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How to wean your baby

Eimear, the Paediatric Dietician from Chill Baby knows a thing or two about weaning babies. Here she gives advice on how to make sure your baby gets the best, most nutritious food for the first year of its life.

Babies are not little adults. They have unique nutritional needs. What your baby eats has a direct impact on their wellbeing, growth and development. Nutrition and food choices are clearly linked to the health of your infant or child. Your baby's taste preferences are formed by what you offer them.

Did you know that in the first year of life the average baby:
- Triples their body weight
- Increases their length by 50%
-† Requires approximately 4 times more calories per kilogram per day than adults to thrive

Weaning (or the introduction of solid food) is another important step in helping your baby to meet their demanding nutritional needs. Weaning should be an exciting time for parents and baby; it is a time for new tastes and textures of solid foods to be experienced. Wise food selection and a relaxed attitude towards feeding are important

From birth to 4-6 months breast milk should be sufficient to provide all the nourishment your baby needs to grow and develop. If breast milk is not available then the next best substitute is formula milk. At 4-6 months your baby should be ready to be weaned.

How do I know my baby is ready?
†††† * Your baby should have head control.
†††† * Your baby may still seem hungry after finishing a feed.
†††† * Your baby may begin to demand to be fed more frequently.
†††† * Your baby may be showing an interest in solid foods.

Which foods first?
First foods should be bland. Baby rice mixed with formula or breast milk is ideal. Other suitable alternatives include pureed vegetables or fruit such as apples, pears, carrots, courgettes, turnips. All first foods should be a smooth runny puree. Introduce one new food at a time; let your baby get used to the taste. Once your baby is used to several foods then try introducing different tastes and textures. Try then to combine different foods to give a wider range of flavours.

How much should my baby take?
Start by offering 1-3 teaspoons at any one feed time. At first this should be at a time when baby is not too hungry. A very hungry baby may not be open to new feeding practices! Increase the quantity according to appetite. After 2-3 weeks introduce a second meal and then again after a further 2-3 weeks a third meal.

How to progress with weaning?
Once your baby is used to several foods then try introducing different tastes and textures. Try then to combine different foods to give a wider range of flavours. Continue to give a wide range of fruit and vegetable and gradually make the purees thicker or of a coarser texture. Pureed beef, lamb, pork, chicken or turkey can be introduced as an important source of iron and protein. Beans, lentils and pulses could also be introduced at this stage. These are essential foods if your baby is to be weaned on a vegetarian diet.

Is there anything I should not give my baby at this stage?
- Foods should be gluten free until 6 months of age. Gluten is found in foods containing wheat, rye, barley or oats.
- Never add salt to you baby's food. Salty foods such as canned vegetables, gravies, soups, stock cubes, processed meats e.g. sausages, fish fingers etc. should also be avoided.
-† Never add sugar or honey to your baby's food.
- Never add solids to your baby's bottle or cup.

During this initial weaning period your baby is learning a new skill. Taking food from a spoon is far more complicated than sucking from the bottle or breast. Don't worry if your baby progresses more slowly than other babies of the same age - babies will learn at their own pace.

Remember - TAKE COVER!!! Weaning is messy and should be a fun learning time.

Your baby should be taking solid food well and becoming less dependent on breast or formula milk as the main source of nutrition. It is however recommended that breast or formula milk continues to be the main drink throughout the first year of life. By 6-9 months your baby should be progressing to stronger flavours and different textures. Mashed or finely minced foods instead of purees should be tolerated.

- Start to give finger foods. Begin with foods which are fairly soft such as cheese, banana, melon, bread and cooked vegetables. Giving lumpier spoon feeds and finger foods encourages chewing and is a vital part of development.
- Foods containing gluten can be introduced from 6 months e.g. bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, pasta and rusks.
- Small amounts of cow's milk can be introduced and used to mix with solids. Other dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese and fromage frais could also be given safely at this stage.
- Eggs can now also be given once thoroughly cooked until both the yolk and white are solid
- Meat or equivalent should now be included daily in the diet. This is necessary to prevent iron deficiency anaemia (see section on iron).
- Small amounts of fish could also be introduced. Be careful to remove all bones.

Is there anything I should not give my baby at this stage?
- Sugar and honey should not be added to baby's food. Sweetened cereals which contain sugar, honey or chocolate should also be avoided.
- Processed and canned varieties of fish, meat, spaghetti in† tomato sauce and vegetables often contain large quantities of salt and should not be offered.

By 6-9 months your baby should be having approximately 3 meals per day. Aim to give starchy foods such as potato, pasta, bread or rice 2-3 times per day. Meat, fish, beans, lentils or eggs should be given once per day, and fruit or vegetables twice per day. Your baby should also still be having about 1 pint (500-600mls) of breast or formula milk each day.

By 9-12 months your baby should be ready to begin to experience family based meals.

- Start to give chopped foods to encourage chewing.
- Drinking from a cup rather than a bottle should be encouraged.
- Self feeding is encouraged.
- Continue to give a wide range of foods; aim to provide 3-4 servings of starchy foods, 3-4 servings of fruit and vegetables, and 1-2 servings of meat, fish, eggs, beans or meat alternatives each day. Provide a variety of dairy products. Let your baby's appetite provide you with a guide to the size of the servings.
- Your baby will still need about 1 pint (500-600mls) of breast or formula milk daily.

By one year of age your baby should be able to eat most of the food eaten by the rest of the family.

Iron deficiency is the most widespread deficiency in the world. Iron is needed for growth, development and a healthy immune system. Babies and children from 6 months to 2 years of age have high iron requirements. By 6 months of age your baby's stores of iron which were laid down during pregnancy begin to dwindle. It is therefore extremely important that these stores are topped up by iron coming from your baby's diet.

Meat is the richest source of iron. The redder the meat, the higher the iron content. Sources of iron easily absorbed by the body include:
- Beef
- Lamb
- Pork
- Bacon
- Ham
- Chicken
- Turkey
- Black pudding
- Liver
- Oily fish

Other good sources of iron that are less easily absorbed by the body include:
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Pulses (beans, lentils)
- Dried fruit (apricots, figs)
- Dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli)
- Eggs

Did you know that the iron in meat is absorbed up to 7 times more efficiently than the iron found in vegetables, cereals and fruit? Did you also know that foods high in vitamin C (oranges, kiwis, blackcurrants, fruit juices) boost the iron absorption from cereals and fruit?

At one year of age baby's diet should be including at least 2 iron rich foods daily.

Greatfood.ie note
People quite rightly hold strong views about an issue as important as weaning babies. Some mothers wean at 6 months, others earlier. This article is just one view and we ask you to please seek out others.

Greatfood.ie is a broad church representing many views - one of our readers was so incensed by this article that she asked us to take it down on the basis that it contradicts recommendations from the WHO and the Department of Health in Ireland eg they recommend that you should put your baby on solids at 6 months. However, Annabel Karmel, the baby and child food writer throws light on the rationale for those organisations to suggest 6 months as the time for weaning. She writes: 'It is important to realise that the WHO advice includes developing countries where breast milk is the cleanest and most readily available food for babies. She suggests the minimum age for starting your baby on solids is 17 weeks'.
Read Annabel Karmel's article here on Ivillage.co.uk

You will find more information from the World Health Organisation and from the Department of Health in Ireland or your health department in your country but you should always take advice from your public health nurse and/or your GP for an issue as important as this.

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