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Baby's first year : Weaning

What is weaning?

Weaning is the process of introducing solid foods to the baby along with breast or formula milk so that gradually by the age of one, the child is able to join in family meals.

When are babies usually weaned?

The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. This may differ for premature babies and you may need to consult your health visitor.

How will I know that my baby is ready to be weaned?

A number of signals from the baby will convince you that she is ready to be weaned:

  • Looking at your food longingly

  • Getting up in the night for a feed (even though she used to sleep through before) - a sign that she's hungrier now)

  • Hungry after a good milk feed

  • Demanding feeds more often than before

  • Putting almost everything into her mouth

What equipment will I need to start my baby on solids?

To wean a four-month old, all you need is a bowl, spoon and a bib for feeding. If you're cooking fresh food for your baby you will also need a blender (or a food mill) to make smooth purees. As your baby grows, you will gradually need high chairs, beakers etc.

Do I need to sterilise bowls and spoons for feeding?

It is important to sterilise bowls and spoons used for feeding till the time your baby is six months old. After that, cleanliness is very important and you can, if you wish, not sterilise the dishes. However, remember to sterilise bottles as long as your baby has milk in them.

Are there any special first foods?

As babies are only familiar with the taste of milk before being weaned, it is best to introduce simple and smooth purees (mixed wih breast or formula milk) as first foods. You can try the following as first foods (your health visitor will also be able to advise you on this):

  • Baby rice

  • Pureed vegetables - carrot, potato, courgette, parsnip, broccoli

  • Pureed fruit - apple, banana, pear

Can I feed my baby with all types of foods?

Although your baby may be able to digest all types of food and not develop an allergic reaction to any of them, it is best to avoid the following till the time your baby is six months old:

  • Gluten containing foods (gluten is a protein found in wheat foods)

  • Eggs

  • Citrus fruits

  • Dairy products like yogurts

  • Nuts or nut containing foods

You should avoid feeding your child the following:

  • Salt: salt should not be used in the food till the age of one as a small bay's system cannot cope with salt. Even after the age of one, only little salt should be added to the food.

  • Sugar: leads to tooth decay and also encourages children to have a sweet tooth.

  • Nuts: if your family has a history of allergies like eczema, hayfever etc. wait for your child to be 3 years before introducing peanuts. For other nuts, consult your health visitor for advice. Small, whole nuts should not be given to children under 5 years of age because of the risk of choking.

  • Honey: can sometimes cause a serious illness called infant botulism

My baby does not like eating food. What do I do?

It is quite common for children to refuse food at different times. Try not to worry too much as your baby's appetite may be different from what you may think it to be. Less for you may be enough for her. However, look at the weaning tips to see if you can make eating a funtime.

How will I know if my baby's had enough food?

Your baby's had enough when:

  • he turns his head away

  • pushes the bowl away from him

  • cries, screams or shouts

  • spits out the food

  • refuses to swallow the food and continues to hold it in his mouth

There is not much point force feeding him after these signals as he will only end up becoming more miserable or even throwing up all that he's eaten.

Now that my baby is having solids, should I reduce her milk intake?

NO. It is important that your baby have 600 ml(1 pt or 20 oz) milk each day along with solids. This will continue till the baby is one year old when it is important to have 12 oz milk. The quotas of milk mentioned need not necessarily be the actual milk drunk. You can mix milk in your baby's food or give milk products and that will contribute to the daily quota as well.

My baby doesn't like milk anymore. How do I ensure that she's has the recommended 20 oz everyday?

It can be a real worry if your child is not interested in drinking milk. Mine hated milk and I used to keep track of each ounce in her bottle and food. It used to drive me mad! The solution is to trick your child into having milk. If your child likes eating, give her yogurts, custard and fromage frais to make up for the milk. Use grated cheese when preparing food and when she's a bit older, introduce cheese cubes as finger food. You can also try using milk and creme fraiche to moisten her food. As long as she's putting on weight normally, try not to make tracking milk intake your top priority for the day. I've learnt from experience!

Do I need to cook for my baby at home?

It is really a personal decision whether you want to cook at home or buy commercial food in packets and jars. It depends on your circumstances. Home cooked food is fresh and cheap. You know exactly what has been used in the cooking and the texture of home cooked foods varies which exposes the baby to different textures. Commercial foods on the other hand are convenient to use, especially when travelling. However, don't be fooled by the long list of nutritional values mentioned on commercial foods. Home cooked food is equally nutritious.

Can I use cow's milk for cooking my baby's food?

Till the age of six months, only breast or formula milk should be mixed with baby food. After six months, you can use full-fat cow's milk in your baby's food. However, cow's milk is not suitable for drinking till the time your baby is one year old.

How do I store baby food?

If you are preparing fresh food, cover it and store it in the refrigerator for upto 24 hours. It is a good idea to prepare more than required and freeze the remaining amount. Commercial jars (if opened and untouched) can be stored in the fridge for upto 48 hours (it may vary so do look at the instructions on the jar).

How do I freeze baby food?

Cool the prepared food to room temperature and freeze it in ice cube trays (covered) in the freezer. Once they are set firmly, knock out the cubes and store them in labelled freezer bags. Remember to keep only one type of food in one freezer bag. All frozen food should be consumed within one month of preparation.

To use frozen food, it is best to defrost in the fridge overnight. If you forget to defrost overnight, take out the required number of cubes an hour before use and keep at room temperature. Heat thoroughly, stir well, cool and consume immediately.

Microwave ovens have a defrost option, so you can use that if you need food now! Remember to heat all frozen food very thoroughly.

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