Weaning: it’s a £167 million industry. And that’s just the value of the UK market in baby food, drink and milk. Type the word into Amazon and you’ll find 1,397 books telling you not only how to do it but, just as frequently, how not to.

Just how polemic the issue has become was revealed to me last year, when I was making a radio programme on the subject and simultaneously attempting to wean my daughter.

Trying to make sense of the ‘spoon-fed vs baby-led’ debate, I came across a thread on a well-known parenting site that equated the former to force-feeding, suggesting my mushy avocado was, in fact, a culinary kind of child abuse. Quite when the act of sneaking a few spoonfuls of solids into our babies became so political and so lucrative is a mystery, but you can bet they’re linked. There’s good money to be made in making us feel like old-fashioned common sense and our own instincts are no longer enough.

The faces babies make while weaning deters more than half of parents from introducing them to new flavours

So it’s no surprise to me that a new survey claims that parents find weaning stressful. The research was commissioned by Organix, a baby food brand that makes both purée and finger food so is of no use in resolving the ‘baby-led’ battle except by providing the oblique suggestion that… you know… if you love your baby and put healthy food in front of her it will probably be fine.

It says that the faces babies make while weaning deter more than half of parents from introducing them to new flavours. In response to their findings, the company commissioned a Clinical Psychotherapist and body language expert, Vivien Sabel, to decode the most common expressions pulled by babies while eating.

“Just as we learn to interpret our baby’s signals when they’re sleepy, hungry, happy or windy, we can also read what those eye, brow, mouth, lip and tongue movements say about a new taste, too,” says Sabel.

A surprised expression could be curiosity about the depth of flavour, the chances are they think the flavour is good but it’s different to what they’ve eaten before

“For example, what mums and dads might interpret as a look of shock or disgust, doesn’t necessarily translate as not liking the taste, what’s more likely is that baby is puzzled by the intensity of a new flavour. A surprised expression could be curiosity about the depth of flavour, the chances are they think the flavour is good but it’s very different to what they’ve eaten before – it’s all part of them experiencing and learning new tastes on their weaning journey.”

Of course, in the end, the message is simple: put something healthy in front of your baby, whether that’s on a plate or on a spoon, and then… relax. The best piece of advice I came across during my research was from a book written back in 1940. Called Young Food, its author Helen Train Hilles, had the following to say to new mothers:

“We are pathetically anxious to be good mothers. We worry about such things as vitamins; yet they have existed for more years than we have known about them. It is hard to avoid them… Maybe we don’t need to worry quite as much as we do; maybe we rely too much on rules and terms and not enough on our own common sense.”

So don’t panic. And try to have fun interpreting their gurning along the way.

Interpreting their gurns: a visual guide

1) Yum! “Your baby loves the flavour, texture and everything about this food,” says Sabel. Their happiness can be seen in every part of their body – their eyes, smile and posture. Mirror their happiness back to them, it’s encouraging and a useful form of communication between you and your baby.”

2) Hmm… This is interesting “Your baby is curious and surprised by this new taste sensation,” says Sabel. They may devour it in an instant or it may take a little while to adjust to this new flavour.”

3) I’m not sure… What do you think? “Your baby may appear disinterested but that doesn’t mean they don’t like what they’re eating,” says Sabel. “Your baby is seeking your encouragement and affirmation. They want to know that you are interested in their experience. You can give them positive affirmations through non-verbal mirroring, it will help encourage them to develop an interest.”

4) Whoa! This is something different “You may see this expression when your baby tries a new flavour which has a spicy or sour element,” explains Sabel. “It doesn’t mean they don’t like it, it simply means this is a new experience and it’s creating a mind-boggling taste sensation in their sensitive mouths.”

5) Mmm… This is new. I think I like it “Your baby is born with an innate curiosity and a need to explore,” says Sabel. “Use encouraging verbal expressions to enhance their interest.”

6) Not now thanks “Your baby maybe tired, teething or feeling unwell,” explains Sabel. “Don’t give up on trying new foods simply because you experience the snub! Give your little one a cuddle and try again later.”

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