Weaning is often described as being divided into three stages which explain the journey your baby will follow from first foods to family meals.
Stage 1 weaning describes the very first foods you offer your baby. If you are following traditional weaning this might be baby food made into purees that are very smooth or if you are baby-led weaning it may be single sticks of well-cooked vegetables. At this stage your baby can’t move food around their mouth, nor can they chew. But what they can do is mouth food and move it from the front to the back of her mouth and swallow. This stage usually lasts just a few weeks.
Stage 2 weaning is the bit in between where things get a lot more interesting and what this blog is all about!!
Stage 3 describes when your baby can manage chopped family meals and is a skilled chewer, this usually happens when your baby gets to around 10 months of age.
What is stage 2 weaning?
Because stage 2 weaning is all about the progression from first foods to family meals, now is the time to be focusing your attention on offering a wide variety of flavours, lots of different tastes and trying all kinds of textures.
If you’ve been pureeing foods, you no longer need to and can use a fork to mash them instead.
It's also the time when combining flavours to make new and exciting meals will please your experimental little one who will likely want to have breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Nutrition takes on a greater significance now because many of the reserves they were born with have run out.
When do you start stage 2 weaning?
Stage 2 weaning usually starts around 7 months of age but can be a little earlier at 6.5 months if you have a keen eater. It usually lasts till around 9-10 months and during this time the amount of food your baby eats at each mealtime will grow.
This is also the time when your baby will become more active and mobile and therefore will be burning more energy than before. This is why the amount of food they eat goes up too.
How do I know when my baby is ready to move to stage 2 weaning?
Your baby will be getting their hands stuck into their food and moving them up to their mouth to taste the flavours. They may grab the spoon too or want one of their own, they probably won't yet be able to scoop food up with their spoon but will try nevertheless.
If you have already tried finger foods your baby will be capable of directing them towards their mouth to explore.
Don't be too concerned about the amount of food your baby is eating at the start of stage 2 weaning because before now food has been all about experiencing things that are different from milk.
What a typical stage 2 routine might look like
Babies usually eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with three or four milk feeds in between. Now is a good time to consider dropping her milk feed on waking and go straight to breakfast in order to capitalise on her hunger and thirst. This will also help set up your day for spacing out her naps and milk feeds so that she has a decent amount of time in between.
It’s at this stage where your baby will start to learn about appetite. A good routine can teach her the feelings of hunger and fullness and she will begin to understand that food takes away the feeling of hunger, leaving her feeling satisfied.
I often see mums who have babies who have not learned this skill and as a result, refuse foods always gravitating towards milk to fill up on. From a nutritional perspective, this doesn't do them any favours as milk no longer provides all the nutrients your baby needs.
A typical routine for stage 2 weaning might look like this:
What foods should I offer at stage 2 weaning?
Considering what your baby will eat for her meals becomes key during stage 2 weaning because nutrition takes on greater importance. The nutritional stores your baby is born with will have run out by now, and although milk still provides a lot of nourishment, they will need a top-up from food.
There are key nutrients that all babies need from 6 months onwards, you can read more about their nutritional needs in my blog called Why “Food Before One is Just for Fun” is not true!
How to plan a balanced weaning meal:
There are three parts to planning nutritious meals for your baby.
First - start with an iron rich protein food like meat, beans, lentils, eggs or tofu.
Second - add your veg and fruit as these provide vitamin C and help your baby absorb the iron.
Third - add in an energy provider - examples of these are avocado, nut butters, yoghurt, buttered toast, potato, pasta, sweet potato, and other grains.
At the same time, your baby is entering a ‘window of opportunity’ when they will be very accepting of almost anything and everything. Research tells us that offering a wide variety of foods during weaning and offering them on several occasions sets the foundation for a happy, healthy eater.
Should I be concerned if my baby doesn’t eat very much?
At the start of Stage 2 weaning, eating is all about learning about food and babies learn through play. To babies, squishing, throwing, dropping and messing about with food is fascinating stuff and they will often prefer to play with their food rather than eat it. This is all absolutely fine.
At this stage encourage your baby to be in charge of feeding themselves. Give them a spoon and place the food on the table in front of them then sit back and let them explore. It’s good for them to decide which foods to eat and in what order.
If you’re baby-led weaning it’s likely that there is quite a bit of mouthing and sucking going on but not actually very much of the food is being swallowed. If you are weaning with purees your baby is likely to be eating a little bit more.
Practice the Division of Responsibility in Feeding
This philosophy (by Ellyn Satter) teaches your baby how to be an intuitive eater and to grow up to have a good relationship with food. It describes your role and your baby’s role when it comes to feeding.
Your role is to decide on what to eat, where to eat it and when it should be...and that's it!
Your baby’s role is to decide if, and how much to eat and most importantly when they’re finished.
It's really important not to tempt your baby to eat ‘just one more mouthful’ if you are following traditional spoon feeding or even ask your BLW baby to take ‘one more bite.’ Let them learn their appetite cues and trust their bodies to eat what they need.
Where should my baby sit during stage 2 weaning?
Like at the start of weaning your baby needs to be well supported during mealtimes so that they can dedicate 100% of their attention to the job in hand. Highchairs that have support at the waist, knees and feet are ideal. Without these your baby also has to work on keeping themselves steady. They haven’t yet mastered ‘proprioception’ or the sense of self in space.
If you need to, roll up a couple of towels to shove down the side of the highchair to keep your baby cushioned and do fiddle with the seat position and foot-rest. If you don’t have a foot-rest on your highchair pop a couple of boxes or a pile of books under your baby’s feet so that they have something to press against, rather than leaving little legs dangling in space.
Bring the highchair up to the family table and remove the tray if you can. During Stage 2 weaning your baby needs to be seeing you eat the same food as they are because babies learn by copying you.
If you don’t serve meals ‘Family Style’ yet, this is a great time to start. This involves putting serving dishes of food in the centre of the table and each member of the family serves themselves to the portion size they think they will eat. I have more information on the benefits of Family Style Serving in my blog. Of course your baby isn't going to be able to do this yet, but what it does do is help their visual and olfactory (smell) sensory development. You can read more on your baby’s sensory development here.
Where should I sit?
Your role as the parent is to teach your baby how to eat so ideally you should be sitting at the table either to the side or directly opposite them, having the same food. They need to be able to see you pick up a food, put it in your mouth, chew it and swallow it in order to know that that’s how you do it. Mealtimes together are also a great opportunity to practice communication, talk about the foods, name them, describe their colour texture and make lots of happy noises. Make eye contact and smile a lot so that your little one associates their mealtimes as being a happy and fun activity.
Can my baby have other drinks now?
Milk (either breast or formula) and water are the only two drinks that babies need. If you haven’t already introduced a cup of water at mealtimes, now is the time to do it in order to teach drinking skills.
When it comes to other drinks avoid baby juices, squashes, fruit juices and drinks aimed at adults such as teas, coffee and soft drinks as your baby really does not need the sweetness, sugar or caffeine. Also although you can use cows milk in foods or on cereal it’s not suitable as a drink just yet because it doesn’t contain the additional nutrients that your baby would get from having formula or breastmilk.
Which type of cup is best?
An open cup is best as ultimately you want your baby to develop the skills to be able to drink from these. I like the Baby Cup as it’s tiny, holding just 50ml of fluid and is made from a flexible material that shapes to your baby’s mouth. You can buy it here.
Some babies however find the water flow from an open cup too fast and so a free flow spouted beaker like the Tommee Tippee First cup can be a good alternative. You can buy it here.
Whichever cup you choose, show your baby how it works first by tipping it and pouring so they know what to expect.
How much milk does my baby need at stage 2 weaning?
As your baby starts to eat more food their milk intake will gradually decrease. Some babies do this on their own but others need a bit of gentle encouragement.
Milk drinking is easy. It's a skill they have mastered months ago and can do very well. Eating food is much harder and requires concentration and effort. Milk is also sweet and all babies have a preference for sweet things as these are the most mature and well developed taste buds. You can therefore see why some babies don't start weaning with gusto and would prefer to just have milk.
Between 7 and 9 months of age milk intake should be around 500-600ml (20oz) per day, more than this may inhibit appetite and your baby’s desire to eat. This is often difficult to quantify if you are breastfeeding, therefore I advocate a full feed (both breasts) mid morning, mid afternoon and at bedtime, fitting in with the routine advised above.
Does my baby need vitamin supplements?
Yes. The Department of Health recommends that babies should be given a supplement providing vitamins A, C and D from the age of 6 months. This is because food intake at this stage is variable and most vitamin D comes from exposing the skin to sunlight rather than food. If your baby is taking 500ml or more of of infant formula per day then they won’t need the supplement as baby milks have already been fortified. However, breastfed babies should take vitamins A, C and D daily.
The requirement for vitamin A is 200mcg / day
The requirement for vitamin C is 20mg / day
The requirement for vitamin D is 8.5-10mcg / day
The only baby vitamin supplement available to buy that contains this exact amount is Nature & Nurture Baby Vitamins. You can purchase it here.
There are other baby vitamin supplements available that provide a different doses of these vitamins, these are:
NHS Healthy Start
Your baby can take these without being at risk of nutritional deficiencies providing the eat a mixed and varied diet of foods containing vitamins A and C.
This is important for your baby’s heart, lungs and kidneys and supports their immune system, their developing vision and skin.
Sources of vitamin A include:
liver (no more than once a week)
Mackerel (no more than 2 portions of oily fish a week)
Salmon (no more than 2 portions of oily fish a week)
This is important for your baby’s health, is an antioxidant, protecting your baby’s body against damaging free radicals, it supports the repair of cuts and bruises, and boosts your baby’s immune system so it can help fight off coughs and colds.
Sources of vitamin C include:
This is important for bone health but there are very few food sources:
Fortified breakfast cereals
Vitamin D comes from sunshine, but as babies skin needs to be protected from the sun it has to be obtained through supplementation.
What happens if we delay moving to stage 2?
It’s important not to keep your baby on stage 1 foods for too long. This is both from a developmental perspective and a nutritional one.
Developmentally if your baby is not exposed to a variety of different textures and favours they will miss important sensory and oral motor stages and may have problems eating and drinking as they get older. I often see toddlers who are fussy eaters and have missed important developmental milestones from prolonged exposure to purees. It’s important to make sure this doesn’t happen as it can be a tricky problem to fix in older children.
From a nutritional perspective there are important nutrients that your baby needs and will be missing out on if they stay on stage 1 foods for too long. Nutritional deficiencies unfortunately do occur.
What happens if I move to stage 2 before my baby is ready?
Your baby will simply push the food back out of their mouth. If they haven’t developed the skills needed to move food around their mouth and the up and down jaw motion they won’t be able to chew the food in order to eat it.
If your baby doesn’t seem to be ready for more textured food yet then this isn’t a problem but don’t give up, sometimes they need to be challenged with textures as babies will always prefer to eat what is easiest. If you’re really not sure, just wait another few days or so and try again. Most babies are ready around 7 months of age.
It’s important not to give foods that are small and hard as they could be a choking risk. Examples of these to avoid are whole nuts, whole grapes, giant blueberries, cherry tomatoes, chunks of carrot, cherries.
I’m worried about gagging and choking, what can I do to avoid it?
Gagging is inevitable and is actually a good thing. It’s a safety mechanism to prevent choking and at the start of weaning the gag reflex is very sensitive, triggering often. The gag reflex is at the front of the mouth and moves back as your baby learns to eat. Choking however must be prevented at all costs as it can be fatal.
If you think about the gag sensation you would get if you put your fingers down your throat, this same sensation happens to babies, but much closer to their lips.
You can help your baby’s gag reflex move back by giving them long hard stick shaped foods. We call these ‘hard munchables’ and good examples for stage 2 weaning are carrot sticks, celery sticks, pieces of apple or dried meat sticks like biltong. Your baby shouldn’t be able to bite pieces off, otherwise they could be a choking hazard. Don’t expect your baby to eat these foods, they’re just for practice and to help the gag reflex develop. Their toothbrush, a weaning spoon and toys that are a similar shape are good for this too.
It’s really important not to panic if your baby is gagging otherwise you could make them frightened of eating. Keep calm, smile at them (even if you are worrying inside) and say in your best sing song voice “oops, that food went down too far, lets try putting it in a bit less far next time”
Choking however is something every parent wants to avoid. When a baby chokes they are usually silent, this is because the object has totally blocked the airway meaning no sound can come out. Babies can change colour and have blue lips and may flap their arms about in panic. However, partial choking is when some of the airway is blocked and babies can cough and splutter and make a noise, often this is enough to dislodge the food.
If you think your baby is choking shout for help, pick up your child and support them in a head-down position on your thighs. Support their head and give 5 sharp blows between the shoulder blades with the heel of one hand to help dislodge the object.
I recommend attending a baby first aid course before you start weaning, often these are free of charge at children’s centres but speak to your health visitor for local recommendations.
What you can do to minimise the risk of choking:
Always stay with your baby while they are eating.
Make sure your baby is seated in a well supported highchair (see above).
Don’t let your baby eat in their car seat or a forward facing pushchair. You won’t be able to get to them quickly enough if they need help.
Cut round shaped foods such as grapes, cherry tomatoes and giant blueberries into smaller sizes, triangular shapes are good as if they do get stuck air can still pass.
Avoid hard foods like whole nuts, giant seeds, popcorn, hard dried fruits and very hard crackers or crisps.
Stop offering the ‘hard munchables’ like raw carrot, celery etc once your baby can get bits off.
Mix nut butters with a little of your baby’s usual milk to thin it down or allow it to melt by spreading thinly on hot toast, often nut butters are quite sticky, posing a risk.
Remind your baby to “chew, chew chew” and eat with them often so they can see you doing it too. It doesn’t do any harm to overemphasise chewing now and again!
It sounds obvious but avoid toffees, chewing gum and hard candies like boiled sweets!
Are there any foods to avoid during stage 2 weaning?
Yes, there are certain foods that you should avoid giving to your baby till they are over 1 year of age.
Salt: babies under the age of 1 should have less than 1g of salt per day. This is because their kidneys are not yet able to cope with processing a lot of salt. This is easier said than done as many everyday foods contain salt such as cheese and bread. My top tip is to avoid adding salt to the food you prepare at home and look at the labels on shop-bought food, choosing the brand with the lowest salt per 100g. I have a detailed blog on salt and weaning to help you understand how to achieve this 1g limit in babies.
Sugar: don’t add sugar to any food you prepare at home until your baby is over one, and limit shop bought biscuits, cakes and sweet treats. Research tells us that giving sweet foods during weaning may encourage a ‘sweet tooth’ or preference for sweeter things. This is because babies have well developed sweet taste buds at birth so will always have a preference for them. The long term consequence is children choosing sweeter options as they get older which can have an impact on dental health and potentially obesity. You can sweeten homemade bakes with fruits such as apple puree or banana.
Honey: Occasionally honey can contain a type of food poisoning bacteria that can cause a serious illness called infant botulism. Therefore it’s advisable to avoid honey in babies under 1.
Shark, marlin and swordfish: These fish contain the metal mercury in high concentrations which can affect the developing central nervous system so should not be given to under 1’s. It’s important to limit other oily fish to twice a week for the same reason.
Whole nuts and jelly cubes: these should not be given to children under the age of 5 due to the risk of choking.
Rice milk: this contains high levels of a naturally occurring substance called inorganic arsenic which is not recommended for children under 5 years of age.
Some cheeses: mould ripened cheeses like brie, camembert or some goats cheeses and blue cheeses like Roquefort are at risk of containing a food poisoning bacteria called listeria. Unpasteurized cheeses also carry this risk. It’s best to avoid these in babies under 1 however if you use these as an ingredient in dishes that are cooked at a high temperature, the listeria will be destroyed and the cheeses become safe.
Lightly cooked shellfish: such as mussels, clams and oysters should also be avoided in under 1’s as these too are a greater risk for containing food poisoning bacteria.
A note about eggs
Until recently it was advised that babies should not have raw or lightly cooked eggs such as soft boiled eggs or homemade mayonnaise. However the advice was updated in November 2018 to say that babies can have these as long as the eggs are from a trusted source and the way to be assured is to look for the British Red Lion stamp on eggs. Farm eggs that don’t have the stamp should still be hard boiled or well cooked if giving to your baby.
What does it mean if my baby rejects the new foods I offer?
All babies develop differently which means that initially they might not be too happy with some of the new foods that you are offering them. They may spit, throw or refuse foods - turning their heads away. It’s important to follow their lead and don’t force the issue if they are refusing food. This is called responsive feeding and it’s about trusting your little one. However don’t be put off try again on a different occasion, babies can take their time getting used to different foods. Research tells us that it can take 10 times or more for little ones to learn to accept a new food!
Stage 2 recipes
Here’s a list of my top 10 stage 2 weaning recipes to get you started - Enjoy!
Article researched by Holly Roper MSc Nutrition Student - University of Sheffield