Let baby lead way

The ex­act time to start feed­ing will de­pend on the readi­ness of you and your baby, writes di­eti­tian Aoife Hearne

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Parenting -

I’M not go­ing to lie, this week has been al­most the tough­est since Zoë was born. It seemed she was get­ting into her own lit­tle rou­tine aka the holy grail when it comes to nap­ping and sleep­ing but then, al­most as quick as it seemed to hap­pen, it all dis­in­te­grated.

The prob­lem was that I had al­ready jumped aboard the ‘rou­tine’ train and was rac­ing ahead with­out tak­ing real life into con­sid­er­a­tion. So when it all came crash­ing down, rather than be­ing ra­tio­nal about the sit­u­a­tion, I blamed my­self for ‘fail­ing’. I don’t think I’m alone in this. So many moth­ers are sold this idea that ba­bies should be in a rigid rou­tine and the knock-on ef­fect is that it can have a re­ally detri­men­tal ef­fect on mood. I know this is true for me these past few weeks.

Luck­ily it was ac­tu­ally pre­par­ing for this week’s col­umn that has helped me see the light and re­alise that ba­bies have good days/weeks/months and times that are not so good as they grow and de­velop. I re­ally crave rou­tine and so any sign that we might have been close to it made me plough ahead be­fore we were ready. So I’m just go­ing to give up a lit­tle while on the whole idea of rou­tine and on the whole idea that she should be sleep­ing on her own in her cot and just give her more cud­dles.

So let’s get back to the job at hand and take some of the con­fu­sion out of in­tro­duc­ing solids.

It may seem that you have just got­ten the hang of feed­ing your in­fant and now ev­ery­thing changes once again. Wel­come to the next big chal­lenge of par­ent­ing — in­tro­duc­ing solids. From purees to baby-led feed­ing, this tran­si­tion comes with sev­eral op­tions and a dizzy­ing amount of in­for­ma­tion. Not to worry; your baby will con­tinue to get most of what they need from breast­milk (or first-stage for­mula milk), so you can re­lax and try to en­joy the process.


The ex­act time to start feed­ing will de­pend on readi­ness of you and your baby, but the WHO and the ma­jor­ity of health or­gan­i­sa­tions around the world con­tinue to rec­om­mend start­ing solids around six months of age. Trust your in­stincts — your baby should have good head con­trol, in­ter­est in food, de­sire for more fre­quent milk feed­ings, and the abil­ity to sit up­right. Start­ing solids be­fore six months may cause prob­lems such as lower pro­tein and calo­rie con­sump­tion as well as tummy prob­lems, food al­ler­gies, and kid­ney prob­lems.


All foods can be in­tro­duced and it is es­pe­cially im­por­tant to in­clude iron-rich food sources such as soft beef, eggs, and beans. Re­search demon­strates that in­tro­duc­ing any po­ten­tial al­ler­gens (gluten, eggs, ground nuts, or nut but­ters) may ac­tu­ally re­duce the risk of food al­lergy. It is prob­a­bly wise to in­tro­duce these foods one by one, with a few days apart, so that you can mon­i­tor your baby in case of any ad­verse re­ac­tion. Iron is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant at this stage of life, so it is a good idea to in­clude iron-rich foods such as meat, poul­try, fish, beans and eggs from the six month marker.

There is ab­so­lutely no need for fol­low-on milk at this time. Ac­cord­ing to Baby Milk Ac­tion, the baby feed­ing in­dus­try in­vented fol­low-on milks for mar­ket­ing pur­poses and the WHO re­cently stated that fol­low-on milks are not nec­es­sary at any stage of life.

What to avoid

Added salt, sugar, and honey be­fore 12 months. months; Sugar (sug­ary treats be­fore age two as will en­cour­age a sweet tooth);

Stock cubes, gravy, and foods in pack­ets, jars, or sauces;

Foods that pose a chok­ing risk such as whole nuts, grapes, cherry toma­toes, sausages;

Sugar-sweet­ened drinks such as juice and soda, tea, and cof­fee.


This is where things get a lit­tle more com­pli­cated. Tra­di­tion­ally we were rec­om­mended to start with spoon feed­ing of pureéd foods with a grad­ual in­tro­duc­tion of solid foods. How­ever, in more re­cent times there has been a shift to baby-led feed­ing/wean­ing. This skips spoon feed­ing, al­low­ing the baby to hold foods and ex­clu­sively self-feed from the start (six months of age).

The big­gest con­cern many will have with baby-led feed­ing is the po­ten­tial risk of chok­ing. How­ever, re­search in this area has shown no greater risk of chok­ing fol­low­ing this ap­proach as long as food is pro­vided in safe shapes ie long enough for baby to grasp and no round shapes.

. Don’t for­get that chok­ing and gag­ging are very dif­fer­ent. Gag­ging is a nor­mal part of learn­ing to eat and helps ba­bies bring food back to the front of the mouth to spit out.

Per­son­ally, I think a com­bi­na­tion of the two meth­ods can be a good start­ing point, es­pe­cially if it’s your first time try­ing baby-led feed­ing. This is some­thing I did with my first boy Dy­lan. Many pro­po­nents of baby-led feed­ing sug­gest that this ap­proach im­proves self-reg­u­la­tion of food in­take, re­sult­ing in health­ier long-term eat­ing pat­terns. This has def­i­nitely been my ex­pe­ri­ence.

No mat­ter what ap­proach you take, re­mem­ber this is new to you and your baby. Up un­til now, your baby has only had a thin liq­uid to deal with and learn­ing how to man­age thicker tex­tures is a brand new skill, so go easy on your­self and your baby.

Here are some tips to make it a lit­tle eas­ier on you:

Don’t rush — pick a time with few pres­sures or dis­trac­tions;

Trust and fol­low your baby’s hunger and full­ness cues; avoid force-feed­ing;

Stay with your baby while eat­ing to re­duce the risk of chok­ing;

Never add any ce­real or other food to a bot­tle;

Of­fer the same foods more than once — your baby may need mul­ti­ple ex­po­sures to a food to like it.

Food be­fore one is just for fun, so don’t worry if your baby doesn’t ac­tu­ally eat a whole lot at the start

When in­tro­duc­ing solids, you can stick to one method or a com­bi­na­tion of the two meth­ods. The most im­por­tant thing is to find the ap­proach that feels right for your baby and fam­ily.

The baby-led feed­ing ap­proach will def­i­nitely cut down on the ex­tra work of cook­ing sep­a­rate foods and I know I will def­i­nitely be tak­ing this ap­proach again when Zoë hits the six-month mile­stone. I bet­ter in­vest in some more ‘catch it all baby vests’ to help limit the mess.

Pic­ture: Pa­trick Browne

‘The baby-led feed­ing ap­proach cuts down on ex­tra work of cook­ing sep­a­rate foods and I know I will be tak­ing this ap­proach again when Zoë hits six months.’

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