Let baby lead way
The exact time to start feeding will depend on the readiness of you and your baby, writes dietitian Aoife Hearne
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.
‘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.’