So you’ve mastered the milk feeds and now comes the food. But how do you know when is the right time with all the conflicting information out there?!
Introducing your baby to solids (often called complimentary feeding or weaning) is a gradual process and won’t happen overnight. While it can seem a bit overwhelming to start with and yet another thing to fit into your day, with the right knowledge and confidence, weaning can be can be an enjoyable experience and build the foundations needed to support healthy eating for your child’s future.
You should introduce solids at around at 6 months*, which is when the digestive system is mature enough as the cells that form the baby’s gut lining become closer together, having been further apart for the first 6 months to allow easy absorption of nutrition from milk. Babies are born with stores of certain nutrients get them through the first 6 months, in particular, iron and zinc. At around 6 months, those nutrient stores will start to decline and milk (breast and formula) alone is not enough to satisfy your baby’s increased nutritional needs. For the first year of your baby’s life, milk will still be your baby’s main source of nutrition and the role of solids is to complement milk to provide extra nutrients (and calories) your growing baby needs.
*Premature babies will start according to adjusted age but each baby will be different.
You may get conflicting advice on when to start introducing solids as the old advice was to start at 4 months (or sometimes earlier!) but science has come a long way. Research now suggests that waiting until 6 month decreases the risk of allergies, eczema and infections.
When your baby is around the 6-month mark watch out for these signs (collectively) of readiness:
1. Good head control–important for keeping airways and oesophagus open.
2. Able to maintain sitting position (not slumping down in a highchair)– this is important for the safe passage of food and air.
3. Hand-eye-mouth coordination–your baby will be able to look at something, accurately grab it and put it in their mouth.
4. Baby losses tongue thrust reflex (a mechanism to push out food). At around 5-6 months the reflex moves towards the back of the throat for the gag reflex (to stop food going down that isn’t ready to be swallowed). Gagging and choking are not the same, familiarise yourself with the differences and book onto a baby first aid course.
5. Baby shows an interest in food– you baby may start to take an interest in what you are eating by opening his/her mouth and reaching for your food or cutlery.
Increasing milk intake, weight (big or small) and restless sleep are not indicators or sucking wrists are not signs your baby is ready for solids.
When you think your baby is ready, think about how you want introduce solids: baby-led (baby feeds themselves finger food) or parent led (purees) – you can always do a combination. Everyone and every book is different, you need to do what works for you and your family.
Some tips to help you along the way:
– You are your baby’s role model, so now is also a great time for you to make sure your diet is healthy too. Research has shown that parents who ate with their children refused fewer foods and were easier to feed
– Every baby is different
– Involve your baby from the start, allow them to see you making food and get them to handle and smell the food you are preparing / cooking. Exposure is just as important as the eating
– Provide your baby with different textures from as soon as you feel comfortable
– Finally….while there is a lot of work (and a bit of mess) involved, the effort you put in now will support your baby’s wellbeing and their relationship with food for life.
Kristy is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and first-time mother. Her mission is to use the latest evidence-based nutrition to support you and your family. She has special focus on nutrition for women for pregnancy and onwards, infants and children.
Kristy is running a weaning workshop at Frame Shoreditch on 13 March where you can learn about the different approaches to weaning, your baby’s development, when and how to introduce solids, nutrition and allergens. Book your spot NOW