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Weaning your baby from breastfeeding and other questions: A Q&A with Annabel Karmel

By Mums At The Table 4 min read

Annabel Karmel is the lady behind the toddler-friendly ready meals you find in the supermarkets.

Annabel Karmel headshot (ID)

She is also the author of books on nutrition and cooking for babies, children and families. In conjunction with the release of her latest book, Weaning Made Simple, she has agreed to answer some of the weaning questions by our Facebook group members.

Want free weaning recipes from Annabel?
Click here now!

What’s your opinion on baby-led weaning?

Weaning is such an exciting time for parents and so it is important to adopt the right approach for you and your baby. And the good news is that there is no right or wrong to weaning. Some babies will thrive on purees, others on finger foods and some on both. It’s okay to be flexible in your approach—you don’t have to commit to one method. It’s about following your intuition and your baby's developmental signs.

Baby-led weaning is about allowing and encouraging your independent little one to go at their own pace while exploring a variety of foods, tastes and textures for themselves—deciding what they want to eat, when and how much. The thinking behind this approach is that those babies who are offered a wide variety of foods at an early age will be less fussy later in life. It is also thought that self-feeding can help to build confidence and make mealtimes more of a social occasion for your baby (and for you).

Baby-led weaning is not an all-or-nothing approach. You can offer your baby soft finger foods and small portions of family meals alongside spoon-feeding purees. It’s all about what fits in with your routine and most importantly that both you and your baby feel content and comfortable.

In speaking to other parents, dietitians, nutritionists and healthcare professionals about the various approaches to weaning, combining both methods is a popular option and one that many parents find most realistic to adopt. Offering a mix of pureed foods as well as soft fingers foods at the beginning is also advocated by the likes of the Department of Health, the National Health Service and the British Nutrition Foundation.

Relevant: 6 hacks every mum should know when introducing solids to babies

My baby seems to prefer my breast milk to solid food. How can I progress?

Until your baby is 12 months old, breast milk or infant formula should continue to provide a significant proportion of your baby’s energy requirements, which is around 500–700ml of breast milk or formula each day.

Babies aren’t born knowing how to manage solid food and the muscles in their mouth are only used to milk at this stage. Milk is a comfort to them and they know what they’re getting with milk! They have to get used to the feeling of food in their mouth and learn how to move it around and swallow it, so remember that they will only be eating very small amounts at first.

Offer your baby a breastfeed or a little formula before you give them food. By making sure your baby is relaxed, content and not too hungry, they are more likely to be accepting of exploring new foods. Their usual milk is still so key at this time as it is far more nutrient-dense than the amount they’ll be taking in through food.

What is important to note here is that, from around six months, your baby’s regular milk will no longer provide them with enough of the nutrients they need. Their stores of critical nutrients such as iron and essential fatty acids start to deplete at around the six-month mark, and they need nutrients from specific foods to meet the increased demand for these nutrients.

As you progress through weaning, it’s more than likely your baby will begin to drink less milk as they eat more solid foods, and their milk feeds will naturally become more infrequent and shorter. This should be a natural progression, and you’ll usually find that your baby will start to show signs of being less interested in their normal milk, naturally reducing the milk they consume.

However, your involvement in slowly reducing their feeds is also key as babies need to learn to recognise when they are hungry and full-up, and if their milk intake isn’t being reduced, it could impact on their weaning progression.

When can we start to give baby the same food that we are having?

One of the many plus points of baby-led weaning is the family factor! It’s all about making mealtimes a social experience. Soft finger foods are particularly important at the beginning, but the beauty of baby-led is that you can also get them joining in on what you’re having as a family from around six and-a-half months—whether that’s your favourite curry on a Friday night, a cosy cottage pie at the weekend or some roasted sweet potatoes during the week. Simply offer them a small portion of the same (just be sure to leave out the salt). And if you are spoon feeding them you can simply puree, mash or chop to reach the desired consistency for your baby.

Want free weaning recipes from Annabel?
Click here now!

My 13-month-old is eating well but still breastfeeds on demand. I want to put her in daycare and I was wondering if she still needs the breast at this stage?

The World Health Organisation advises continuing to breastfeed until your baby is two years old in addition to complementary foods, so this is absolutely fine to continue doing so.

At mealtimes, it’s also a good idea to offer your baby a drink from an open cup or free-flow beaker so that they learn the art of sipping. So you could also encourage your baby to take their formula or expressed breast milk from a cup.

Once your baby has reached their first birthday, you can start to introduce full fat cow’s milk which will provide a good source of bone-boosting calcium, and other essential vitamins and minerals.

Is it true that any food we give our kids aged under one is “just for fun”?

I’m sure we’ve all heard this phrase before! And yes, food should be fun, but it also has a vital job to do from the very start of weaning in terms of helping your baby to get more of the necessary nutrients they need for growth and development.

Your baby’s milk feeds will still be providing the majority of their nutrition in these early stages but once babies hit that six-month milestone they start to need critical nutrients such as iron and essential fatty acids, which cannot be fully gained from breast or formula milk alone.

Want free weaning recipes from Annabel?
Click here now!

Annabel's book Weaning Made Simple (Pan Macmillan, 2020) is available now.