Research has found that despite official guidance stating babies shouldn’t be introduced to solid foods until around six months of age, more than a third of mums (34%) feel pressure to wean their baby before six months. Yet the Start4Life study found nearly two-thirds (63%) of mums have received conflicting weaning advice, which can be especially frustrating when so many of them (83%) feel they have to get parenting right all of the time.
“Introducing solid foods is an exciting time, but while everyone wants the best for their baby’s health, it can feel daunting for many parents - particularly when they feel under pressure to get things right,” says Start4Life nutritionist Orla Hugueniot. “Our weaning hub supports parents by putting the best advice in one place, helping them to cut through the confusion and boost their confidence to enjoy this big milestone in their child’s life.”
And the Irish Health Board Bord Bia, which provides healthy eating advice for every life stage, points out: “Boys may differ from girls, and breastfed infants tend to start spoon-feeding later than those who aren’t breastfed. Spoon-feeding practices vary from one family to another.”
Here, Start4Life and Bord Bia give their tips for happy and successful weaning...
Wait for six months
Solid foods should be introduced at around six months, stresses Start4Life. By this point, babies can cope better with solid foods and are more able to feed themselves. They are also better at moving food around their mouth, chewing and swallowing. However, the Start4Life research found three-quarters of parents had already introduced solid foods by the time their baby was five-months-old.
Watch for the signs
There are three clear signs, says Start4Life, which when they appear together, show a baby is ready for its first solid foods, alongside breast milk or infant formula. The signs are being able to sit up and hold their head steady, coordinating their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at their food, pick it up and put it in their mouth, and being able to swallow food, rather than spitting it out.
Don’t start when baby’s hungry
It’s best not to offer the first spoon-feed when your baby’s very hungry, says Bord Bia, as the small amount taken won’t be enough to satisfy their hunger and they may get upset. Breast feed or give some formula first, and then offer food when baby’s more relaxed.
Take your time
Remember, it doesn’t matter how quickly your baby gets the hang of this - the important thing is getting them used to new tastes and textures. “Take your time and let your baby guide you,” advises Hugueniot.
Don’t worry about the amount eaten at first
Start by giving a spoon feed just once a day, when you’re relaxed and can enjoy the potentially messy experience, Bord Bia suggests. Although your baby will only eat a small amount of food at first - probably just two or three teaspoonfuls - that’s fine. The important thing is that he/she is learning to take food from a spoon. Eating enough to fill that little tummy will come after your baby gets the hang of this strange new eating thing.
Mix it up
To get your baby used to eating different textures and tastes quickly, try moving from purees to mashed or finger foods as soon as they’re ready, advises Start4Life. “This helps them learn how to chew and swallow solid foods,” explains Hugueniot.
Don’t give up
If your baby doesn’t seem to like a certain food and refuses it, wait a few days and try again, says Bord Bia. If you think a particular food has unsettled or upset him/her, it’s best to avoid it for a while, but don’t write it off completely - give it to your baby again at a later date. However, if he/she reacts again, get advice from your doctor or health visitor about it.
Make sure you feed all the food groups
Gradually increase the amount and variety of foods you give your baby, include foods from the different food groups (vegetables, fruit, starchy foods, protein foods and dairy), and vegetables that aren’t so sweet, such as broccoli and cauliflower. “This will help your baby get used to a range of flavours and can help prevent them being fussy eaters as they grow up,” explains Hugueniot. Initially, stew small portions of fruit or steam or boil vegetables and puree or mash them to a soft, runny consistency.
Spoon-fed or baby-led?
Some parents prefer baby-led weaning - where a baby feeds themselves finger foods, rather than starting off with spoon feeding - while others combine both. Hugueniot says: “There’s no right or wrong way - the most important thing is that your baby eats a wide variety of food and gets all the nutrients they need.”
What about milk?
Breast milk or infant formula is still an important source of energy and nutrients during a baby’s first year, and should be their main drink until 12 months of age. Cows milk doesn’t provide the nutrients a baby needs, and Bord Bia stresses that it shouldn’t be used as the main milk drink until baby is one-year-old. Then, whole milk can be given to them - low-fat milk and its products aren’t suitable for babies and young children.
Babies learn from watching you eat, so give them food when you and the rest of the family are eating, advises Start4Life. Your baby doesn’t need salt or sugar added to their food - salt isn’t good for their kidneys.
“You’ll have tougher days when most of your baby’s food ends up on the floor and you’ll have days when you’re in fits of laughter seeing food end up all over their face,” says Hugueniot. “It’s a great bonding time for you and your baby, so have fun experimenting and figuring this out together.” PA/TPN