After months of your baby being nourished purely by milk, at around six to eight months they will be ready to begin exploring solid foods. Up until six months breast milk or infant formula provides your baby with all the nutrients they need but gradually after this point your baby will begin to need more calories.
The term "weaning' is, I think, a bit misleading. Your baby will not suddenly stop having milk, in fact milk will form a large part of their diet for several more months. I prefer the term "introduction to solids" as this is exactly what you are doing; getting your baby used to the new tastes and textures of solid food in preparation for the time when they need it to sustain healthy growth and development.
So, how will you know when your baby is ready for solid food?
Just because they have reached six months old does not necessarily mean your baby needs to start food there and then. The guidelines say 'around' six months and every baby will be following their own unique path. However, there are a few signs to look out for to know when it's time to make a start:
Your baby can sit up with minimal support;
Your baby can support their head well;
Your baby can pick up objects and bring them to their mouth
When trying solids, your baby can make chewing movements and swallow, rather than pushing the food back out using their tongue.
There are also some 'signs' that parents may mistake for being ready which may be due to other things:
Waking up in the night more
Wanting extra milk feeds during the day
Although these may be signs, if these are the only things which make you think your baby is ready for solids, they are probably for another reason such as teething, illness, growth spurt, the beginnings of separation anxiety or just a slight change in routine.
It is also worth noting that there is no evidence to support the idea that giving solids will help your baby sleep through the night - sorry folks, just saying!
What do I need?
Bowls, plates, spoons
At first your baby will not be able to use spoons, bowls etc, in fact, some Montessorians say they get in the way of a baby exploring the food. I think a happy medium may be that a shallow plate and a spoon should be present in front of them, not with any expectation for them to use them but to teach them that these are the objects which we, in this family, use when we eat. There are some lovely bamboo and silicone ranges available which give your baby valuable exposure to different textures, are easy to grasp and are kind to delicate gums. Plates with separate sections are perfect for introducing a range of foods- if you offer a mixed up food selection your little one will find it hard to form opinions and differentiate between textures, appearance and tastes. We love these ones but have a good look around, there are loads of lovely ones on the market.
Search on Etsy for 'Montessori Bibs', like this one. These are great as your baby will soon be able to take them on and off independently.
Otherwise, look for bibs with velcro fastenings which are easier to remove than those with poppers.
Try open weaning cups with tiny amount of cool boiled water or milk, like these ones which feature in our six months box. Open cups allow babies to explore how to use the muscles of their mouth correctly to control the flow of their drink and are recommended by dentists over closed 'sippy' cups. They are also great for teaching your baby about forces and controlling their movements as they have to judge just how much to raise and tip to get a drink without spilling.
Traditionally Montessori parents will use a 'weaning table & chair' which is low to the ground and allows the child complete freedom to access their food independently. My personal view is that I prefer the socialisation which comes from a child sitting at the same level as the rest of the family by using a high chair.
I love Tripp Trapp chairs which grow with your little one from weaning all the way through childhood. They are great for being able to sit right up to the table showing your child they are respected as an equal member of the family, your little one will be able to climb in and out independently in a few months and they are ergonomically designed to enable perfect posture and balance giving core stability which enables them to focus on the fine motor skills needed for self-feeding. They are quite pricey but will last for years.
I also still love the original Antelop high chair from IKEA for really good value for money. You can remove the tray on these ones too so baby can still sit right up to the table. The only downside is the lack of a foot rest but ... check out this clever idea as a great alternative!
How to start
I do not claim to be an expert on baby-led weaning by any means but I do believe it ties in perfectly with the Montessori philosophy in terms of giving children freedom and trusting them to make their own decisions about how they learn and develop. Many Montessori parents use a mixture of baby-led weaning and pureed food when they start out on the introduction of solids but it is entirely up to you do do what you feel is right for your baby.
Here are just a few tips which link the Montessori method to introducing solids. For more information about baby-led weaning, foods to try, how to prepare and present them, there are lots of great books, apps and websites out there for you to learn all about it:
1. Be a role model - let your baby see you eating and enjoying (!) a wide range of foods
2. Make mealtimes distraction free - no screens, toys etc and not too much chatting an interference. Just let your baby get on with it!
3. Offer a range of new tastes (one at a time for a few days each) but don't force your baby to taste something. If they refuse, j just take it away and try again another time.
4. Let your baby decide when they have had enough and don't be tempted to encourage "just one more". If they are turning their head away, pushing their plate away, throwing food on the floor etc they are telling you they have had enough.
5. Let hem choose what they'd like from the selection on the plate. Put a small selection of different foods on the plate and let them look and consider which they would like to try.
6. Try to offer food in its whole form so that your baby understands what each separate taste looks like too. It is much easier for them to know what a carrot is if they are holding a whole piece of steamed carrot than seeing a bowl of orange puree.
Of course every child's feeding journey is different and the information contained in this post is my own personal opinion based on my training, knowledge and experience. If you have any questions about your child's readiness for introducing solids or other related queries, please speak to your health visitor or GP.
Please note: any products I have suggested are not meant as specific recommendations but merely as helpful pointers to show you the types of options available. I am not receiving any monetary gain for the links given in this post.