Dr Pixie McKenna - 'I found weaning my baby a bit of a nightmare'
For mums looking for guidelines on moving baby from milk onto solids, Dr Pixie McKenna's new book offers invaluable information, writes Claire O'Mahony
One tends to assume that those who work in the medical profession will have every aspect of child rearing sussed but according to Dr Pixie McKenna, this isn't necessarily the case. Dr Pixie, who is a familiar face from TV shows such as Channel 4's Embarrassing Bodies and RTÉ's You Should Really See a Doctor, and who has a GP practice in London's Harley Street, admits that when it came to weaning, like many other mums, she was confused about making the transition from milk to solids, despite her medical training.
"Show me a sick baby and I can sort you out and I can advise you but I'm the youngest in my family. Most of my peers have kids and would have had them while I was away or all their children would have grown up. I was a complete rookie when it came to young babies," the Cork-born doctor says.
She gave birth to her daughter Darcy Trixie Belle, who is now three years old, when she was 40 years old and says that she began the weaning process with no great degree of planning and, as she admits, somewhat abruptly. "I thought 'Sugar, I've got to wean my child. She's crying at night and she seems to be growing a bit more and she's trying to eat her hand.' And I took all of those - incorrectly - as signs that it was time to crack on and not wait for the six months mark [the standard guideline time as to when to begin weaning]. And then what do you do and what do you give them and where do you go for guidance for the good, the bad and the ugly of shop bought stuff versus home-produced stuff? I found it a bit of a nightmare," she says.
Now she is sharing what she has learnt from her weaning experiences, combined with her medical background, in a new book, First Foods. With recipes, planners, practical tips and information about allergies, the book guides parents through the three stages of weaning, starting with purées and finishing with joining family meals, and it's her intention that the process is fun along the way.
The difficulty, she thinks, is that there isn't one definite source for parents when it comes to weaning. "Many websites will say different things," she says. "The key thing is to know what you shouldn't be doing, rather than religiously following guidelines as to what you should be doing, such as you don't give your six-month-old anything hugely spicy and you don't add salt to their food. There are a couple of major things that are detrimental to your child's well-being but otherwise it's kind of learning on the job, learning from your mistakes and trying things. Be aware of the absolute no's and then try and weave into the daily routine a weaning method that works for you."
Putting babies on to solids can be a worrying time for parents and a common concern is that baby isn't getting enough food. Dr Pixie believes that you will get cues from your child. "If your child is happy and content and gaining weight, it's unlikely that he or she is underfed. What you've got to be wary of, and which I was certainly guilty of, is to be aware of the child who is the milk monster, who loves the bottle of milk, because it fills them up," she says. "By and large, most children eat when they're hungry and if one day, they're just not bothered, don't try and force the issue. You should have an allocated amount of time over which you try to feed your child and after that you should step away and think, right there's another meal in the day and we can try then, maybe they will eat more. Because at one point they will stuff their faces and the next time they won't eat anything so you just have to be confident and hold your nerve and, if in doubt, ask."
She suggests moving things along in terms of progressing baby through the weaning stages. "After a couple of weeks, they should really be able to handle something that's a bit lumpier," she says. "I always say it's from mush to mash to mince. You should be going up a grade because it's very important for their oral motor development - the development of their oral muscles - and their speech development. The child who stays in the very sloppy stage will probably end up being a fussy eater and will be reluctant to try more foods as they get older."
Also parents shouldn't be afraid of trying and trying again if babies don't like a particular food. The fear of eating anything new, or neophobia, is ingrained in us, she explains. "It's an evolutionary thing. If we're offered something new in the jungle or the forest, it may well have been something like a poisonous berry, which would have harmed us so we're sort of hardwired to not want to try new foods when we're little and certainly a lot of kids will experience that so keep offering," she says. "But don't keep offering them the same thing in one meal over and over again; if they don't like broccoli, bring it into another meal. The general consensus is to try 10 times and with some kids even 15 times."
And for mums who are thinking of introducing things such as vegetables by stealth, Dr Pixie argues against it. "If you've hidden broccoli in a pasta tube, they're not stupid and we totally underestimate the intelligence of these little people. They see the broccoli concealed in the pasta tube, which means not only will they not eat the broccoli forever more, they may not eat pasta - so don't try to be sneaky!"
First Foods by Dr Pixie McKenna (Igloo Books, €16.99) is out now
Green Bean purée
Makes 2 portions and takes 15 minutes.
Green beans contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals, especially high in folic acid and vitamin B. Steam or boil 100g of frozen green beans for 5-8 minutes until very soft. Purée the beans using a stick blender, then pass the purée through a sieve to remove any skin or fibrous pieces. Thin again as required with boiled water, formula or breast milk. Serve lukewarm.
Makes 4 portions and takes 15 minutes.
Cauliflower has a subtle flavour, but can be combined with sweet root vegetables to add variety. Cut 1⁄3 of a small cauliflower into florets. Steam or boil for 8-10 minutes until very soft. Purée the cauliflower using a stick blender, then pass the purée through a sieve. Thin as desired with boiled water, formula or breast milk. Serve lukewarm.
Red Pepper purée
Makes 2 portions and takes 15 minutes.
The sweet taste of red peppers makes them an ideal early food for baby. Preheat the grill. Wash, core and deseed a medium red pepper. Cut into quarters and roast under the grill until the skin is charred. Place the pepper in a plastic bag and allow to cool, then peel off the skin and purée to a smooth consistency. Serve immediately or cover and chill until needed.
Blueberry and banana puree
Makes 2 portions and takes 10 minutes
2 tbsp water
2 small ripe bananas, peeled and chopped
Put the blueberries in a saucepan with the water and cook for 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat. Add the chopped banana to the pan and blend with a stick blender to the desired consistency
Serve lukewarm or cover and chill until needed.
Pea & Carrot Savoury Pancakes
Makes 8 portions and takes 20 minutes.
Savoury pancakes are ideal for a healthy lunchtime meal. They are delicious served warm, but if you have any leftovers they can be kept chilled in a sealed box and used as a snack the next day.
100g self-raising flour
1 small carrot, grated
1 tbsp canned sweetcorn
2 tbsp frozen petit pois, defrosted
2 tbsp Cheddar cheese, grated
Sunflower oil, for frying
Put the egg and milk into a bowl and beat with a fork. Add the flour and beat until smooth, then stir in the carrot, sweetcorn, peas and cheese. Heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan and drop in two tablespoons of the batter. Cook the pancakes for about two minutes each side until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper, then serve.
Don't worry if the portion sizes given with the recipes don't exactly match what your baby is eating. All babies are different and you will find that the amount of food needed to maintain their growth rate varies from one baby to the next. The amount your baby eats may also vary from week to week - this is normal.