By the time your baby is ready to be weaned, you may already have had quite a few months of pondering whether you’ve been doing the ‘right thing’ with their feeding (among other ‘worries’..)./ Weaning might be the stage of your baby’s life when you feel a little inexperienced and anxious to make sure you get it right. From personal and professional experience, I have learnt that weaning is one of the most important stages in a child’s life, one that might even determine whether your child might suffer from food intolerances, allergies, low immunity or may become a fussy eater.
When shall I wean my baby?
Most parents I see in my practice worry about the ‘right time’ for introducing their babies to solid foods. As a lot of today’s modern ailments stem from impaired digestive systems, I would really encourage you to hold off for as long as six months. Rushing your baby before they are ready might bring problems with food intolerances, allergies and reduced absorption of nutrients, which may compromise their immunity. This is particularly true if there’s a history of allergies in your (or Dad’s) family.
In addition, forcing babies to eat when they are too young, can put them off food and create fussy eaters.
On the other hand, it isn’t advisable to leave weaning later than six months, as vital nutrients like zinc and iron need to be supplied through food, as baby’s ‘stores’ start to run out by that age.
When small babies are hungry
Parents often notice their four or five month old baby suddenly becoming hungrier and waking up more often during the night for an extra feed. If you are breastfeeding, increase the amount of nuts, seeds, oily fish and vegetables in your own diet, as your milk might just be lacking in nutrients. Also, your milk will adapt to baby’s needs so just give it a few days to keep up with the increased demand while adding more nutrition to your own diet.
What first foods should I give my baby?
The first foods you give your child are very important for various reasons. They obviously provide some essential nutrition and sustenance, but also seem to ‘set the tone’ for your child’s future taste preferences. For instance, babies who eat mainly sweet fruits and vegetables as their first foods tend to develop a sweet tooth later on, while those given more bland, savoury foods are less likely to do so. Of course, what tastes bland to us will provide plenty of taste to your baby’s new taste buds, as they have not had years of salt, sugar, flavourings’ and other additives that have numbed our own adult taste buds.
The best foods to give your baby as it starts exploring food are:
From 6 to 9 months:
- Mostly green, leafy vegetables (broccoli, green cabbage, kale, beetroot tops, watercress, parsley and peas), other vegetables except potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers that are more likely to create allergic reactions.
- Some fruit except citrus fruits and berries.
- A little dried fruit (unsulphured apricots, dates, raisins without oil coating)
- A little organic poultry and meat, some fish, except shellfish.
From 9 to 12 months:
- Introduce gluten-free grains and pulses, but soak them overnight or sprout them first to ease digestion: millet, brown rice, quinoa, buck wheat. Flakes are great for porridge mixed with a little water.
- Continue with lots of vegetables and slowly include some potatoes, tomato, aubergines and peppers.
- Small portions of fruit and dried fruit as well as a little protein from lean, organic meat, poultry, fish and some egg yolk.
- From 12 months, carefully introduce ground nuts and seeds and their milks, but watch baby for potential allergic reactions (up to a few hours after eating them).
12 to 24 months:
- Introduce gluten grains like oats, a little whole-wheat (bread, pasta, flour), rye and some dairy products, preferably goats’ cheese, milk, yogurt.
- Introduce whole eggs from about 18 months and watch for potential reactions.
Top tips for healthy feeding:
- Water is very important: get baby used to a beaker or bottle of pure, filtered water with food or in between meals. Diluted fruit juices from about one can be used occasionally but water is best at any age.
- Milk: breast or bottle-fed babies will naturally reduce their milk intake to about 25% of their diet by about age two. Don’t replace meals with lots of milk, as this will reduce their appetite and nutrient intake.
- Add flax oil to a baby’s food from six months – 1 tsp/day at six months, 2 tsp/day from two to three years. Flax oil is very rich in the essential omega 3 fat, very important for brain and immunity development. Mix in yogurt, milk or fruit compotes. Never heat flax oil as it becomes toxic.
- Combine foods properly: many of babies’ colic’s or stomach upsets when they first eat solid foods can be avoided by keeping milk and milk products away from other foods. This will ease digestion, which can be quite slow and difficult in small babies. Children of all ages prefer simple meals.
- Avoid pork products: pork is the hardest meat to digest, and is often packed with salt, nitrites and other harmful preservatives.
- Never add salt, sugar, additives, soy sauce, or other flavourings to baby’s foods. Use fresh herbs and homemade stocks freely for flavour and additional nutrients.
- Don’t force children to eat certain foods, but keep trying rejected foods regularly. It sometimes takes ten tries before a child accepts a food!
- Make meals a relaxing, fun time: babies (and adults!) thrive in a relaxed atmosphere and tend to eat better in calm environments. Let baby take their time, and chew their food well.
- Lead by example. Babies and children often mimic whatever behaviour and habits they see on a daily basis. If they see you drinking plenty of water, eating lots of vegetables and leading a healthy lifestyle, they will adopt your habits more easily.
See a professional Nutritional Therapist for further help and recommendations on your children’s diets.
Healing with whole foods, Paul Pitchford, third ed. 2002
Optimum nutrition for babies and young children, Lucy Burney, 1999.
Staying healthy with nutrition, E. Haas, MD. 2006.
They are what you feed them, Dr Alex Richardson
Gut and Psychology syndromes, Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, Cambridge: Medinform Publishing, 2004.
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