We started weaning Henry just over two weeks ago, just before he turned six months and we’ve been having great fun watching him enjoy some real food. I wanted to share our experiences, along with some useful links in hopes of helping other preemie parents who might not know where (or when) to begin!
Firstly, when you have a premature baby a lot of developmental milestones are based on their ‘corrected age’ rather than their actual age, this is the age they should be had they been born on their due date. Weaning is a bit different since most will have been digesting milk since their birth or soon after.
This does present more challenges than weaning a full term six month old as Henry isn’t at the stage of sitting unsupported or able to coordinate his hands well enough for the baby-led method of finger feeding, which would have been my preference. Not to mention that he is physically too small for most high chairs, currently being the size of an average newborn! For these reasons it is important to get the go-ahead from a professional before you start and we checked with our outreach nurse before we began who referred us to the very useful Bliss guide called ‘Weaning Your Premature Baby‘. This is definitely worth a read before you start as it informed us that we need to begin with purees then introduce lumpier food after about a month. At this point weaning is really just about introducing different flavours and textures to a baby as solid food will not be a main source of nutrition until around ten to twelve months, for this reason it is important to keep up with milk feeds.
So before embarking on our weaning journey I did some research into what kind of foods we should begin with and several studies have suggested a more savoury approach, beginning with vegetables. I had also read several stories about baby rice containing high levels of arsenic so wasn’t keen to start there! Looking at the NHS site however much of this was probably blown out of proportion by the media so I should stress that if you have started with baby rice the risks are very low, although a third of the baby rice tested in a study were found to have high levels they are unlikely to do any harm in such small doses.
As a baby (and child) I was quite a fussy eater and my husband as a baby would only eat fruit so I really wanted to make sure we got this right. I had also read that it is best to begin with one flavour at a time when you first start and luckily found a very useful little guide on the Ella’s Kitchen website as part of their “Veg for Victory” campaign. After establishing where to start I set to work cooking up a storm in the kitchen; steaming all the vegetables and portioning them out in ice cube trays, once frozen they can be transitioned into labelled zip-lock bags to save space and you can just pop out a veggie-cube whenever you need one.
As Henry was so premature we are taking things quite slowly so on the second week of weaning we were still cycling through the week 1 list in the guide (partly because I made so much and partly because we don’t want to rush Henry too much as he’s not likely to progress to finger foods any time soon!)
As predicted by the outreach nurse his first reaction to the food was to push it out as he had not yet learnt the tongue control to move it from the front to the back of his mouth, we have seen an improvement in this every day since we started and feel he is really getting the hang of it now, happily slurping the food off the spoon. It was suggested that if he really struggled with the spoon we could feed him from our fingers which we did with his first experience of cauliflower as he seem a bit unsure about this, however the second time he tried it he absolutely love it and ate the whole lot in no time! I’ve read that if a baby does not like a new flavour it should be tried ten times before ruling it out completely, however we’ve yet to find something Henry doesn’t like to test out this theory!
So far we have worked our way through Week 1 of the Ella’s kitchen guide over the past two weeks meaning Henry has had potato, brocolli, cauliflower, green beans, peas, avocado and cabbage each mixed with breast milk.
We have just started to work through the Week 2 recipes which we will be continuing over the next two weeks giving Henry a taste of courgette, brussel sprouts, aubergine, carrot, butternut squash, parsnip and swede so I’ll be cooking these up during the week and freezing them in readiness. I’ll probably throw in some sweet potato too. There are some other handy guides to cooking and preparing various fruits and vegetables over on Buzzfeed and A Step in the Journey.
Once we’re nicely established with our dinnertime vegetables I’m planning to introduce fruits at lunchtimes and start combining flavours, some other recipes we’re hoping to try include some more from another Ella’s Kitchen guide:
- Chickpeas, courgettes, carrots and coriander
- Lentils, squash, oranges and tomatoes
- Butter beans, parsnips and carrots
Made for Mums has some interesting recipes for combining flavours early on along with Organix and I’m also keen to start introducing herbs and spices and Hello Bee have some nice ideas including the following:
- Sweet potato and cinnamon
- Avocado and cumin
- Spinach and nutmeg
- Butternut squash and sage
- Potato and rosemary
Once we move onto more lumpier foods there are some nice recipes to try over on Jamie Oliver’s website and after around 10 to 12 months the plan is to start giving Henry mashed versions of the things we eat.
As I mentioned earlier, ideally I would like to have taken a more baby-led process with weaning by skipping the puree stage altogether (read more over on Dirt & Boogers), I really like this approach as I’m keen for Henry to have a healthy relationship with food especially being such a fussy eater myself as a child. Once he is able to hold his head and fit nicely into his high chair we will definitely be giving him some finger foods to try. At the moment with the purees we do encourage him to put his hands in and get dirty as this is also beneficial from a sensory point of view.
The final thing we had to address, not that Henry’s quite ready for it yet, is a high chair, there are so many on the market we really didn’t know where to start. I knew by the time Henry is ready for a high chair he will be a lot smaller than most babies at this stage so wanted something accommodating. After a little research I came across the Ikea Antilop, it had lots of recommendations for being suitable for small/premature babies, particularly when you buy the blow up cushion which means the size is adjustable and even better is the reasonable £13 price tag! We haven’t tried it with Henry yet but our Oliver Bear (who is smaller than Henry) fits in it nicely!
I hope you’ve found this useful, if you have any tips or recipes you would like to share please leave a comment. For more useful links on weaning check out my board below on Pinterest: