Introducing your baby to foods other than breastmilk (or formula) is an exciting new stage of development to look forward to, but also something which parents may worry about. Firstly, you may not be clear about when you should start to offer solid foods and the information which you find, for example on the labels of ‘weaning foods’ may not help!
Most babies do not need any food or drink other than breastmilk (or formula) until about six months. The Department of Health states that ‘around six months is the best age for introducing solids’. It is still possible to buy packaged baby food that is labelled as ‘suitable from four months’, however giving any food before six months when your baby’s digestive system is still developing may increase the risk of infections and allergies.
It is important that you are able to recognise the signs that your individual baby is ready to try some foods. In the past, it was thought that babies who woke for feeding during the night, or who started feeding more frequently during the day, or who started to show interest in other people’s food were ready to start solid foods. However, we now know that while these are important developmental stages, they do not necessarily show that a baby is ready to start eating. Instead, the things to look out for, at about six months are that your baby can sit up, wants to chew and is practising this with toys and other objects and can reach out and grab things accurately. These abilities will contribute to making weaning your baby easy and enjoyable.
First foods you might like to try include mashed fruits such as banana or avocado or cooked mashed apple or pear, or try cooked mashed parsnip, carrot or sweet potato. When you’ve tried a few things, try some combinations or add some mashed meat, fish or chicken.
Some parents prefer to let the baby feed him/herself right from the start (sometimes called baby led weaning), if you want to try this then offer foods which baby can pick up and eat, such as steamed broccoli florets or carrot sticks or pieces of apple or melon. Remember that starting solid foods is all about experimentation and enjoyment, try not to worry about how much your baby eats, just keep offering opportunities to try new things and let your baby’s appetite guide you both. As your baby eats more, the need for milk will become less and the appetite for solid food will increase but each baby will vary in the time this process takes.
While all this is going on and your baby is getting used to a variety of foods, it is still really important to continue to breastfeed your baby on demand. Your breastmilk can still provide a valuable source of nutrition for your baby and the health benefits for both of you last throughout the time you are breastfeeding and beyond. The Department of Health recommends breastfeeding for at least a year and says that continuing to breastfeed after this will also be of benefit for health.
Stephanie Heard – Infant Feeding Co-ordinator
Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Primary Care Trust