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IF YOU are the proud mum of a new baby then you are probably enjoying the many benefits of breast feeding.

As well as bonding with your new baby, breastfeeding provides all the nutrition your growing baby needs, while also reducing their risk of stomach upsets, coughs and colds, ear infections, diabetes, asthma and eczema, obesity and high blood pressure later in life. It’s not just baby who benefits, either, breastfeeding can reduce mum’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.

It is recommended that you breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first six months (26 weeks), but at around six months it is time to introduce spoonfeeds. However, the exact age differs from child to child. Although some babies may start spoonfeeds from as early as four months (17 weeks), babies who are born full-term should not take spoonfeeds before then, or later than six months, while pre-term babies should start spoonfeeds from five to seven months after their birth.

First foods are usually smooth and runny with no lumps. The most suitable first foods are vegetable purees, fruit purees and baby rice, but not all at once. It is recommended that you give your baby one new food at a time and at least a day apart. It is also advisable to introduce savoury purees before sweet purees.

It is important to note that your baby will need some vital nutrients at this stage, such as iron, vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids. Babies are born with a store of iron that lasts until they are about six months but from then on they will need to get it from their diet. Include foods such as red meat, eggs, beans, dark green vegetables and baby cereals with added iron.

All babies are advised to take a vitamin D3 supplement, but it is particularly important for babies who have dark skin or who are breastfed. Babies should be given 5mg vitamin D3-only supplement daily from birth to 12 months.

The best source of omega 3 is oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel.

Choosing the right time to introduce spoonfeeding is important to how successful it will be. Generally, your baby should be relaxed and alert -- a sleepy or cranky baby will not be interested in trying new tastes and textures. If your baby is very hungry, it is a good idea to give them some milk (breast or formula) first but try not to give them too much as they may not try the spoonfeed.

Start with one teaspoon (though your baby may take more than one teaspoon), then follow with the rest of their milk feed. When your baby is taking about five to six teaspoons at one feed, it is time to progress by introducing a second spoonfeed. You can spread out your baby's milk and spoonfeeds throughout the day once your baby is established on spoonfeeds. If your baby is on formula, aim to give them at least 500ml to 600ml per day until they are one.

Contrary to previous guidelines, allergenic foods (wheat, cow's milk, cheese, yogurt, fish, nuts and eggs) can be given to your baby from four months and gluten should be introduced no later than seven months (30 weeks). These foods should be introduced gradually, starting with small amounts and increasing over time so that your baby can be monitored for any adverse reaction to particular foods. The risk of coeliac disease is further decreased if you continue to breastfeed while introducing gluten into your baby's diet. Your baby should not be given cow's milk as a drink before 12 months.

Avoid gravy and stock cubes (as these are high in salt), nuts (because of the risk of choking), unpasteurised foods, raw honey and pate (for babies under one). If your baby seems thirsty and not hungry (especially in the hot weather), offer them cooled, boiled water from a cup. Steer clear of fruit juices, though, as these can still cause tooth decay, even those containing natural sugars!