The UK Department of Health recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months, as milk provides all the nutrients your baby needs during this early stage.
All babies are different, and so do their needs and development. The baby will show you when she is ready for the weaning to begin. However, solids should not be introduced until at least 17 weeks after your baby’s due date as a young baby’s digestive and immune system is not sufficiently developed before this time. Introducing solids before this period may lead to tummy upsets, allergies, and can increase the risk of infection.
Up to the age of one year, milk will be still the child’s main nutrition source. Your baby needs a minimum of 600ml (20 oz) of breast or formula milk per day, so do not reduce milk intake. But once your baby is around six months old she would need more than milk alone. Then you should start looking for signs whether your baby is ready to move on onto solids:
• Your baby still seems hungry after her usual milk feed
- She shows interest to solid food during family dinners
- She can sit on a chair with a support pillow behind her back
- She wants to chew
- Your baby needs more frequent feeds
- She has recently started to wake up at night for an extra feed
Top tips for introducing new foods:
- Always choose organic foods. Babies gut is too immature to cope with the nasty chemicals from foods which are not organic.
- Introduce food gradually, starting with literally a tea spoon, always only food at a time.
- Choose a quiet and nice time to introduce new food, when your baby is feeling calm and happy.
- Never introduce new food when your baby is unwell, or her immune system is suppressed. Wait until she recovers and then continue the weaning slowly.
- Wait at least 3-4 days between every new food you introduce. This will give you a chance to look for allergic reactions. If a reaction like rash, diarrhoea, vomiting, or difficult breathing appears, stop giving your baby the food causing the reaction and speak to your GP immediately.
- Go at your baby’s pace. Allow plenty of time for feeding, particularly at first. Your baby needs to learn to move solid food from the front of the tongue to the back, to swallow it.
- Make sure the food is the right texture and consistency. At first, the baby purees need to be creamy, and even watery, adding milk to the pure to get the right consistency. There should be no lumps which baby will not be able to swallow, or may choke. After the first few months, you could change the consistency, making it lumpier by simply using a fork to mash fruits and vegetables.
- Start with low allergen foods, such as baby rice, cooked carrots, squash, swede, parsnip, or potatoes. You could later introduce sweet fruits like bananas, cooked apples and pears, so that your baby does not develop a sweet taste and reject the vegetables. Remember that cranberries and blueberries are not “true berries” and you could introduce them from 7 months.
- Always stay nearby when your baby is eating to make sure that he or she doesn’t choke.
- Give you baby very small amounts of solids during the first few months. Always give the milk first, wait 30min and then offer the baby puree. That way you can be sure your baby will get all the nutrition from her milk. The puree should only compliment her feed, and help your baby explore the new tastes and textures.
- Smile and make mealtimes fun.
- Ideally introduce new food at lunch, but the most important thing is to choose a time of day when both you and your baby are relaxed.
- Don’t try to persuade your baby to eat. “Force feeding” may lead to unhealthy habits later in life, and develop picky eaters. Most babies also realise that refusing food is a way of getting attention, so they will keep rejecting the food you offer more often.
- When your baby shows an interest in feeding herself, this is a good sign. So encourage this by letting your baby feed herself with her hands, or using another spoon. It will be messy at first, but try not to worry about it.
- Offer a wide variety of foods such as fruits and vegetables from all colours to ensure a good vitamin intake.
- Start with offering solids at one feed at first, gradually increasing it to two and three feeds per day.
- Be extremely careful with high allergen foods such as wheat (and all grains containing gluten), eggs, fish, shellfish, liver, soft and unpasteurised cheeses, berries, citrus fruits, and peanuts (peanut butter). Your baby’s immune system is too immature to handle these foods, so they should be introduced with caution on a later stage. When the baby has been diagnosed with a cow’s milk protein allergy or intolerance, all milk products should be delayed until after she is one year old. Speak to your GP or dietician before introducing these. Soy and soy-based products may also cause an allergic reaction to babies with cow’s milk allergy, so be careful with those, too. And remember, cows’ milk isn’t suitable as a drink for babies under a year old. If your baby does not have cow’s milk allergy or intolerance, giving her plain probiotic yoghurt or cheese sauce is great from about 7-8 months.
- If you suspect that your baby is allergic to a particular baby food, speak to your doctor who can refer you to a specialist. Do not exclude foods from your baby’s diet without a proper diagnosis.
- Never add salt, honey or sugar to the baby food. Until age of three, she will only need 2g of salt. Always check the labels of processed food, as these may be very high in salt. Sugar and sweets can lead to tooth decay and food obesity, so avoid giving your baby any sugary food, too.
- Don’t give any whole nuts, including peanuts, to children under five because they could cause choking.
- Give your baby full-fat products. Fat is very important for baby growth and, unlike adults, it is a part of the baby’s healthy diet and will not lead to overweight. It gives babies energy and provides some vitamins that are only found in fat.
- Homemade food might be better if using organic ingredients, but sometimes baby jar purees are more convenient, for example when out and about. In this case research on the best organic baby food brands and buy those only.
The following drinks aren’t suitable for babies and they could fill them up so they aren’t hungry for more nutritious foods:
- juice drinks, fizzy drinks, sugary drinks and squashes
- diet drinks, ‘low-calorie’ and ‘no added sugar’ drinks
- flavoured milks and flavoured waters
- tea and coffee
If you have decided not to give your baby meat or fish
Make sure you give two servings a day of pulses (such as red lentils, beans or chickpeas), or yogurt and tofu to make sure they get all the proteins and minerals they need. The vitamin C in fruit and vegetables helps in iron absorption, so always give your baby vegetables rich and vitamin C at mealtimes.
How much per day?
• Begin with about 1 teaspoon dry rice cereal mixed with 4 to 5 teaspoons breast milk or formula
• Gradually thicken consistency and increase to 1 tablespoon dry cereal mixed with breast milk or formula, twice a day.
• Increase gradually to 7-9 tablespoons cereal, in 2 to 3 feedings
• 1 teaspoon fruit, gradually increased to ¼ to ½ cup in 2 to 3 feedings
• 1 teaspoon vegetables, gradually increased to ¼ to ½ cup in 2 to 3 feedings
• ¼ to 1/3 cup dairy (or ½ oz. cheese)
• ¼ to ½ cup iron-fortified cereal
• ¼ to ½ cup fruit
• ¼ to ½ cup vegetables
• 1/8 to ¼ cup protein foods
• 3 to 4 oz. non-citrus juices