A weaning guide to ensure your infant is meeting their nutritional requirements
Before you know it, it will be time to stop breastfeeding and begin a new part of your baby’s journey. Yep you guessed it — weaning (the introduction of complementary or ‘solid’ foods). There are no hard and fast rules for when babies are ready to start having solid foods as this will vary depending on each child’s development. The World Health Organization recommends around 6 months of age, but no earlier than 17 weeks, for infants to begin receiving foods as well as breast or formula. Although it is your choice as a parent when this process takes place, research has shown that infants who have not been weaned until after 6 months have reduced acceptance of foods later in childhood.
Initial stages of weaning
During the early stages of weaning, infants will still be getting most of their nutritional requirements from breast milk or formula. This stage is about introducing lots of different foods into your baby’s life. Don’t forget this is a new skill and it will take time for babies to grasp the concept of food that isn’t free flowing!
Some foods to start off with that are easy to digest are pureed fruit, veggies and baby rice — yummy! Alongside these foods, it is recommended that babies who are breastfed are given a vitamin D supplement from birth, even if you are taking one yourself. This is because it is difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet alone — check with your local health care professional to find out the appropriate dose. Babies consuming formula will not require this supplement as formula is already fortified with vitamin D. Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body which is essential for keeping bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
Stage 2 (typically around 7-9 months)
This is the time to add in different foods, perhaps pureeing some of your dinner and have your little one try it! These delicious foods will gradually replace the milk you are providing your infant, but at this stage, it is imperative to keep feeding your infant milk as usual.
All children from 6 months to 5 years should be given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day. Growing children, especially those who don’t eat a varied diet sometimes don’t get enough of these. Vitamin A is important as it helps strengthen your child’s immune system, can help vision in dim light and keeps skin healthy. Vitamin C is crucial for your child’s general health and immune system. It can also help their body absorb iron.
Stage 3 (around 9-12 months)
This is when it starts getting exciting! Your infant should be on 3 meals a day, perhaps with snacks in-between depending on their appetite. Say goodbye to pureed foods and hello to chopped or minced foods which will encourage new textures.
At this stage, they should be eating a full balanced diet including dairy products or alternatives, fruit and veggies, starchy foods such as potato or rice and protein sources. It is important that babies are offered a wide range of foods to make sure they obtain all the vitamins and minerals they need. Red meat, such as pork, beef or lamb, is an excellent source of iron. Pulses, such as beans and lentils, also provide iron but are not as easy to absorb. However, vitamin C from fruit and vegetables such as kiwi, strawberries, broccoli and peppers can help enhance iron absorption, so it is a good idea for fruit and vegetables to be given at mealtimes. Foods containing vitamin A, including dairy products, fortified fat spreads, carrots, sweet potato, swede, mango and dark green vegetables are very vital at this stage.
When weaning there are a few things to avoid. Infants under one year old should not have more than 1g of salt per day, so be mindful not to add any salt when cooking. Sugar should also be avoided when weaning as it can cause tooth decay. This refers to honey and refined sugar but not to fruit. Mercury can affect a baby’s developing nervous system, so stay clear of shellfish and shark.
The process of helping your little one discover the joy of food should be a great experience for both you and your child.
By Anna Redmayne Porter