuggets and vegetable medleys. It’s Seed-crusted Schnitzels, Peach Caprese Salads, White Wine Grilled Shrimp, and Eggplant and Mushroom Meatless Meatballs. Or, whatever we’re eating that week.
Now, this is my weaning and breastfeeding journey, and no two experiences will be identical, but here are some final points that have made my latest transition pretty seamless:
- If you’re making your own baby food, buy the tools to help you be as efficient as possible, make larger quantities, and understand the freezer and leftovers are your friends!
- The sooner you get on a routine, the better. This helps a child associate breastfeeding with eating and not as a tool to soothe,, which makes weaning so much easier. Having my children on a schedule, and only down to three breastfeeds a day at the age of one made it very easy to make the swap. I also believe in routines to achieve sleep goals. Kids really do thrive on them.
- Go slow, and pay attention when it comes to digestive and health concerns. You want to pick up signs of allergies and constipation sooner than later. Have water available, keep those prunes and probiotics on hand, and don’t reach for a banana too early! And always consult your pediatrician if something seems off.
- Offer anything and everything. Have fun with it. Get them involved!
So, there you have it! Feel free to contact me directly with questions or comment below! Happy weaning!!
Disclosure: I am not a doctor or nutritionist, just a mom of two that has successfully weaned. Consult your pediatrician on all matters regarding the health of your child. In addition, this article contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.