Weaning is one of those funny words we hear a lot as new parents. As we try to grasp what it actually means and how to go about it we tend to get overwhelmed by advice and information which can lead us to a seeing it as an obstacle instead of the lovely exciting and fun part of our baby’s journey that it can be! There’s books, menus and confusion over when to start and how it impacts on the milk relationship. It’s another one of those topics that even your aunty’s neighbour’s cousin’s best friend will have an opinion on…. It can be hard to figure out how you feel about it yourself and what approach best suits you and your baby! I have no intention in telling you that I have all of the answers – I couldn’t possibly know what approach is best for your lovely little WonderBaba – but I can tell you what I’ve learnt about the different aspects of weaning along my journey as a Pharmacist and mum of three very different children. I can also tell you about what cues you should watch for from your own baby to try to decide how and when they will be most comfortable weaning.
What is weaning?
Weaning is a confusing term as it is associated with both weaning from breast milk to formula and also from milk in general to food. This blog focuses purely on the transition from milk in general (breast milk or formula) to solids. It is important to note that milk forms a major part of a babies diet up until about two years of age so weaning in this sense is a very gradual process.
“Accustom (an infant or other young mammal) to food other than its mother’s milk” (Oxford Dictionary)
“The weaning process begins the first time your baby takes food from a source other than your breast – whether it’s formula from a bottle or mashed banana from a spoon.” (Kellymom)
When to wean?
No matter how bored people are of hearing it I still feel it’s important to say that breast is best exclusively for six months and then as a compliment to solid food right up until two years or beyond. I know everyone knows that – but I also know that a happy mother makes a happy baby and what ever way you choose to feed your baby you should feel supported and informed – I’m always happy to help in any way I can and have fed my three kids in such a variety of ways I promise there’s no judgement here!!
It is recommended that both breastfed and formula fed babies should be introduced to solid foods no earlier than 17 weeks and no later than 26 weeks of age. Before 17 weeks their little digestive systems and kidneys are not developed enough to manage the digestion of food. After 26 weeks they can’t get enough iron and energy from milk alone. Introducing solids also supports a developmental change as babies get used to new and different sensations, flavours and textures. The new motion also helps them to develop the skills to be able feed themselves and helps to support the muscles used for speech.
If you introduce your baby to the protein gluten which is present in wheat, oats, barley and rye before 17 weeks or after 30 weeks they have an increased chance of developing coeliac disease or type 1 diabetes in later life. This just emphasises the importance of a balanced diet so a little bit of gluten in foods such as bread, pasta or couscous should be introduced with solids from around 26 weeks. I’ll go into more detail about this later – I just wanted to highlight the importance of not introducing solids too early or too late.
Signs of readiness?
Well I have to laugh at this…On my first baby I wanted to hold off on solids until we were close to the six month mark – 26 weeks – just to avoid any issues with a sensitive digestive tract as she had been a nightmare with colic so I didn’t want to rock the boat! At the same time because I was a new and first time mum I absolutely imagined and interpreted every movement she made as a sign that she wanted food and had myself driven completely demented worrying I was missing the cues! By baby number three the poor little fella was practically snatching the cereal spoon out of my hand and I was trying to ignore him in the hope he wouldn’t eat my brekkie!! How things change! I suppose my point is that it’s important not to stress about it – they will let you know when they are ready! For example when you find that you can’t lift a fork to your mouth without their little eyes staring at the fork intently the whole way from your plate to your mouth whilst they are make chewing motions with their mouths then the chances are they are trying to give you a hint! Another good indicator is when they start to steal food off your plate….this is more a third child issue as you tend to be holding the baby whilst trying to feed yourself and the others and don’t really notice their hands slip down to rob a lump of broccoli or some peas! Other signs include them being a little cranky or upset when their bottles are finished,as if they are still hungry, or they want to feed more frequently for longer than a week or so. One thing that made us hold off on solids for a couple of weeks was their inability to sit up unsupported. It is advised to wait until they can sit up themselves before starting the process.
Methods of weaning
There is a couple of different ways to introduce solid foods to your baby. One is through the use of spoon feeds and the other is baby led weaning. Baby led weaning is basically when you allow your child to feed themselves from the beginning by offering finger foods instead of spoon feeds. If you plan on starting with baby led weaning I would recommend to wait until close to the six month mark to ensure your baby is able to gum and swallow the soft food. Both methods are perfect and whilst again everyone has different advice to give on the subject isn’t that great – different babies come from different families and we all like to do things our own way. Do what you are comfortable with following the advice below and really so long as you and your baby are happy and healthy that’s all that is important. If it’s of any interest to anyone…I combined spoon-feeding with baby led weaning. That was right for me and my babies – and is another option for those of you who are on the fence!
Things you read but really need to believe!
Scanning through lots of articles and books trying to decipher what is important and what is not in the weaning process is common for new mums. The one thing you will read over and over but may not always remember is that food should be fun! You think this is an airy fairy comment and not actually the single most important feature of weaning and is ultimately the backbone to success as far as I am concerned! Maybe everyone reading this is as chilled as a cucumber but even though my first weaning experience started off as an exciting journey where I got to buy lots of random new gimmicks and dust off my neglected old blender it unfortunately didn’t stay that way! Its sooo hard not to get sucked into the fear that your child is not eating enough at some stage or another! You can be cooking all day for them to just turn their head as much to say ‘no thanks not bothered today!’ As mums I think it is instinctive to want to see them full and certainly not hungry. However we need to remember that they are not nutritionally reliant on food until after their first birthday as they still get most of their essential nutrients from breast milk or formula. They also have tiny appetites and small little bellies so they are satisfied on many occasions after just a few spoons. Moral of the story is we need to calm right down if at any stage we feel ourselves getting stressed about it as this stress – no matter how well hidden – can freak your child out. The whole process should be calm, relaxing, fun and exciting! It should be as much about discovery and exploration as nutrition and development. It should be an opportunity to bond and share happy moments with your child watching their funny faces when they react to foods that they either like or suspect! Keeping the experience positive and ensuring that meal time is a social experience where food is never forced is the key to a child relaxed enough to try new things and enjoy something they will in the future become reliant on. Key message….food really is fun!
Here’s some of my favourite weaning products that we have in stock at the moment – I have a slight addiction to these types of things so I’m always getting given out to by my pharmacy team for getting in every new and cute gadget!!
These are new into us and are so extremely handy when you fist start to make purees and mashed foods. I always batch cooked and then would freeze the food in these little portion cubes. Then once the food is frozen I would pop out the cubes into a ziploc food bag, labelled with the name of the contents and the date it was prepared, then pop them straight back in the freezer! So in essence I had a freezer full of little bags which contained cubes of food – so each day I would select a couple of different cubes from different bags, mix and match them as desired and defrost! It was just as convenient as using sachets of food from the supermarket and it was healthier as I knew exactly what was in each meal – with no additives! Also better than using ice-cube trays as you know they are BPA free and so baby friendly! These are available here – http://www.milltownpharmacy.ie/p/nuk_annabel_karmel_food_cube_tray
This Brother Max bib is an essential on my list now – You get two waterproof lined bibs (none of that soggy t-shirt situation) and a detachable crumb catcher which doubles up as a cutlery case – this is handy as if you’re popping out – you can just roll up your bibs and cutlery in this and they will stay clean and all in one place – saves on the ziploc bags which is what I always ended up using before I knew these existed!
Speaking of adorable products you can use on the move – these Brother Max travel spoons are dotey – so adorable that I use them in the changing bag for on the go and also in my Junior Infants lunch box as it fits perfectly for her yoghurt! Don’t worry they come in cool boy colours too and are even heat sensitive which means they will change colour to indicate correct temp! I warn you these are pretty small – so just for travel or lunch box use! Available here – http://www.milltownpharmacy.ie/p/brother_max_travel_spoons
If you like the idea of a colour changing heat sensitive spoon which will tell you if your baby’s food is too hot then these full size weaning spoons from Tommee Tippee are perfect!
When trying to prep food in a hurry or on the go – this little masher and bowl is so handy – very cute and very easy to mash up a little bowl of veg or fruit etc when needed! They are small though so only useful for prep of one meal or so – not as useful for batch cooking!! These are available to purchase here – http://www.milltownpharmacy.ie/search/annabel
When your baby is a little bit older these easy to hold pots are ideal for little snacks on the go! They are ideal for putting food like fruit, dry cereal, cheese and raisins in and the soft flexible lid on top means that whilst they can get their little hands into the bowl the food won’t go flying all over the place if they decide to have a takeaway!! This is very handy when you are travelling or they are in the buggy! Actually my kids would even eat out of these sometimes when they were sick and had no appetite – I think the distraction of not having to sit at the table or eat formally helped on occasion! It comes in pink or blue and the lid can be removed when your little one is feeling more confident! These handy little bowls can be purchased here – http://www.milltownpharmacy.ie/p/brother_max_snack_pot_bowl
Feel like having some food out and about but don’t want to have to bring the mess home with you? If that sounds like you (as on many occasion it does me!!) then these tommee tippee disposable bibs might just be a life saver! Just stick on, mess up, and tear off!! Available here – http://www.milltownpharmacy.ie/p/tommee_tippee_disposable_bibs_x20
Well I guess that pretty much sums up my weaning blog and I really hope you have found it useful! All of these products are ones that I have personally tried, tested and loved! Everything mentioned is available by clicking the direct links above or by browsing our weaning section which has these and many many more! http://www.milltownpharmacy.ie/cat/weaning__cups
As always if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch through the WonderBaba facebook page by private message – http://www.facebook.com/wonderbabacare or phone me at Milltown totalhealth Pharmacy in Dublin 6 on 012600262!