Getting Weaning Right

Blooming Kids NI is hosting a weaning event this Saturday to help guide parents through this important stage in their baby’s life.

The workshop will be led by paediatric dietitian Ailish McVeigh from First Foods.

Mumbreakable catches up with Ailish to find out some of the basics.

Q: What is the best age to start weaning?

A: Well, this is a question that people are often confused about, as the advice has changed a lot over the last 20 years.

The World Health Organization and the Department of Health (DoH) both recommend weaning should begin at about six months.

The DoH also states that it is safe to start weaning after 17 weeks but the exact timing will depend upon your baby’s signs of readiness.

The most recent European guidelines recommend that weaning can be introduced after 17 weeks but no later than six months.

Therefore, at First Foods I recommend not before 17 weeks and ideally around six months but no later than this.

Q: What are the risks associated with weaning early?

A: Before 17 weeks, your baby’s digestive system and kidneys are not mature enough to handle foods other than breastmilk or formula.

Studies have also shown that weaning prior to four months increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.

Up until 6 months, your baby’s body has sufficient stores of vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc and vitamin A and therefore breastmilk and formula will provide your baby with all their nutritional needs.

However, this is also why it is important that you start weaning no later than six months.

Starting to wean later than six months will also delay your baby’s opportunity to learn important skills including self-feeding, experiencing new tastes and textures and developing their social interactions as they become more involved in family meals.

Q: How do I know my baby is ready for weaning?

A: The best approach is to watch your baby for signs that they are ready.

There are four clear signs that, when they occur together, show that your baby is ready for food other than breast or formula milk.

It is rare to see these four signs happening together before six months.

Baby can hold his/her head up – your baby needs to be able to keep their head steady and move it from side to side.

Sit upright independently – this may be sitting in a high chair with their back supported or held while sitting on your lap.

Good co-ordination – baby should be be able to look at something, pick it up and put it in their mouth by themselves.

Baby can swallow food – if they can’t, they will push the food back out with their tongue. This is known as the tongue thrust reflex.

Q: What are the best starter foods and how should they be prepared?

A: At First Foods, I encourage ‘veg first’ weaning.

Both breastmilk and formula are sweet and we are born with an innate preference for sweet tastes.

Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that infants exposed to a mixture of vegetables in the first 15 days were more willing to accept and like new vegetables during the weaning stage and into later childhood.

I therefore recommend vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, parsnips, cauliflower, spinach and butternut squash are introduced first.

Veg can be prepared by steaming or boiling it until soft and then pureed using a blender or placed through a sieve.

As per DoH guidelines, food should be introduced firstly as a runny (semi liquid) puree and progress to a thick puree during the first stage of weaning.

Q: What foods should you avoid?

A: Salt – do not add salt to foods and avoid foods high in salt such as packet soups, stock cubes, crisps, bacon, smoked meats, jarred sauces.

Sugar – do not add sugar to foods and drinks. Avoid sugary foods such as chocolate, cake and sweets.

Shark, swordfish or marlin – high levels of mercury in these fish can affect your baby’s nervous system.

Raw shellfish – including mussels, clams and oysters have an increased risk of food poisoning

Honey – should not be given until 12 months as it contains bacteria that can lead to botulism – a life threatening illness.

Whole nuts – should not be given until five years due to the risk of choking.

Eggs – hens’ eggs that have a red lion stamp on them can be given lightly or soft cooked from six months, however, if they don’t have a red lion mark they should be cooked until both the white and yolk are solid.

Q: What is baby-led weaning?

A: Baby led weaning (BLW) means babies are provided their first foods by self-feeding, selecting and picking up foods provided.

In BLW, babies are not given food via a spoon by someone at all.

The DoH currently recommends spoon-feeding plus the introduction of finger foods from six months.

Therefore, the choice is not whether to introduce finger foods at six months but to decide whether you give just finger foods and skip the spoon-feeding totally or give a mix of spoon-feeding and finger foods.

Spoon-feeding without introducing finger foods is not an option.

Q: My baby won’t eat what I give them. Should I be worried? What should I do?

A: Weaning should be a fun and enjoyable time for you and your baby.

It’s a time to let your baby explore lots of new tastes and textures.

If your baby is refusing to eat, it’s important to make mealtimes a relaxed and enjoyable time for them.

Try not to worry about how much they are eating and let things get messy.

Offer both spoon-feeds and soft finger foods.

Let your baby touch the food in the bowl as you spoon-feed and give them their own spoon.

Don’t pressurise or try to force your baby to eat, be guided by them.

Your baby’s appetite will change on a nearly daily basis as they go through different growth spurts, developmental stages and illnesses and teething.

Try not to judge their intake based on what happens over one or two days.

Their intake over a week is a better judge of their overall appetite.

If you would like to find out more about giving your baby the best start when it comes to weaning, you can attend a First Foods’ workshop.

Ailish will be at the Blooming Kids NI headquarters in Moneymore at 11am on Saturday.

To book a place, check out the Blooming Kids NI Facebook page.

To find out about other First Foods’ workshops, check out the Facebook page.

First Foods NI Mumbreakable

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