Weaning (also referred to as complementary feeding) is the process of introducing babies to solid foods. What, and how, you feed your child is crucial to their development and health including developing speech and social skills. However, with so much conflicting information out there it can seem like an incredibly daunting process, instead of the exciting new stage of your baby growing up!
When to start
The official recommendations as set out by the Department of Health are based on recommendations made by The World Health Organisation state that the process of introducing solids should begin at around six months and definitely not before four months; however, a recent research project carried out in South East London showed that nearly three-quarters of parents acted against the government guidelines.
At around six months, most babies will be able to support their own heads and sit up by themselves. They will also have the co-ordination to pick something up and put it in their mouths. Additionally, their gut and other organs begin to mature meaning that they are able to digest food well. All these things are pretty important when it comes to eating so waiting until they are this age is a good idea.
Before they are born, babies build up stores of some nutrients, such as iron and zinc, to see them through the early stages of life. These stores begin to run low at about six months and at this time they will need to get these nutrients through food.
The goal of weaning
The ultimate goal of complementary feeding is to have a child (and later on and adult!) that eats a wide variety of healthy foods and has good eating habits (i.e. good behaviour at the table to appropriate meal patterns). Sometimes it’s difficult to think this far ahead when you have a baby who is totally dependent on you, but the good work you do early on pays dividends later in your child’s life - think being able to take your three year-old out to a restaurant without worrying that they will scream the place down or not eat a single thing on the menu. Start as you mean to go on: include your baby at mealtimes and build a routine that fits in with your family meals and lifestyle.
What to give & what to avoid
Your baby needs the same range of nutrients as you do, although it’s important to remember that general healthy eating advice doesn’t apply to children under two years. They are growing rapidly so need lots of energy meaning that you should avoid low fat and reduced calorie products.
They need a balanced diet containing protein (meat, fish, beans, tofu), fat (oily fish, oils, butter), starchy carbohydrate (bread, potatoes, rice, pasta), and dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese). Fruit and vegetables are also very important for vitamins and minerals.
The department of health recommendations are that if your baby is younger than six months, you should avoid giving eggs, wheat, fish & shellfish, nuts & seeds, unpasteurised cheeses and soya as these foods could increase risk of developing allergies. Salt, added sugar and low fat products should be avoided also.