Our little Freddie is now eleven weeks old. Mummy is still breastfeeding, and doing an amazing job might I add, but it got me thinking back to when Archie was younger. There comes a time when a baby needs more nourishment than breast or infant formula alone can provide.
Government guidelines strongly encourage mothers to breastfeed their baby exclusively (i.e. offer only breast milk) for the first six months of life.
Weaning is the process of introducing a baby to foods other than milk. There is more to learning to eat than meets the eye so introduce your baby gradually to a wide range of different tastes and textures.
So when is it best to start weaning?
Around six months is the best age to start weaning your baby. If you decide to introduce your baby to solid foods before six months, there are some foods you should avoid because they are linked to allergy or may make your baby ill. Always ask your health visitor for advice.
Delaying weaning beyond six months may mean that your baby misses out on important nutrients such as vitamins and iron.
But don’t be tempted to rush your baby into taking solids too soon as their body will not be ready to cope with food other than breast milk or infant formula. Mum’s, let your body guide you. For instance, if they can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady, if they can look at food, pick it up and put it in their mouth all by themselves and if they swallow rather than push food back out, your baby is ready to be weaned.
Babies born prematurely may be ready for weaning at different times. Again, please do ask your health visitor for advice about what’s best for your baby.
How to start weaning
Don’t leave meals until your baby is too hungry or tired to eat, for example offer food during a milk feed. Start slowly – offer a few plastic teaspoons of cereal (not wheat-based before six months) mixed with breast milk or infant formula e.g. maize, baby rice or pureed cooked rice or cooked fruit or vegetables, pureed or mashed or as soft cooked sticks (all cooled before eating) e.g. potato, yam, parsnip, apple or pear. Soft fruits are also great, mashed or as finger food e.g. banana, mango, melon or avocado.
Tips: Eat together. Babies love to copy Mummy and Daddy and other children so you can help them by showing them that you eat healthy foods. Go at your Baby’s pace. Let your baby enjoy touching and holding food. Make sure your baby is well supported in a sitting position.
Gradually introduce more new foods. Slowly increase the amount of solid food offered. Try to match the portion size to your baby’s appetite. Gradually increase the number of solid food feeds from one, to two and then to three a day. Whole milk yoghurt and fromage frais can be introduced. Go for plenty of variety. If they are not interested in the food, try again, persevere as babies sometimes take their time getting used to different foods.
Introduce a cup from around six months and offer sips of water with meals. Using an open cup or a free-flow cup (with no valve) will help your baby learn to sip and is better for your baby’s teeth. By the time your baby is one, they should have stopped using bottles with teats.
Continue to give your baby breast milk or infant formula. Always offer food on a spoon – never add it to a bottle!
Foods linked to allergy
From six months onwards, foods that can cause allergies such as eggs, wheat, peanuts, nuts, seeds, fish, shellfish, milk and dairy foods (such as yoghurt and cheese) and foods containing these ingredients can be introduced one at a time with a day or two in between so you can spot any reaction. If your child is at risk of peanut allergy(has already been diagnosed with or there is a family history of any allergy) you should speak to your healthcare professional before introducing food containing peanuts.
Soya-based infant formula and soya products should only be used if advised by your healthcare professional, as babies who are allergic to cows’ milk may also be allergic to soya.
Foods that could cause choking
Large chunks of hard foods (for example, carrots and apples), foods with skin such as sausages, bones and small round foods like grapes and cherry tomatoes can cause choking. Peel and lightly cook hard fruits and vegetables, and take care to remove any stones or pips and all skin and bones before feeding any foods to your baby.
Foods to avoid
- Nuts – Whole nuts should not be given to children under five years due to the risk of choking.
- Salt – Do not add salt to your baby’s food or use stock cubes or gravy, as these often contain a high level of salt. Too much salt is not good for your baby. Always check food labels.
- Sugar – Your baby does not need added sugar. Avoiding sugary snacks and drinks will help prevent tooth decay.
- Honey – Do not introduce before one year.
- Low-fat foods – Do not introduce before two years. Fat is an important source of energy and some vitamins for babies and young children. For example do not give low-fat yoghurt or skimmed milk, but instead give whole milk yoghurt and use whole milk in cooking or to mix with food. Remember, cows’ milk should not be given as a main drink until your baby is one year old.
- Eggs – Avoid raw eggs and always make sure the whites and yolks are cooked until firm.
- Fish – Avoid raw shellfish and shark, swordfish and marlin.
Top Tips for keeping baby food safe
- Keep all utensils and surfaces clean.
- Wash your hands and your baby’s hands before meals.
- Thoroughly wash and dry all bowls and spoons for feeding.
- Throw away half-eaten food.
- When heating up food, always stir it well.
- Check the temperature before offering food to baby.
- Make batches of puree and freeze in ice-cube trays or containers.
- Defrost cubes as required in the fridge overnight or using defrost settings on the microwave.
- Reheat food thoroughly until hot all the way through.
- Remember to let food cool down before offering it you your baby.
Allow your baby to feed themselves using their fingers as soon as they show interest. Never leave your baby alone with a bottle or give a bottle to help with sleep as it could cause choking as well as damage teeth.
And oh yes! It can get messy but this is an important part of your baby’s development.