Making sure that your baby is getting the right balance of nutrients as you start to introduce solid food is a very real worry for many parents. We’ve asked Cathy Monaghan, senior paediatric dietitian and founder of weaning.ie to offer some advice and guidance to arm you with the information you need in order to make the best nutritional choices for your little ones.
Cathy: Lots of parents are fearful of the weaning process. There is so much conflicting information that it is hard for parents to know what to believe. There are lots of recipe books available for weaning and I find that sometimes parents are putting too much time and effort in following recipes rather than learning how to adapt what they are already eating and making it suitable for baby. This may sound strange but from my experience when both parents are working there simply isn’t the time to spend hours cooking meals for your baby. I believe it is better to keep things as simple as possible but ensure the nutritional adequacy of the diet.
How do you recognise when it’s time to start weaning your baby / introducing solids?
It is recommended that introducing solids for full term babies happens ‘at around 6 months (26weeks) and never before 17weeks’ (FSAI 2011). Not every baby develops at the same rate so not all are ready at exactly the same time. We know that all babies should be on solids by 6 months as their natural stores of many nutrients from birth are depleting yet their nutritional requirements are increasing.
6-12 months is considered the ‘feeding window’ where we shape a baby’s taste buds to eat the foods and flavours that we want them to eat, setting a good foundation for life. Whether you are breast or bottle feeding, if milk feeds are going well and your baby is satisfied then continue as you are. If your baby is waking more than usual over the space of a few days/week, if they are sitting up and have good head and neck control, if they are just not satisfied, you could consider introducing solids.
If you do introduce solids before 26 weeks it is best to take things slowly until they are 26 weeks. There are no nutritional aims in the first week or two of weaning. It should be a relaxed and enjoyable experience for you and your baby. Let them get messy. Choose savoury flavours like vegetables before sweet flavours (fruit). Your baby was born with a sweet tooth and in weaning we are trying to help them develop a taste for more savoury flavours. After 26 weeks you can progress through different flavours and textures.
What are your baby's nutritional requirements from the time you start weaning?
From 6 months onwards your baby should be on a balanced diet with the correct proportion of Proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals for their age. A healthy/balanced diet for an adult is not the same as a balanced diet for a baby. At 4-6months of age a baby’s stomach is a little bigger than an egg, yet they are expected to triple their birth weight by 1 year.
Careful consideration around food choices is vital. For example, it is known that 1 in 10, 2 year olds in Ireland suffer from Iron deficiency anaemia. Iron is vital for healthy brain development and deficiency in childhood can have long term consequences. 3 portions (a portion being the size of your baby’s palm) of red meat per week will help prevent this). Due to a baby’s small stomach size and high requirements it is difficult to meet a baby’s iron needs from vegetables sources alone.
I strongly recommend that anyone considering a vegetarian or vegan diet for their baby see a Paediatric Dietitian.
What problems do babies have when weaning?
A common problem would be filling up on snacks so that baby has no room left for meals. Keep snacks small so that baby eats more at mealtimes. Constipation is another common problem. My best tip for this is to include lentils in the diet.
For the full interview with Cathy, including information on which supplements to consider, which foods to start with, common pitfalls, whether you should use bribes and more, click here!
Cathy is a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, and a registered member of CORU. Cathy's website www.weaning.ie is a fantastic resource, and for those of you in Ireland, Cathy also offers a range of nutritional courses and cooking classes.