The Weaning Diaries Part I: Real Life Insights with Florence DeWalden

Young child exploring new food as part of weaning

I’ve had two very different experiences of weaning. Two girls, from the same womb but with totally different attitudes to food.

The circumstances surrounding introducing food to my 2 girls varied hugely - Tyga (now 4 years old) was a lockdown baby. I had masses of time & saw weaning as an exciting challenge in quite an otherwise bleak time. Willow (now 16 months) was the second child. I was busier, more tired & potentially less enthused by the whole thing.

From day 1, Tyga took to food. She gobbled anything & everything, from kale & beetroot, to avocado & banana. Even though she was born early at 35 weeks she never showed any signs that I was moving too fast. After starting 1 week before she was 6 months old, by 7 ½ months she was on 3 meals a day.

Willow was the polar opposite. At 6 months, she burst into tears whenever a spoon or piece of food came near her. Any food that made it into her mouth she would spit out & wail. I tried again 2 weeks later, the same thing happened. It took until about 8 months for Willow to start accepting small mouthfuls of food. Up until then I continued to offer her spoonfuls of food, when she was visibly calm & happy, as well as leaving soft finger food on her highchair. She rejected it all. At 14 months, a switch seemed to flick with Willow & she began to enjoy food & actively signal that she would like it. She’s not a huge eater, but she eats most things & we have come a long way!

My intention with Willow was to focus on baby led weaning, as with Tyga I got carried away in the kitchen, making her purees, then stews, curries & sauces. I was so keen Tyga be exposed to all sorts of flavours & spices that I concentrated more on these than giving her individual bits of food to hold & eat. I realise in hindsight that focusing on these alongside her meals would have been a good idea, as ever since she’s rarely been keen on a piece of veg by itself (it has to be in something - stew, bolognese, soup etc).

Baby led weaning did not take off with Willow, mainly for the reasons above, but another element that didn’t help this quite stressful stage of parenting, was that Willow refused to put anything in her mouth. No toys, fabric, fingers or food - nothing. This is very unusual for a baby, but I was told to be patient! Finely, just before Willow’s first birthday she put a piece of bread into her mouth - this sounds slightly absurd but it was one of the most exciting moments of 2023 for me!

Whatever attitude your baby has towards food in the early days, be prepared for most of it to end up on the floor or smeared into the highchair. If your baby is slow to get used to the idea of food or you feel not much is going in at mealtimes, you may choose to supplement their diet. It’s particularly important that babies from the age of 6 months top up their iron stores daily, which become depleted around this time. I chose an iron & multivitamin supplement from Nature’s Aid, & the Bare Biology Action Heros Pure Omega 3 drops.

If you do have a baby that immediately takes to food, then that is fabulous. At 6 months, a baby's digestive system should be ready to begin digesting each food group (carbohydrates & fibre, protein & fats).

Signs that they are struggling with this would be:

  • Undigested food in the stool
  • Looser stools or continuing constipation (for more than 2 days)
  • Excess wind &/or flatulence (especially smelly flatulence)

Another sign that your baby may be having too much too early is a dramatic reduction in their milk intake. Up until 12 months, little ones will continue getting a vital source of nutrients from breast milk or formula. Food shouldn’t replace this until they get a little older (between the age of 2-3 years old).

It’s natural that milk intake will begin to decrease but what we want to ensure is that they continue having 2-3 bottles per day for the next 6 months.

Each baby is so different, however from 7 months we would expect a baby to be having around 22 oz per day, decreasing to approximately 140z per day at around the age of 10 months.  

I have done the milk ladder with both my girls now. Both suffered from terrible eczema which disappeared within a week after going dairy free myself & to swapping to a hydrolysed formula. Both can now eat most dairy, except for Willow who does not have cow’s milk.

The dairy free world is a minefield, especially in nurseries & schools where oat milk seems to be the popular replacement. This is incredibly sweet, with almost no nutritional benefits. Most also contain oils & additives that themselves can cause digestive issues & eczema, as well as interfering with their taste perception meaning they are more inclined towards sweeter foods & drinks.

Because Tyga was such a good eater, at 18 months I gave her a cashew/coconut milk that I made her myself (#lockdownproject). I was confident she was getting good quality calcium from sesame, broccoli, almond butter, chia seeds, tofu & sardines,  so milk for her was a comfort & something yummy. With Willow, I give her Sojade Soya milk morning/evening, & only dropped her formula in the last couple of weeks (so around 16 months) due to the fact that despite coming on leaps & bounds with her eating, she’s still not totally into food.

Organic soya milk (we like Sojade natural or Plenish) is going to be your best dairy free choice as it’s high in protein & calcium. Unlike nut/seed milks which they cannot use due to allergies, your nursery or school should be able to serve this so we would always advise asking for this as a replacement for oat milk.

Navigating nursery/school eating, birthday parties, overly keen grandparents (no Dad, it’s not ok to give Willow fudge to stop her crying), is a huge challenge & one I’m continuing to master. In part 2 I’ll go into ways I’ve found to manage this, as well as exploring when fussy eating/food refusal is more than just a phase &  may need to be addressed further.

If you have any questions or would like to contact Florence for support with childhood nutrition please do send us an email at info@naturalnourishment.me