first solid food mashed vegetable soft fruit baby rice

3 Key Factors to Consider When Weaning Your Premature Baby 

For first time parents, introducing solid foods to babies is a milestone.  It is always exciting, but can also be daunting. 

My daughter had her first taste of solid foods when she was 6 months old. I could still remember the planning I did for that momentous day. Of course, I wanted to do it right by making sure that it was fun for my baby  and fulfilling for me as a first time mum.  

Was my baby ready? Should I wait longer just because my baby was premature?  What will be her first food? What time shall I feed her with solid food for the first time? Who will take the video while I feed her?  

These were just some of the many questions I asked myself before the big day. But my first consideration was my daughter’s readiness for weaning.  

According to NHS, weaning “is the gradual introduction of foods that help support your baby’s growth along with their milk, and starts from anytime around five to eight months from your baby’s birth”. (Source: 

My daughter was born at 32 weeks and weighed only 1.69 kg. She had to stay at NICU and SCBU for a few weeks before we brought her home. Six months later, she had gained weight, but was still small relative to other term babies.  In fact, she managed to climb to 9th percentile (from being at 2nd percentile at birth) in terms of her weight gain. Indeed, she was a tiny baby. But the regular reassurance of midwives and nurses that my baby was healthy  during our weekly visits to the NHS clinics comforted me.  

It was a conscious decision for me and my husband not to rigidly monitor our baby against normal developmental milestones of babies. For one, we wanted to see her grow and flourish at her own sweet pace. For another, she was born premature and we had to accept the fact that she needed more time to catch up.  We also consulted with our GP and midwives regarding weaning, and took advantage of the many materials in the NHS and other medical websites.  

1.  Is my baby ready?

Medical research is divided as to when exactly is best to wean a premature baby.  There is no single age at which all premature babies should be weaned.   However, some health professionals say that four months corrected age is the youngest age a premature baby must be weaned.

Bliss is a UK leading charity whose mission is to give every baby born premature or sick in the UK the best chance of survival and quality of life.  Their website has lots of good materials about caring for premature babies. 

Also, the NHS website provides guidance about weaning your babies. Below is a good set of important signs from the NHS website that can guide parents to know when their baby is ready for weaning.



Is your baby ready?

There are 3 clear signs which, when they appear together from around 6 months of age, show your baby is ready for their first solid foods alongside breast milk or first infant formula.

They'll be able to:

  • stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady
  • co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth by themselves
  • swallow food (rather than spit it back out)

    The following behaviours can be mistaken by parents as signs that their baby is ready for solid foods:

  • chewing their fists
  • waking up in the night (more than usual)
  • wanting extra milk feeds
  • These are all normal behaviours for babies and not necessarily a sign that they're hungry or ready to start solid food.

    Starting solid foods will not make your baby any more likely to sleep through the night. Sometimes a little extra milk will help until they're ready for solid foods.




    2.  What will be her first solid food?


    Medical experts have little evidence that points exactly to which first food is best for our babies. The good thing about this is that we could follow our instinct as parents and choose from a good range of single vegetable or fruit and even rice as first food.

    Mashed or softly cooked pieces of carrot, parsnip, sweet potato and apple were just a few of the options we chose from. Small pieces of soft fruits such as melon would also be a good option because these are cool on the gums.  Their first food should be as simple as possible. And it is recommended to introduce one food at a time first. 

    Ultimately, we chose baby rice as our daughter’s very first solid food, and was mixed with my breastmilk.   

    Why baby rice?

    We wanted it to be easy for our daughter to digest her very first solid food. And baby rice is hypoallergenic, thereby reducing the likelihood that our baby will have adverse reactions to it. Also, baby rice is bland which makes it unlikely to be rejected. This can be easily mixed with breastmilk to get the right consistency and texture so our baby would not gag or have difficulty swallowing it.

    Below is a good set of guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics  when choosing your baby’s first solid food.


    Which ​​food should I g​ive my baby first?

    ​Your baby's first foods are your choice. Whether you decide to make your own baby food or buy premade baby food, you have many options. However, keep the following in mind:

  • Foods should be soft or pureed to prevent choking​.
  • Introduce one “single-ingredient" new food from any food group every 3 to 5 days. Look out for any reactions.
  • There is no evidence that waiting to introduce baby-safe (soft) foods, such as eggs, dairy, soy, peanut products, or fish, beyond 4 to 6 months of age prevents food allergy. However, testing for peanut allergy is recommended for babies with severe eczema and/or egg allergy. Check with your child's doctor about how and when to give peanut products.
  • There is no evidence that your baby will develop a di​​slike for vegetables if fruit is given first.
  • Be sure to include foods that provide iron and zinc, such as baby food made with meat or iron-fortified cereals.​
  • If you feed your baby premade cereal, make sure it is made for babies and is iron fortified. Baby cereals are available premixed in individual containers or dry, to which you can add breast milk, formula, or water.

  • Within a few months of starting solid foods, your baby's daily diet should include a variety of foods, such as breast milk, formula, or both; meats; cereal; vegetables; fruits; eggs; and fish.




    3.  Spoon feeding or baby led-weaning?

    Each baby’s situation is unique.  Especially because our baby was born premature, we thought that she needed additional nutrition before she would be ready to feed herself.  We compared the pros and cons of spoon feeding and baby led-weaning, and decided to go for spoon feeding for her first solid food. 

    We started with a quarter to half a spoonful and talked to her through the process. We used a red spoon and plate to catch her attention. I did an exaggerated demo to her how to open my mouth and place (almost) the spoon inside so she would copy me.  Maybe it was pure luck, and her first weaning experience was very easy. No fuss, no tears!

    Many of our other friends preferred baby led-weaning which worked perfectly for their little ones. 

    Baby-led weaning gives your baby a large degree of control over his or her move on to solid foods. During the baby-led weaning, you offer your baby a selection of foods to choose from and let them feed themselves.  This variety of pieces of food may include pieces of pasta, meat or fruit) that they can hold, suck and chew to explore the taste. 

    NCT is another UK leading charity whose mission is to support parents through the first 1,000 days to have the best possible experience of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood.  They provide parents a wealth of evidence-based information to give every parent the chance to make informed decisions.  They also have a huge network to support parents across the country forging vital and often lifelong friendships.  Lastly, they organise campaigns on issues that matter most to families throughout their first 1,000 days.

    Below is some guidance from the NCT website regarding baby led-weaning.


    Advantages and disadvantages of baby-led weaning?


  • Your little one has the chance to choose, pick up and explore food themselves. Helping them to gain independence.
  • They get used to different food textures from the beginning.
  • Your baby can be offered food that the whole family is eating, with little need for further preparation.
  • Parents often say that babies who choose what to feed themselves have wider food tastes. The evidence is mixed about whether baby-led weaning could stop babies from becoming fussy eaters.
  • Some research suggests babies who feed themselves are more likely to control their appetite, perhaps reducing their risk of obesity later in life. Other research suggests that’s not the case, so we don’t yet know for sure.
  • Disadvantages

  • Some parents worry that baby-led weaning is more likely to cause their baby to choke than spoon-feeding. But there is no evidence for this.
  • Baby-led weaning can be messier than spoon-feeding. Whether you’re spoon-feeding or baby-led weaning, you’re bound to have some mess at this age.
  • One concern is whether baby led-weaning provides a varied and nutritious enough diet. One study found baby-led weaning babies consumed ‘higher intakes of fat and saturated fat, and lower intakes of iron, zinc and vitamin B12’. Another trial suggests parents offer their babies iron-rich foods like meat, pulses and fortified cereals at every mealtime. 




    Looking back, my experience to give our baby her very first solid food should not have been daunting at all. Valuable advice from health professionals such as our GP and midwife and our own research using credible resources such as the NHS, Bliss and NCT websites really equipped me to be confident in feeding her. Of course, there’s always the mother’s intuition that I have tapped into from time to time.

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