Find out more about baby-led weaning, managing lumpy food and finger foods.
There are different choices you can make about how you introduce food to your baby, and how solid foods are to begin with. Beginning with pureed food on a baby spoon is how many parents start.
Some healthcare professionals feel it isn't always necessary for first foods to be completely smooth and fed on a spoon. Another popular option is to allow your baby to take and eat food when they are ready. This is known as baby-led weaning.
Baby-led weaning allows the baby to join in family mealtimes and share the same foods, adapted to suit their abilities.
They are able to explore food and decide how much or how little to eat, and how quickly. Milk feeds should continue as their main source of nourishment as your baby gets used to a mixed diet and learns to manage different textures.
A baby born early may require some additional nutrition before they are ready to feed themselves.
This is because they may take longer to be able to sit up and bring food to their own mouth. It can be helpful to spoon feed until this point.
The aim of baby-led weaning, though, is for your baby to feed themselves whenever possible.
"I found that baby-led weaning let him play with food, and see that food is fun and not something to be feared"
Rebecca, mum to Jack
Many parents find baby-led weaning can contribute to good overall nutrition, enjoyable mealtimes and a healthy relationship with food throughout childhood.
It is very important that your baby is ready to feed themselves by being able to sit up by themselves, or with some support.
You should always watch your baby when they are starting to eat more lumpy or solid food. This is to make sure they are safe when swallowing food.
From Gill Rapley
Is baby-led weaning suitable for premature babies?
"Yes. Baby-led weaning is all about each individual baby's development. It's about maximising what they can do, not focusing on what they can't. As soon as your baby is able to hold themselves upright (with little support) and is starting to reach out and grab objects that interest them, they can be offered food to pick up, look at, and – if they are ready – to lick, chew, and maybe even eat.
"This is something you can encourage your baby to do even if their medical needs mean that they also have to be given nourishment another way, such as softer foods on a spoon. Sharing family mealtimes, exploring food and feeding themselves can support your baby’s overall development as well as helping them to learn about food and enjoy eating."
It is important that you do introduce lumps to your baby's food. Babies might find them hard to manage to start, but they will get used to new textures with time. You might find that it can also get harder for your baby to get used to lumps if you wait too long to introduce them.
If weaning has begun with spoon-feeding, you might find it easiest to introduce more lumps when your baby is able to sit and pick up food by themselves.
It can be hard for a baby to take lumps off a spoon. You could try putting lumpier but still soft foods (e.g. ripe mashed banana) on a plate in front of your baby to try to pick up and eat.
Your baby is likely to gag or cough when they first try lumpier food. Try not to worry, as this is usual for babies as they learn.
Make sure you stay with them at all times when eating, and encourage your baby.
Try to avoid any food with small hard lumps (e.g. fruit pips), or a mixture of liquid and lumps (e.g. cereals with milk) as they may find it hard to control both in their mouth.
"My baby found it difficult moving from puree to lumpy foods, so we did thicker mash for a while and introduced lumps small bits at a time. Mashed potatoes, butternut squash, broccoli and cheese was a firm favourite! She now eats anything and everything!"
Chelsea, mum to Amber
Playing with food is an important part of learning. This stage of weaning can be messy, but it is a part of the learning process for your baby.
Some research suggests that babies born before 30 weeks, those who have had help breathing whilst in the intensive care unit, or those who have had surgery might be more likely to have problems with feeding, and may struggle with lumps. If you are worried, always talk to a health professional.
These foods can be picked up by your baby to allow them to feed themselves. Whenever you choose to introduce these it is another important stage in your baby taking more control over their eating.
More solid foods help to develop chewing skills as well as their hand-eye coordination.
It is usual for babies to gag slightly as they get used to more lumpy foods. It is the body's way of getting food back into the mouth to avoid choking. Encourage your baby to keep trying to chew the food. Eventually they will learn to chew and bite food rather than just suck.
Parents sometimes worry about their baby choking. Never leave your baby alone when eating.
If your baby ever struggles to breathe, call 999 immediately. You can find information on what to do if your baby chokes from St John Ambulance.