Weaning Your Child Onto Solid Food
What is weaning?
Weaning is the process of accustoming a baby to a diet of solid foods which will eventually replace milk as the main source of nutrition. The process of weaning takes quite a few months, beginning when solids are first introduced and ending when a baby is on three meals a day and able to drink from a cup and use a spoon.
When should weaning begin?
It is best to begin weaning when the baby is 4 - 6 months old. The problems with starting solids too early include:
- Overworking the infant's immature kidneys.
- Gaining weight too rapidly causing the baby to become overweight.
- Certain foods introduced too early may trigger food allergies later in life due to the immaturity of the digestive system.
- Milk intake may be reduced too quickly
However, it is not wise to leave weaning beyond six months, since babies may become deficient in iron and have difficulty swallowing solids if they are started too late.
At the beginning of weaning, solids are hardly needed nutritionally, apart from replacing the dwindling iron store and supplying vitamins. The main reason for introducing them is to educate a baby to eat real foods over a period of a few months.
At first, one or two tea-spoonfuls of solids should be offered, gradually increasing until first one, then two and finally three meals are made up of solid food. By the time milk is no longer adequate as the sole source of nutrition, the baby will have learned to eat a wide variety of foods in sufficient amounts to supply all the nutrients needed.
Which foods are best?
The first weaning foods are usually fruit or vegetable purees and baby cereals such as rice. These are soon followed by purees of meat, poultry and fish. They are introduced one at a time while the milk feeds are continued as usual. This is called mixed feeding.
A wider selection of foods can then be offered, and by the time the baby is 8-10 months old, the daily diet should include three meals of solid foods.
To ensure that a baby is getting an adequate intake of iron, purees of meat and poultry should be offered regularly. For babies who have not been breast fed, infant milk formulas and cereals fortified with iron are recommended.
Wheat products should not be introduced before six months; and eggs and cow's milk not until nine months, as these are associated with food allergies.
The wider the selection of foods a baby becomes accustomed to, the more likely it is that the diet will provide enough nutrients. If a particular food is obviously disliked, there is no need to force it on your baby. No food is indispensable on account of its nutritional value. Replace it with an alternative food that supplies similar nutrients and try again later.
Is it best to buy or make baby foods?
This is a matter of personal choice. In recent years many manufacturers have removed salt, sugar, and additives from their products. However, homemade foods are cheaper and need not be too fiddly to make once you get organized. As the baby gets older, simply mash or make a puree of some of the family's normal meal.
It is important not to add salt and sugar to home-made baby foods, or to drinks. Adding salt puts a strain on the kidneys which are not yet sufficiently developed to cope. Salt is present in many of the foods a baby is eating, such as most cheeses and bread.
The longer you delay adding sugar to foods or giving sweets, the better for the baby. If a baby develops a sweet tooth too young, sugary foods may soon be eaten to the exclusion of more nutritious, forms. Sweet foods are, of course, bad for developing teeth.
What about milk feeds?
Even after a baby is settled on three solid meals a day, whole milk is still needed. It supplies calcium which is essential for building strong bones and teeth, and protein which is an important source of the nutrients needed for growth. Lower fat milk does not provide adequate energy for a child's needs.
- Make sure your baby has an adequate diet to meet all nutritional needs. Remember that what is recommended for an adult does not necessarily apply for a growing baby. For example, a baby needs a certain amount of fat for proper brain development. Skimmed or low-fat milk does not provide enough fat and should not be substituted for whole milk in the first two years of life.
- Similarly, some adults follow very restricted diets, such as strict macrobiotic regimens. These can cause serious nutritional deficiencies in a young child.
Current Advice About weaning
- Do not start solid foods until the baby is ready.
- Introduce one new food at a time so that the cause of reactions such as colic or rash can be identified.
- Infants have less saliva than adults and so prefer bland, moist foods.
- Avoid hard foods that may cause choking. Make a puree of foods like meat.
- Do not overwhelm babies with large portions. Offer a second helping instead.
- Avoid using food as a pacifier or as a reward.
- Do not let a baby fall asleep with a bottle of juice in its mouth. This can cause serious tooth decay.
- If your baby becomes overweight, encourage exercise and avoid overfeeding. Do not put a young child on a weight-loss diet without consulting your doctor.
- Self-feeding is important, so spread newspaper or plastic sheeting on the floor and do not scold at spills. Encourage use of a spoon as co-ordination improves in the second year.