I have introduced solids to five children over the past ten years, and every time I have learned something new along the way. Having tried both spoon-feeding and baby-led weaning, I do have a preference, but I'm not here to argue that today. Instead, we are sharing essential things parents should know before the introduction of solids and the vital role nutrition has on their long-term health.
With thanks to science, guidelines are ever-changing, and the latest research has shown baby's digestive systems aren't ready for solid food before 17 weeks. If food is served too young, it can lead to gut issues in later life, and let's be honest; nobody wants that for their child.
If you have a baby and you are looking for advice and tips when it comes to weaning, here are five things parents should know before introducing solids:
1. When to start
At present, the World Health Organisation advises solids at six months while the HSE recommends weaning around six months but never before 17 weeks. Their advice states that a baby's kidneys and digestive system are not mature enough before 17 weeks to handle anything other than milk and by introducing solids too early, you can increase the risk of obesity and increase their risk of allergies. Recommendations also state introducing foods or fluids too early can displace the essential nutrients supplied by breast or formula.
2. Know the signs
When your baby is ready to start weaning on to solid food, they will tell you. Your baby should:
- Be able to sit up in a high chair and have full control of their head movements.
- Show an interest in your food. For example, your baby might mimic you chewing food or reach out for your food.
- Be hungrier more often. Your baby might not be satisfied after a milk feed or demand milk more frequently over a few days.
3. Where to begin
When introducing solids, opt for GP hours in case of allergies and ensure your baby is not too hungry or tired. Strap the baby into a sturdy high chair and, using a spoon, offer a pea-size amount of soft and smooth purée. They might want to hold the spoon, explore the texture, and they might even refuse it, but that's okay. If they don't like it, leave it and try again in a few days. Do not rush your baby.
4. Pick the right food
Knowing what to give your baby in the first few weeks can be overwhelming but keep it simple with vegetable and fruit purées mixed with breastmilk or formula. Only one new food should be given at any one time with each food spaced out, usually 1-2 days apart. In the early days, you must offer a variety of flavours from stewed apple or pears and butternut squash, sweet potato or carrot purée.
5. Avoid these foods
As your baby gets older, you will introduce new textures, flavours and even finger food, but did you know there are certain things you must avoid? Honey is a bacteria and on occasion can cause infant botulism. Infant botulism is a rare bacterial infection that occurs in the intestine and can lead to muscle weakness, constipation and lethargy. Avoid honey and foods which contain honey until your baby is twelve months old. Other foods to avoid include unpasteurised cheese, raw shellfish, low-fat food, sugar, salt and whole nuts which can lead to choking.
Overall, weaning should be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. It will be messy but approach it with a slow and steady pace and always follow your baby's lead and keep it fun.