It always amazed me how keen on weaning people were. Everyone I met with new babies seemed to want to start as soon as possible, and I was a bit of an oddity because I wanted to put it off for as long as possible. I had really mixed feelings about the whole thing; mainly I felt that it was just going to be even more work and I couldn't fathom how I was going to fit anything else into my already bursting day. Meanwhile I was meeting other mums who had already bought special bowls, special spoons, fancy freezer trays, a second steriliser, plastic bibs, a moulee (don't ask), a blender, travelling cutlery case, a steamer, high chairs and a kitchen extension in which to fit everything.
All this makes you think that weaning is a really complicated thing to do, whereas in fact all it is is slowly introducing your baby to stuff that's ever-so-slightly more solid than milk. That's it.
I started at 6 months. I really don't think babies are ready before this. Obviously if you are advised to start earlier then fine, but if not waiting until they are ready will significantly reduce your stress levels as they are more likely to get the hang of it quicker. I picked a time of the day when my babies weren't too tired or hungry to give it a go. Because my routine meant that I had a long gap of not doing much between their post-nap feed at 2:30pm and their bath at 6pm, I decided to do a "tea time" solid feed at around 5pm. This also meant that I didn't care if they got really messy as it was the end of the day and the next thing on the agenda was a bath anyway.
I just gave mine a couple of spoons of baby rice at this time each day for about 2 weeks. I started off giving them this in their bouncy chairs and then I moved them into bumbos because they are wipe clean! Once I had bought highchairs they went in these (and we took loads of photos). All you are aiming for at first is a tiny amount to go down and for them to get used to the texture as well as the spoon. After two weeks I started giving the babies food to hold and "chew" on (my daughter didn't have any teeth at the time, but managed it somehow!). The sorts of things I gave them to play with were pieces of red pepper, cheese, toast, breadstick, pitta (toasted otherwise it falls apart), rice cakes and cucumber. Around this time as well I started making purees with basic fruits like pears and introducing a tiny bit into the baby rice. Gradually you decrease the baby rice until they are having just the fruit.
Then comes the exciting bit - filling your freezer! Although you really don't need any special equipment for weaning, but I would recommend a freezer, microwave and hand-blender. Making baby food is really straight forward; you boil and blend whatever vegetable you want and then pour it into a freezer tray. Once it's frozen you pop all the cubes out into a labelled freezer bag. And no; you don't need to sterilise your pan! At first you will only need to defrost 1 cube, but as your baby's appetite increases you can defrost more, or give them a veg cube followed by a fruit. The next bit is almost like cooking! You can start combining your cubes to make thrilling-sounding concoctions like Root Vegetable Medley (carrot, butternut squash and swede) or Apple Surprise (apple, dried apricot and cinnamon).
The best book is the Annabel Karmel one which has loads of recipes and ideas of combinations I would never have come up with. My favourite (and my babies') was avocado and banana. No cooking required! Genius!
You really don't need to worry about dropping any milk feeds until they are well established on solids. Then you can feed them the solids first, with a top-up milk feed afterwards in case they are still hungry. My routine meant that:
06:45 this feed became breakfast
10:45 this feed gradually dropped back to around 11:30 and became lunch
14:30 I continued with this milk feed until the babies were about 10 months and didn't want it any more and I replaced it with a snack and drink
18:30 milk feed before bed
I think the main thing about starting solids is to wait until they are ready, do it gradually and be patient.
The shining light at the end of the tunnel is that once they are established on solids, including protein for some reason, they are much more likely to sleep through the night, if they haven't done so so far. Mine miraculously started sleeping without waking for 11 hours as soon as they were having 3 solid meals a day. I didn't even have to drug the food!