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Weaning babies from breast or bottle-feeding is a hot topic that has been discussed a lot lately in my practice. As with a lot of parenting advice given, there is so much confusion and conflicting advice. I thought I would write this blog to help clear up some of the confusion.
WHEN DO I START OFFERING MY BABY FOOD?
The National Health & Medical Research Council released the latest edition of the Infant Feeding Guidelines in 2012 and relate to healthy infants, born after 37 weeks of gestational age.
Premature infants or others with special needs may be receiving guidance about their nutritional needs via their Paediatrician, Dietician or other specialist, therefore this information does not apply to them.
Current guidelines advise introduction of foods to be delayed to 6 months, but not given before 4 months of age. This is where the 4-6 months idea has come from.
A FEW FACTS
Did you know that some cultures introduce foods to infants as young as 6 weeks?
Babies are born with a "leaky gut" and their tiny tummies are vulnerable to a host of nutrients and bugs (some good & not-so-good).
Their bowels are lined with enlarged pores which reduce in size, by the time a child is aged 6 months when able to withstand illness much better than a younger child.
Infants are born with a strong tongue extrusion (tongue poking out) reflex.
Which is designed to protect the immature baby from ingesting anything thicker than fluid consistency. This reflex begins to disappear at around 4 months of age.
At about 4 months of age, when babies are strong enough to have good head control and start sitting upright with support, they may begin to show interest in eating food.
For some, this may not occur until 6 months of age.
Again, this may be influencing advice of offering babies foods between 4-6 months.
WHAT FOODS DO I START MY BABY WITH?
If wanting to continue breastfeeding, provide meals AFTER breastfeeding. This is so that your baby continues to stimulate your milk supply adequately.
To prevent iron deficiency anaemia, the infant feeding guidelines recommend commencing with iron rich foods such as rice cereal, lentils, red meat, poultry, fish or tofu. It is also recommended that the foods are provided to infants from pureed, to lumpy and normal texture during the 6-12 month of age.
From 6 months of age, your child can be introduced to drinking boiled and cooled water from a cup. Ideally a small open cup made of plastic can be held to your baby's lips and tipped back gently so your baby is able to lick the water from the cup.
Full cream cow's milk can be used over cereal, but not as your child's main source of milk drink, which should still be either breastmilk or formula for the first 12 months.
Full cream cows milk can be given from 12 of age.
Babies develop the use of their big muscles before their small muscles.
So if you offer your baby a spoon or place food on his/her tray to feed from, you will have an independent little spoon feeder by around 18 months of age.
By preschool, your child will be able to feed themselves using a fork or spoon.
By 6 years of age, your child will be able to cut soft foods with a knife.
HOW DOES MY BABY LEARN TO EAT?
We all know that babies are messy eaters - whilst learning to feed themselves, they will grab food with their tiny fists, squish it with their hands, drop it on the floor. These messy skills enable babies to adapt to using cutlery when older and more proficient in using their tiny muscles/fine motor skills.
They are also learning about taste, textures, temperature, how to manipulate food in their mouths....eating is easy for most of us, we have forgotten about what is involved in getting there!
IDEAS FOR DEALING WITH MESSY EATERS
HOW DO I KNOW HOW MUCH FOOD TO GIVE MY BABY?
As with anything, its all about trial and error - there are no hard and fast rules!
Follow your baby's lead, some may begin with a spoonful, yet others will have a cupful or more.
If you start with brekkie, a sore tummy is easier to deal with during the daytime.
You may like to add in lunch the next week and then dinner the week after.
If your baby is taking well to eating, you may feel ready to then offer morning and afternoon tea.
MY BABY DOESN'T SEEM TO LIKE FOOD?
Research shows that some infants need to be offered a new food up to 10-15 times before they accept it....so keep on offering!
While scaring the bejeezus out of mama's, coughing and gagging when starting to eat food is pretty normal for babies. These are both natural protective reflexes designed to prevent your baby from choking.
You can make eating safer by supervising your baby while eating.
By cutting food pieces to a size that your baby can grab hold of, he or she has the ability to bite and chew a safe size of food to swallow.
As a guide, anything smaller than a sausage width can potentially be challenging to eat.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY BABY IS PROGRESSING NORMALLY WITH EATING?
If your baby isn't taking to food within 4 weeks of starting, its a good idea to have a chat about this with your Maternal & Child Health Nurse, Paediatrician or GP.
Several factors could be taking part in your baby delaying his or her relationship with food such as:
DISCLAIMER: This post is not intended to substitute the advice of your healthcare professional.