Just when you have your head around feeding your baby with milk, along comes another feeding challenge: Starting your baby onto solid food. The challenge can be a very daunting. When to start? How to start? What do I give? These are questions we all have as parents when it comes to starting weaning. So I have put together my top tips for weaning onto solids.
When to start?
The introduction of solid food to your baby should take place at about 6 months of age. Not before 17 weeks and no later than 26weeks (6 months). This is the same for both breastfed and bottle fed babies, as a baby’s kidneys and digestive system are not mature enough to handle food and drinks other that milk before 17 weeks. There is also an increased risk of coeliac disease, diabetes and wheat allergy if started too early. It is important to start solids not later than 26 weeks as their energy needs cannot be met by milk alone at this stage. Also, iron stores have been used up and cannot be met by milk alone. Starting solids by 6 months gives your baby the opportunity to learn important skills such as self feeding and the introduction of textures stimulates the development of muscles involved in speech!
The exact timing of when to start should be driven by your individual baby showing signs of readiness.
What are the signs of readiness?
- Begins to watch with interest when others are eating and eyes up your food
- Chews and dribbles more
- Is able to sit up well with some support
- Not fully satisfied with their milk, might want more milk more often.
How much should my baby take?
Stage 1 (4-6months)At the beginning start with 1 teaspoon of food made into a puree and build up to 6 teaspoons at one time. Then introduce second mealtime up to 6 teaspoons and then progress to 3 meals a day.
Stage 2(6-9months) three meals a day with about 2-4 tablespoons of mashed food per meal with finger food offered between meals
Stage 3 (9-12 months) three meals a day with about 4-6 tablespoons per meal with finger food offered between meals.
What do I give?
The very first foods must be easy to digest and the texture must be runny and smooth. Ideally the first foods should be homemade and pureed from vegetables or fruit (A hand blender will be your best purchase!).
Suitable vegetables to make into a puree; Carrots Parsnips, Sweet Potatoes, Butternut Squash, Courgettes are some of my favourites , but try experimenting with other vegetables of your choice. You will find lots of recipes in the links below!
Suitable fruits to make into a puree: Apples, Pears, Banana, are easily obtained and tasty for babies, but again try other fruits, avoiding citrus fruit until 12 months due to the acidity!
What not to give?
Some foods are best avoided until your baby is over 12 months of age. These include;
- Salt (avoid adding salt or using stock cubes/gravies/packet sauces)
- Sugar (can lead to tooth decay and can encourage a ‘sweet tooth’)
- Honey (small risk of botulism)
- Undercooked eggs (both white and yolk need to be cooked solid after 6 months)
- Unpasteurised cheese
- Whole or chopped nuts (risk of choking)
- Tea/ coffee and fizzy drinks should be avoided for as long as possible!
Iron is important!
Having enough iron in your baby’s diet is important to help your baby grow and develop and to prevent iron deficiency anaemia. Milk alone will not provide enough iron for your baby.
What are the sources of Iron, suitable from 6 months of age?
- Red meat
- Well cooked Eggs
- Green Vegetables
Move on with the stages.
When you feel your baby is ready try increasing the thickness and texture of the foods. Move from purees to thicker lumpier foods to mashed foods and finally to soft finger food.
Introduce meat, chicken and fish from 6 months, starting from a puree and progressing on in thickness as your baby progresses through the stages of weaning.
Babies are very receptive to new tastes so try adding small amounts of herbs and spices to your cooking.
Remember ” Variety is the spice of life”. The more foods your baby is exposed to the greater likelihood that your baby will be eating a variety of nutritious foods when they are older.
Finger food should be introduced as early as 6 months. Babies want to do it themselves; they want to pick up the food with their thumb and forefinger. They want to feel it, smell it and explore it. It can be a bit messy, but your baby is learning and experiencing a whole new world.
Breast milk or formula should be used as the main milk drink until your baby is one year old. Breast fed babies can continue to be fed on demand. Formula fed babies require a maximum of 600mls of milk a day from 6 months of age.
Small amounts of pasteurised full fat cow’s milk can be used to prepare weaning foods from 6 months onwards.
Cool boiled water can be given as an extra fluid with meals or if your baby is thirsty, especially in hot weather. Milk and water are the only fluids that your baby needs. Fruit juices are just not needed.
Don’t forget to introduce a drinking cup to your baby. It takes a while for them to get the knack so is Patient!
Relax and Enjoy.
Too often we worry and stress as parents in our bid to do our very best. Don’t forget to be mindful and look at your child enjoying the new tastes, new sensations and wait until you see the new expressions!!
Provided by an experienced Public Health Nurse, provider of weaning workshops and a mother of 3.
Some useful links:
The food Pyramid
(The recipe book can be ordered on line. A great website to support parents in good nutrition and weaning)
(A good website for recipe ideas. Anabel Karmel is the author of books on nutrition and cooking for babies, children and families.)
(This website promotes food safety and also gives nutritional advice and recipe ideas)
(Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute) good fact sheets for specific food problems.
(Baby led weaning is an approach to weaning that avoids purees and lets your baby feed themselves from the very start of weaning)