Weaning without whining…
Confused about when your baby might be ready to try solids and unsure about whether you’re reading his signs right? Solids mark a whole new stage for you and your child, so it’s not uncommon to feel a sense of trepidation about getting it right! Plus, you may hear conflicting advice from your Mum and well-meaning relatives about what what foods to offer your baby, and what age to offer them at. Read on to find the answers you’ve been looking for…
My Mum keeps saying she had me on solids at 3 months but I’ve heard babies shouldn’t have them until much later. Who’s right?
According to the Department of Health (DOH), 6 months is the ideal time (both the DOH and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of your baby’s life). A young baby’s digestive and immune systems aren’t sufficiently developed to handle solids when he’s under four months, and early weaning has been linked with food allergies and eczema (some research has also indicated a higher risk for diabetes in babies weaned too soon). Plus, a younger baby has a ‘tongue thrust’ reflex that makes him instinctively push things out of his mouth, so he may not be able to use his tongue to move solid food to the back of his mouth for swallowing and could gag.
Bear in mind too that your baby doesn’t actually need solids any earlier: breast or formula milk is sufficient to nourish him until he’s six months – it’s only after this time, when they're on the point of getting on the move, that most babies require more in the way of nutrients and calories. Giving him solids too soon will actually reduce the amount of breast or formula he consumes, which could shortchange him when it comes to nourishment.
What are the signs my baby might be ready for solids?
Look out for your baby appearing to be hungrier than usual and not settling so well after a feed. He may cry for extra feeds during the day and start to wake during the night looking for a feed after previously sleeping through (these signs often coincide with him doubling his birth weight or reaching around 15Ib in weight). He may also start to show an interest when he sees you eating, apparently trying to will the food out of your mouth and into his, or reaching out for it! Practicalities apply too: he needs to be able to sit up well when supported or in a highchair, and be capable of holding up his head.
How do I do it?
It’s a gradual process – remember your baby has to learn how to eat; it won’t necessarily come naturally to him. For your first try, offer him the breast or a little formula milk first, to take the edge off his hunger. Then offer some bland baby rice cereal, which is gluten-free and easy to digest. Mix it with breast or formula milk to the recommended consistency (as a rule, go with one teaspoon of cereal to four to five teaspoons of milk).
It’s a totally new experience for your baby, so take your time. He may not actually eat anything at all, but just getting him to feel the sensation of the spoon on his lips and the food on the tip of his tongue will be an accomplishment. If he loses interest or turns his head away from the spoon, don’t persist – for the first few solid feeds, one to two spoonfuls is all you should really try to have him take anyway. Aim to give him solids twice a day.
Be prepared for a big difference in your baby’s nappies once he starts having solids – especially if you’ve been exclusively breastfeeding. Even tiny amounts of solids will increase the odour and make the contents of his nappy firmer!
What should I give him?
For the first few days, stick with baby rice cereal mixed with breast or formula milk (don’t use cows’ milk as your baby’s digestive system can’t yet cope with it). If your baby seems happy to take the food off the spoon and is swallowing it fairly easily you can start to vary what you offer him, but don’t inundate him. Try one new food every three or four days, as this will make it easier to pinpoint a possible food trigger if there is any reaction (be on the lookout for unexplained rashes, excess gas, vomiting or diarrhoea). Move on to puréed or finely mashed fruit and vegetables: apples, and pears, and naturally sweet root vegetables such as carrots, parsnip and sweet potato. Mashed banana and avocadoes are also a good option, especially if you’re too rushed to purée. Jarred foods are fine if you’re too busy to make your baby’s food – but don’t feed him directly from the jar, as the spoon could transfer bacteria back into the leftovers.
What about drinks?
You should keep giving your baby breast or formula milk for his first year, since it supplies nutrients he won’t yet get from solid food (bear in mind that the WHO recommends breastfeeding, alongside solids, until your baby is two or older). You can give your baby water from six months but limit him to an ounce or so after meals so he doesn’t fill up on it.
Fruit juice can be a healthy part of your baby’s diet, but the Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends you hold off until your baby is at least six months and then give juice only at mealtimes. Dilute it so it’s one part juice to ten parts water, and give it in a cup to reduce the length of time it comes into contact with your baby’s gums and developing teeth. Don’t give your baby cows’ milk until he’s over one – once he passes that age give him full-fat milk until he’s over two, when you can switch to half-fat.
Are there any foods that aren’t safe?
Yes – certain foods may put your baby at increased risk of illness or allergies, especially if these run in your family. During his first year, avoid:
- Citrus fruits and juice
- Egg whites
- Peanut butter
- Wheat (if you have a family history of gluten allergy)
- Cows’ milk (you can give him yogurt and cheese from around eight months if you have no family history of cows’ milk allergy or intolerance).