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Weaning is the term used when a baby is introduced to solid foods from having a milk only diet. It is a gradual process, often a messy one, where baby and new foods and textures meet each other for the first time.

A baby needs eventually to have a more varied diet, and different diets can help to stimulate and develop the taste buds. It is also extremely important that a baby is introduced slowly to fibre containing foods in order that the gut may be stimulated adequately and develop normally.

Weaning can normally start at around 4 months, however there is no hard and fast rule. Providing the baby is gaining weight steadily (a few ounces a week), it is quite safe to gradually change their diet.

Babies who have recently experienced an illness or vomit easily may need to be checked over by the health visitor or family doctor to make sure it is not going to aggravate an existing problem.

Delaying weaning until the baby is more settled is not a problem. Some babies will reject all flavors and any changes, don't give up, as it is too easy for a baby to spit food out, with gentle coaxing you will succeed. How many adults do you know who are still only drinking milk?

Always start with fine pureed food, not food with any lumps in them. Initially it is probably easier and safer to purchase baby food products that can be given in small amounts to see which flavors your baby likes. It is possible to puree some of your own meals but not if its spicy or has too many strong flavorings.

Be armed with a small bottle of water for baby to drink in between several mouthfuls of food, as this can sometimes help, and use a small plastic or soft spoon, which will be more comfortable in the baby's mouth. Try some of the pudding or dessert and fruity meals first as the sweet taste bud is often the first one easily satisfied. However gradually introduce meaty or cheesy meals to add variety and nutrition.

When you are weaning you should gradually aim to reducing the milk intake, but not necessarily the fluid intake which is why cooled boiled water is useful to have at the same time.

As teeth develop and the baby becomes accustomed to foods in its mouth, you can then try introducing foods with texture and small lumps. Initially you are bound to experience the gag reflex from the baby and be amazed at how quickly they can expel food from their mouths.

Gradually if you are patient and continue feeding they will soon become accustomed to this different form of food and this can lead on to fruit, biscuits, bread and other nibbles being given for the baby to hold and feed themselves.

NEVER leave a baby unattended in the early stages with food such as apple or biscuits where they can bite off a bit too big to swallow and can choke.

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