The advice on how to feed you baby has changed quite a bit over the last few years. Parents are now advised by the Department of Health to exclusively breastfeed or formula feed their babies for the first 6 months of life before introducing them to solid foods. Once weaning begins babies need to progress through the stages rapidly in order to ensure optimum nutrition for growth and development.
There is so much information available on how to wean your baby, from the Internet, books, grandparents and well-meaning friends who’ve ‘been there and done that.’ Its no wonder that it can begin to feel a little daunting for parents as you start to navigate your way through the minefield of information.
Below are my answers to the most common questions I’m asked at the start of weaning:
When should I start?
Most babies are ready for solid foods at around 6 months or 26 weeks of age. However it’s not uncommon for some babies to be ready earlier. Solid food should not be given before 17 weeks of age though because your babies digestive system is not mature enough to cope with it and in reality very few babies are ready for solids this early. Look out for signs of your baby being ready for solids, they are:
- He or she can sit up and hold their head unsupported,
- He or she shows a keen interest in other people eating,
- He or she can grab toys with their hands and put them into their mouth.
- He or she is demanding milk feeds more often than usual.
Waking through the night having previously slept through is not a good sign as there are many other factors which can disturb your baby’s sleep pattern.
What are the key nutrients I need to look out for in my baby’s weaning diet?
I often read on social media sites reassuring comments from other Mum’s stating “not to worry about what your baby is eating because milk is still their main form of nutrition.” This concerns me, as by 6 months of age breast or formula milk alone is no longer enough. Babies’ nutrient requirements are drastically higher in the first year of life than at any other time because of rapid growth and development and so their weaning diet needs to be highly nutritious. In reality that means high fat, high protein, low fibre and only small portions of fruit and vegetables…quite the opposite of adult healthy eating!
In addition babies have tiny tummies so they fill up quite quickly which means that they need snacks and nutritious drinks in between each meal – see next weeks blog post on milk and milk alternatives. All together this means that their food needs to be as nutritionally dense as possible. Use full fat versions of everything, cook with oil, use butter or spreads and avoid low fat, diet or high fibre options.
In addition, at around 6 months, the stores of iron that babies are born with start to run out. Breast milk doesn’t contain much iron and formula has a little but not enough. Thus plenty of iron rich foods need to be given. Good sources of iron for babies are lentils, beef, dark poultry meat, oily fish, fortified breakfast cereals and dried fruits (these will need to be softened and pureed at the start of weaning).
Should I go down the baby led weaning route or is it safer to stick with purees?
My answer to this is its entirely personal choice, there is no right or wrong. Go with what works for you, your baby, your family and fits in with your circumstances. Before 6 months babies aren’t developmentally ready for BLW as they need to be able to sit upright, hold their head unsupported, grab the food in their fist and be able to direct it into their mouths.
I actually recommend a mixture of both, in my experience not many babies last till 26 weeks, so beginning weaning with well mashed or pureed foods at the start then introducing soft finger foods and family meals at 6 months offers the best advantage. Be sensible though, a 6 month old shouldn’t be gnawing on a chicken leg (believe me I’ve seen this!) but strips of the dark meat from chicken is ideal once they’re mouths can deal with textures other than milk.
Both have their advantages and disadvantage but in reality I don’t think it really matters too much.