Weaning your little one can be a daunting task, especially with so many conflicting views around. We speak to Sara Patience, a registered health visitor, nutritionist and nurse with more than 15 years of experience working directly with families, about her new book Easy Weaning and her top tips on how to get your baby eating solids. When is the right time to start weaning?
The Department of Health advises weaning at around 6 months, which is 26 weeks. Prior to this babies need only breast or formula milk. By six months babies are usually able to support their upper bodies in a sitting position, pick up and object and put it in their mouth and swallow. Every baby will be a bit different, which is why the guidelines offer some flexibility. I advise mums to aim for six months to begin weaning. We know that there is no advantage to waiting longer than six months, when babies are beginning to run low on nutrients such as iron, zinc and vitamin D and that weaning before four months, which is 17 weeks, increases the risk of allergy, obesity and choking.
There is no evidence that weaning should start with one particular food. If your baby is six months they may start weaning with soft pieces of food, often sharing something the rest of the family are eating, and allow baby to pick the food up and feed themselves, this is referred to as ‘Baby-Led Weaning’. You could try a piece of potato, broccoli, spaghetti, as long as it’s soft enough to easily squash between your fingers. Don’t give hard foods, round or tubed shaped foods. If your baby isn’t yet six months old, or you want to start with purée, you can purée vegetables that you are about to eat, or purée pieces of fruit. Don’t forget that babies tolerate meat very well and it supplies zinc and iron, both of which baby is starting to run out of. Ensure meat is prepared in a way that baby can manage. Start with a small amount of food, if your baby is picking food up, not much will be eaten, if you are using a spoon a few teaspoons is enough for a first go. Then increase the quantities as your baby gets used to it.
Are there any foods that should be avoided in the first year?
There are food restrictions during the first year. Between six months and one year you should avoid: honey, added salt and sugar, whole nuts, liver pâté, shellfish, shark and unpasteurized foods. However, from six months your baby can have ground nuts or thinly spread nut butters, unless there is a history of allergy, cow’s milk used in cooking or on cereals, but not as a main drink and eggs can be given if cooked solid.
Fish also has a restriction in that girls and women of child bearing age should only have oily fish up to twice weekly whilst boys and men can have it up to four times weekly. If you chose to give your baby foods before six months you need to avoid all the foods named above, as well as any cows milk, gluten, eggs or nuts – if you plan to wean before six months, speak to your health visitor for advice.
Any tips on how to broaden the range of foods that your child will try?
Fussy eating is almost a right of passage for a toddler – expect it, it’s developmentally normal. However, there are things you can do to minimise fussy eating. Start, by weaning your baby on to home cooked foods, this way, your baby will become accustomed to the foods you eat (I’m presuming you eat healthily!). Offer your baby a wide variety of foods, flavours and textures – if you use purées move your baby off them quickly as prolonged use of purée can increase fussiness. Exposure your baby to foods, use them for play, involve them when shopping. You can do all these things before your baby is one year. Remember that foods often have to be offered 12 -15 times before they are accepted. If your baby rejects something –don’t take that as evidence that they don’t like it, offer it again.. and again.. and again.
How do I wean my child off formula milk and when?
As your baby increases their intake of solid foods, their milk intake will begin to drop. At eight months, for example, your baby is likely to have three meals a day, and three bottles a day, by one year this is likely to have dropped to two bottles, or beakers of formula milk. From one year, your child can have full fat cows milk and only needs around 350/400mls a day, they will probably have other dairy foods in their diet.
To change from formula to cows milk you can just stop the formula and give the cows milk. If your toddler is used to warm formula, they may prefer warm cows milk. If your child doesn’t seem to like it you can mix the cow and formula milks, slowly reducing the formula and increasing the cows milk. Don’t be tempted to flavour the milk with sugary powders or teas. When your baby has cows milk she will need vitamin D drops available from your health visitor or pharmacy, in fact, if your baby is having less than 500mls of formula approaching one year, they will still need vitamin D drops, so don’t feel they need formula as a ‘supplement’, they won’t be drinking enough to achieve this.