The weaning of life
Weaning is a vital step in your child's nutritional journey, says Aveen Bannon of the Dublin Nutrition Centre, www.dnc.ie
INTRODUCING solids into your baby's diet is a vital step in ensuring all their nutritional needs are met, therefore facilitating adequate growth and development. Many parents worry about when the best time is to start weaning as there is so much conflicting information out there. The weaning process should not commence before your baby is four months of age/17 weeks and not later than six months/26 weeks. Early weaning ( less than four months) is not recommended since research shows a link with the development of food allergies and intolerances as well as possible childhood obesity.
Sucking is a completely new, mystifying experience for your baby. Although sucking is a natural reflex, babies need to be ready to learn the new skill of pushing food to the back of their mouth with their tongues and swallowing. When starting the weaning process, try to make it a special time between you and your baby rather than a chore. Choose a time of day when you can give plenty of time and energy to the task and you are not liable to be distracted. As babies are used to food coming in a steady stream they can find the gap between mouthfuls frustrating, so it is a good idea to offer some milk before feeding. This ensures they are not frantically hungry. Initially, your baby will only have a tiny amount of food and more than likely he will spit it back out, but remember this is a new experience for him and it's going to be messy!
The weaning period is seen as a ' window of opportunity' in that a variety of foods can be offered along with different tastes, textures and flavours. When solids are introduced before six months, you are only getting the baby used to different tastes and textures and their main nutrition is still being provided by the milk. The amounts of solids taken are built up slowly then over many weeks.
Initial foods to introduce can include puréed fruits and vegetables, along with mashed potato or baby rice. Avoid adding butter, salt or salt derivatives, sugar or any other processed addition to your baby's foods. Babies' taste buds are much more astute than ours and they can detect sweetness in vegetables that we cannot. Begin by offering a few teaspoons daily and aim to increase the portions and the types of food offered over a few weeks. The initial consistency should be puréed. As the weaning progresses, aim to mince/mash the foods Then, in the final stages, a choppier consistency should be well accepted.
At the six-month stage, gluten can be introduced into the diet along with beaker cup usage. Try to give very diluted unsweetened juices in the beaker cup (one part juice to four parts water) rather than very sweetened juices.
Parents should be mindful that the types of foods offered in the first year of life can, in fact, lay the foundations for your child's later food preferences. Exposing your child to lots of tastes from early on will help reduce the risk of a fussy eater.
Mother & Babies