Feed me food!
YOUR INSTINCT MIGHT be telling you that your baby is ready to start on solids. After all, you know her better than anyone else. If you’re a little unsure though, here are some signs to be on the lookout for that will confirm your suspicion. When three or more of these physical and intellectual milestones are reached, it is time to start the journey of introducing complementary food.
PHYSICAL MILESTONES ✓ Your baby is sitting steadily (with support or without) and her head and neck don’t wobble on her shoulders. ✓ When lying on her stomach, your baby can lift her head and hold weight on her arms. ✓ She has at least doubled her birth weight. ✓ She doesn’t stay satisfied for long and needs more regular feeds than before, also at night. ✓ She can reach out for objects and bring them to her mouth. ✓ She has lost her natural tongue thrust reflex, and she makes chewing motions with her jaw. ✓ Her weight gain has slowed down as she becomes more active.
INTELLECTUAL MILESTONES ✓ She shows interest in your food when you eat, even grabbing at it sometimes. ✓ She is interested in her surroundings and can focus for a period of time. ✓ She responds to your voice or sudden sounds by looking around and locating the source.
Before you get started with everything that goes into menu planning and cooking, there are a few principles to keep in mind to ensure that this new adventure is a positive and healthy experience. Breast is best. Weaning does not mean giving up on breastfeeding – it merely refers to introducing other food sources along with breastmilk. There is no downside to breastfeeding – you can continue for as long as you and your child wish, and rest assured that your child will reap the benefits. Their intake of breastmilk will decrease naturally as their intake of solid food increases. Early weaning is dangerous. Experts agree that you shouldn’t even consider giving your baby solids before 17 weeks, and if shortly after that only on the advice of your medical caregiver. Anything earlier could lead to immediate health problems including choking as well as problems later in life such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Don’t delay. Your baby’s feeding and energy needs become more complex as she grows, and by six months the iron deposits that she was born with begin to run out. She needs the added benefit of iron and other nutrients to her diet that milk alone won’t provide anymore. First-time fun. Choose a time for the first feed when your baby is calm and relaxed. It shouldn’t be right after a milk feed, neither should she be beside herself with hunger. The first little taste is more about the experience and learning to swallowing than about nutrition. Make meal time part of your routine by planning feeds that are more or less at the same time and place every day. Expect a mess. It takes about a week for your baby to learn to eat properly. Initially only tiny amounts will go down – the rest will end up on her, on you, on the high chair, on the floor… Don’t be stressed about this. As you approach the toddler years, mess will become part of your new normal, with mealtimes probably the most messy part of the day for years to come. Take a deep breath and relax about it. Don’t be pushy. It is the mom’s job to provide the meals, and the baby’s job to decide how much to eat. When your baby is clearly done, the meal is over. Don’t force her to eat more, or trick her by playing little games to get her to eat more. Her own appetite should be her guide. Feeding time should be a happy time, not a battle of wills. Popular tastes. You can start with baby cereal, fruit or vegetables. Cereal is convenient and easy and babies like it. Most of them are also enriched with iron, which your baby has a great need for. Fruit purée also goes down well as it is sweeter. The first meal can be as simple as some mashed banana, or a purée of cooked apple or pear. If you’re worried about encouraging a sweet tooth, start with a vegetable purée. Popular choices are sweet potato, butternut or carrot. Three-day rule. Give your baby the same food for three days in a row to allow her time to get used to the taste and texture, and to give you time to keep an eye
HER OWN APPETITE SHOULD BE HER GUIDE
out for any reaction. As the list of foods your baby eats increases, you can start combining them and also adding meals. After a few weeks your baby should be having three meals a day, but remember that sometimes a meal will be only a tablespoon or so. Try, try again. If a particular food is met with rejection, accept it calmly. Offer it again after a week or so. You might have to repeat this exposure 15-20 times before your baby will like the food. Just stay calm and keep trying. Don’t let frustration get the better of you. Lumps are good. Not only does your baby have to learn about different tastes, she also has to learn about different textures, and even temperatures. As she masters eating, start to make food lumpier. Also give her cold food (such as yoghurt), room temperature food (mashed avo) and warmer food, such as a meat and veg mix. Serve finger food. Your baby learns a lot while eating by herself. Never leave her alone to eat, though, as there is always a risk of choking and you need to be nearby to help. Never let her eat in the car. Sit with her, and put down some enticing food for her to handle all by herself. Some suggestions: baby biltong, sugar-free rusks, hard boiled egg, pieces of roasted vegetables, pieces of fruit, cooked green beans, cauliflower or broccoli florets, cubes of cheese.
When she has mastered getting the food to her mouth, you could even show her how to dip – use hummus, plain yoghurt or mashed avo. Lay off the sugar and salt. Babies do not need added sugar and salt in any of their food. It is not good for them. On the other hand, if she wants to grab something off your plate, or taste your food, let her. Ideally, by a year, you want your baby to be eating family meals. So if you aren’t eating well as a family, now is also the time to make some adjustments so you can all start to enjoy healthy family mealtimes together soon. Keep it clean. Practise perfect hygiene when preparing your baby’s meals. Use fresh ingredients, wash your hands, use clean utensils and throw leftovers away if the spoon has been dipped into the food directly.