Our little guide to weaning Nourishing your child is a basic ‘Mum’ instinct, yet when it comes to weaning many of us doubt our ability to prepare nutritious and tasty meals from scratch that will get our kids smacking their lips in anticipation.
At Betsy's Mum we want to inspire and motivate the weaning mama in you. Below is a simple intro to weaning - have a read and keep an eye out for our First Foods recipe section which is coming soon...
So what actually is weaning?
Weaning is the gradual shift from milk, as your baby’s main source of nutrition, to solid foods. It begins around 4-6 months of age, when your baby’s nutritional needs start to exceed that of milk, and ends when your baby obtains all her calories from food and drinks and is eating regular meals. Your Health Visitor can advise you when your baby is ready to be weaned.
Weaning should not be rushed. By gradually decreasing your baby’s milk intake and increasing her solids she will get used to chewing, swallowing and digesting foods and start experiencing a variety of wonderful new tastes and textures that will nourish her. These are our top 10 Betsy’s Mum weaning tips to help you prepare for those first few exciting feeds:
- If you are spoon-feeding your baby, always use a weaning spoon that is gentle on little gums and teeth and won’t crack in their mouth.
- Babies are a lot more sensitive to the temperature of food than adults so always stir any heated food well to avoid hot spots and check the temperature before giving it to them – it should be warm but not hot. Placing a little on the inside of your wrist is a handy way to check – if it feels hot to you then it is too hot. Some weaning spoons also change colour if the food is too hot.
- Make sure you are up-to-speed on the whole health and safety side of cooking by having a read of ‘How to prepare baby food safely’. Never give a baby younger than one year honey as it can cause a serious condition called infant botulism.
- You don’t want your baby wobbling over mid-mouthful, so make sure she is sitting up properly when she feeds, ideally strapped into a high chair.
- Don’t start a feed 5 minutes before you have to rush out. Let your baby have time to explore and learn about the new flavours and textures she is experiencing. Sit and eat some of the same meal with her so she sees you enjoying it too (mmm, never has pureed broccoli tasted so good!).
- Accept that it is going to get messy... when babies squish, squash, mush and mash their food they are not being naughty, they are learning. Imagine you were told to eat a handful of something soft and green – you would also want to touch and smell it first before you put it in your mouth.
- Begin with one meal a day – just a few teaspoons so she can get used to having food in her mouth (have your camera at the ready!). Choose a time when she is at her best – not when she is due a nap or overly hungry. It may help to give her a little milk first so she is not starving but still has an appetite.
- Do not force-feed your baby – they know when they are full and they often prefer to eat a little and often. The amount they eat can vary from day to day so you should pay more attention to what they have eaten over a week than in one day. Sometimes babies refuse to be spoon-fed because they actually want to have a go at feeding themselves, so before you throw the meal away see if she has a go at feeding herself.
- There is no need to add salt or sugar to baby foods, regardless of how it tastes to you.
- You might want to cook extra and use an ice-cube tray to freeze little portions. This way you won’t have to prepare meals from scratch every time.
What to feed and when
The whens and whats of weaning is the subject of debate and ongoing research. We know that food allergies and chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes are on the rise and there is good evidence to show that the nutrition an infant receives can play an important role in determining their health later in life. So no pressure then!
Also note that some children have specific weaning needs, such as a baby born pre-term or with a family history of allergies, on medication or other health problems. If you are at all unsure when you should wean your baby and on what, speak to your GP or Health Visitor for support and guidance.
For most babies however the current advice is:
Aim to wean your baby between 17 weeks and 6 months on baby rice, puréed vegetables and fruit whilst still breast-feeding (or formula if you are unable to breastfeed).
Introduce one food at a time every 3 or more days and keep a food diary of what they have eaten - this helps you to identify any foods your baby may have reacted to. Reactions to foods can be instant or over a few days and may vary from difficulty breathing or vomiting to diarrhoea or skin flare-ups. If you are concerned about your baby never hesitate to call 999 or NHS Direct on 0845 4647.
Check out our First Foods section (to come) and get cooking! Some people start by mixing the food with a little breast milk to give it a familiar taste.
After 6 months, you can start to get creative and introduce more variety, colour and texture to your baby’s meals although you should still give your baby one new food at a time, so you can keep an eye out for any food reactions.
Let your baby enjoy her food - take time over meals and keep it colourful. By gradually adding a few small and soft lumps you will encourage her to start to chew, which triggers the release of digestive juices and supports digestion.
This age group has an increased need for protein, vitamins B1, B3, B6, B12, D and iron, zinc and magnesium so try to include some of the foods listed below in their meals:
|Protein||Meat, fish, poultry, dairy, pulses, peas, beans|
|B vitamins||Wholegrains (brown rice, pasta, quinoa, millet), poultry, eggs, broccoli, bananas, spinach, apricots, fish, avocado|
|Vitamin D*||Eggs, fortified cereals, oily fish|
|Zinc||White fish, poultry, meat, some dairy|
|Iron||Red meat, lentils, liver, beans, dried fruit, wholegrains, fortified breakfast cereals, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, watercress etc.)|
|Magnesium||Dark green vegetables, brown rice, beans, lentils, banana, avocado|
* The NHS states that all babies and young children aged six months to five years should take a daily supplement containing vitamin D - read more here...
Visit our First foods recipe section (to come) for colourful, tasty and nourishing meals for your little one.
Weaning children at risk of allergies:
- Prolonged breast-feeding has been shown to have a preventative effect against allergy development.
- Delaying the introduction of solid foods beyond 4 months has not been shown to prevent allergies.
- Delaying the introduction of solid foods until 6 months however may be beneficial if it promotes longer breast-feeding.
- Delaying weaning beyond six months may lead to allergy development.
- There is no evidence to show that delaying the introduction of wheat, eggs, soy, cows’ milk and fish as part of a varied diet beyond 6 months of age prevents the development of food allergies.
To Baby-led wean or not?
In recent years there has been a rise in baby-led weaning (BLW) over spoon-feeding. BLW is when you give your baby a variety of finger foods right from the start for her to explore and eat. This way she has more control over what and how much she eats, which some believe may support healthier eating patterns later in life. However, many parents worry about the increased risk of choking with BLW.
If you are baby-led weaning your baby before 6 months of age you will need to opt for soft, melt-in-the-mouth finger foods to avoid gagging.
It is up to you what approach you take. Speak to friends or family about their experiences, ask your Health Visitor for advice and have a read of the NHS’s view on BLW versus spoon-feeding. Remember that every child is different so go with what feels right for you and your baby.
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