Belfast Telegraph

Food for thought: 10 tips on how to start your baby on solid food

When it comes time for switching from the bottle, not everyone's experience is the same. Dr Pixie McKenna shares a guide for handling the weaning process with Lisa Salmon

Fine mess: babies love to play with their food when weaning
Fine mess: babies love to play with their food when weaning
Fine mess: babies love to play with their food when weaning

Getting your baby onto solid foods can be an exciting step - but it may be hard work too and knowing when the time's right to make the switch can be tricky.

The NHS's Start4Life (nhs.uk/start4life), which recently launched a new weaning hub full of advice and healthy recipes to help parents through the process, says that most babies shouldn't be weaned until they're six months old.

This is about the age when their bodies are better able to cope with solid foods. They're more able to feed themselves and are better at chewing, swallowing and moving food around their mouth. Still, it's never really 'one size fits all' with babies.

Meanwhile, TV's Dr Pixie McKenna, a GP and author of several books on weaning and child development, has teamed up with Waterwipes with Soapberry (waterwipes.com) and created a guide for parents approaching the weaning phase.

Here are 10 things parents should keep in mind when it comes to weaning your baby onto solid foods:

1. There's no magic age to start

Babies will generally be ready to start weaning at six months old, although Dr McKenna points out: "All babies develop at different stages and what might be right for some won't be for others." Signs to indicate that a baby's ready for solid foods might include sitting up with support and holding their head steady, putting toys and other objects in their mouth, and watching with interest when others are eating.

2. Try different types of weaning

There's no universal approach when it comes to weaning - what works for one baby might not work for another, says Dr McKenna. There are two main types of weaning methods: spoon-fed weaning, where babies learn to spoon feed first, and baby-led weaning, where babies skip the smooth food phase and learn to chew from the beginning.

Dr McKenna says baby-led weaning is a good way for them to learn their own feeding skills, as well as developing motor control, enabling them to experience a greater variety of foods. However, she says spoon-fed weaning has benefits too, as you know exactly how much and what baby's eating, the baby can get food quicker, and it usually causes less mess.

3. Babies don't need baby food

"Before you rush out and buy 101 jars of baby food, there are easier and better ways to introduce infants to solids," says Dr McKenna. Babies should be exposed to lots of variety and most can start with any pureed single-ingredient food with no added salt or sugar. Foods like butternut squash, carrot or sweet potato are good choices as they provide a rich source of vitamin A, which is important for a baby's growth. Adding cheese to vegetable purees is a great way to add protein and well-cooked scrambled eggs make a good first breakfast too.

4. Babies can be fussy eaters

Some days your baby might like mashed up banana and the next day they won't. It can take a while for babies to get used to new flavours, so trust your instinct and look for clues. If they turn their head or push the food away, they probably aren't interested right now. Remember to increase the amount of food you give your baby, depending on their appetite, and offer a variety of foods, so baby gets used to the flavours and textures.

5. Babies just can't eat all foods immediately

Wait until six months to introduce foods like cow's milk, eggs, foods that contain gluten (including wheat, barley or rye), foods containing nuts or seeds (don't give babies whole nuts because of the risk of choking), or fish and shellfish. "Variety in your baby's diet is important, but it's not unusual for babies to be allergic to certain foods," explains Dr McKenna. "With this in mind, introduce certain foods one at a time." If you're concerned your baby may have a food allergy, speak to your GP.

6. Follow baby's lead

Dr McKenna says it's normal for babies to put up some resistance when they first try solid food. "If your baby doesn't seem interested after a couple of attempts, try again later. It may be they're just not very hungry at the moment. Patience is key, so go at your baby's pace." If you're concerned about your baby's appetite, seek advice from your GP.

7. It's fine to abandon the eating schedule

Having a routine can help babies when they start weaning, but it shouldn't be concrete, stresses Dr McKenna. A schedule can be helpful, but try not to worry too much if you have to deviate from it. "The most important thing is to make sure you and your baby are relaxed and are enjoying the weaning process - go with the flow," she advises.

8. Weaning won't help baby sleep through

"Sorry mums and dads, there's no proof weaning helps babies sleep through the night," Dr McKenna says. Some babies sleep right through from about six to eight weeks, while others take much longer. "Again, all babies are different and some parents are blessed with sound sleepers, while others are not," Dr McKenna adds.

9. Be prepared for a mess

Weaning a baby can be very messy, as Dr McKenna says: "Letting your baby explore, handle and taste foods is exciting but it comes with the added pressure of keeping them and your house clean."

10. It won't happen overnight

Remember, weaning is a gradual process and won't happen instantly. "Some babies require several weeks to get used to the change, so be patient," Dr McKenna reassures.

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