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Eating

Weaning

Weaning can feel difficult because you want to hold on to your precious moments of closeness when you breast feed. You might be thinking about other changes which you are associating with weaning, such as being expected to go back to work or start leaving your baby with a child minder. You might feel OK about these changes but notice your baby seems reluctant to be weaned, and so you might be worried whether you're doing the right thing or not.

You might feel anxious about the different aspects of weaning. You might worry that your baby will choke or gag; you might not know which foods to cook, or worry that you'll get this wrong somehow.

These are all common concerns. Whatever your worries, it's very unlikely that you're the only parent whose ever had these thoughts, and talking about them to someone understanding might help.

You might feel that all your friends' babies are starting solids and can't understand why your baby doesn't seem interested. However, if weaning is not taken at the babies' pace it may result in unhelpful attitudes to food later. Let your baby tell you when s/he is ready to be weaned (usually between 4-6 months).

The signs might be:

After sleeping through the night your baby may waken again to be fed and demanding more feeding after finishing a good feed.

If your baby shows no interest or gets upset, postpone weaning for a few days, then try again.

Your baby's first experience of food should be pleasant. Sit alongside when feeding your baby, not opposite, and smile. When your baby shows signs of being full, show you understand. For example, smile and say "are you full?". Let your baby get messy. Touching and feeling their food is an important part of their development. If you are worried about mess, let them eat wearing just a nappy and cover the floor with a plastic sheet.

We have all had different experiences of mealtimes and it might be worth taking a moment to think about your own experience of food and eating. Would you think of yourself as someone who likes eating most things and is willing to try new tastes, or do you think your likes are limited? How do you think this might influence what you give to your baby or how you present the food?

Remember, the non-verbal cues we give can be more powerful than what we actually say so it is important to look positive about the food you offer – even if it is something you yourself don't like. Look out for gestures which show that your baby wants more or has had enough. These might be as simple as opening the mouth or clamping it shut, looking towards you or turning away or even blinking hard. Never add salt during food preparation because of the baby's immature kidneys and liver.

Manufactured baby foods are not better than homemade foods and they cost much more. If commercial baby foods are given, these should normally be sugar free and salt free (check the labels). From the very beginning your baby can be weaned using homemade food. No matter which way you cook or re-heat food or drink, always check the temperature before giving it to your baby.

Drinks

Babies do get thirsty, especially in warm weather. If extra fluid is required between meals, cooled water is best. From six months, very well diluted fresh juice can be given at mealtimes only - preferably in a cup to encourage the baby to develop a sipping action.

Tips to remember

1. Sugar causes dental decay
2. Babies don't need lots of drinks between meals
3. Remember, fizzy pop and squash contain lots of chemicals

Milk

Remember that when your baby starts to be weaned, milk is still very Important.

Full fat cow's milk can be given as a drink after one year of age. However, you can give small amounts in food such as custards and yoghurts after your baby is four months old. When you do introduce cow's milk it does not have to be boiled or diluted.

Iron

By six months old, iron stores that your baby is born with will decrease. Lack of iron can lower appetite, slow growth and may make your baby more prone to infection.

To increase iron supplies:

  • Continue to use breast milk or infant formula, until your baby is one year old.
  • Avoid drinks of tea with meals because tannin in tea can prevent iron being absorbed in the body.
  • Vitamin C helps absorb iron at mealtimes, so diluted, unsweetened fruit juice as a drink will help.
  • Include iron-containing foods each day. Fortified breakfast cereals are a good source of iron, also whole-wheat bread, meat, fish, vegetables, beans and pulses.
  • Haem iron - this form of iron is most easily absorbed by your baby's digestive system and is found in red meat, poultry and oily fish.
  • Non-haem iron - the vegetarian choice can be found in broccoli, spinach, watercress, prunes, apricots, peas, beans and lentils.

Foods to avoid up to six months

For babies where weaning has begun before six months, use baby rice and oats. These are the only gluten free cereals. Look for foods marked with the gluten free symbol.

Avoid these foods until your baby is six months old:

  • Wheat-based foods which contain gluten, e.g. wheat flour, breakfast cereals, rusks etc.
  • Nuts and seeds including ground nuts and nut spreads
  • Eggs
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Follow-on milk
  • Cow's milk – OK for mixing foods or in cooking from six months onwards, but not as a drink until your baby is one year old
  • Milk products, if your family has a history of allergy

Also avoid honey until your child is one year old, as it contains spores and avoid peanuts and food containing peanuts, for example, peanut butter, peanut flour/oil and also ground nut oil until three years of age. If someone in your family has eczema, asthma or other allergies, talk to your doctor or health visitor for more detailed advice.

Tips for toddlers
  • Eating together regularly as a family can offer your child an enjoyable social experience.
  • Presentation is important. Use colourful, contrasting plastic plates and cups.
  • Adults are conditioned to eat three meals a day. Children will eat when they are hungry.
  • If your child is clearly not interested after approximately 20 minutes take the food away without comment.
  • Offer the food again later when your child shows signs of hunger.
  • Encourage and praise your child even if a small amount is eaten. Do not make a fuss if a small amount of food is left.
  • Do not let your child fill up on biscuits and sweets as snacks or drink too much milk.

Food should never be used as a reward or punishment. Food used as a bribe may devalue the food you are trying to encourage your child to eat.

Getting ready to start

It is best for the parent or carers of the child to work together and to support each other. Hard work and perseverance will be needed to achieve success but it will be worth it.

Prepare the kitchen area first. All food you do not wish your child to eat should be removed, perhaps to a higher level of cupboard. If a child can see chocolate, biscuits or sweets they will keep on asking for them.

Start as you mean to go on

Plan a week's menu for the whole family. This will give you a chance to plan ahead and devise interesting and tempting meals for your child. For example, scrambled eggs or beans on toast when arranged on a plate as a face is much more appealing than just being put on the plate.

Very often children will refuse vegetables, meat and fruit which are all necessary for a good and balanced diet. By introducing them from an early age they may be accepted more easily.

Initially, meals should consist of familiar and favourite foods. New foods should be introduced gradually and suitably, for example, mashed potato can have cheese or vegetables added.

Occasionally offer foods that have been refused as the child's tastes may change. Parents must never make mealtimes a battleground with comments such as 'those vegetables are really good for you, you must eat them'. Children should be praised if they eat food but not told off if they don't.

Vegetables can be incorporated into meals by, Mashing them with potatoes, pureeing them and covering them in sauce or gravy, adding vegetables to casseroles/stews, offering vegetable soups. Meat can also be ground and mixed with mashed potatoes, rice or pasta.

Children will often respond to routine and although this programme may take 1-2 months it should provide a firm basis for a good mealtime routine.

Top tips to help with feeding

Feeding problems have their own particular anxieties for parents. Here are some suggestions from both health visitors and parents that you may find useful:

  • Do not feel that you have to keep to a plan of targets. All children are different and go at their own pace.
  • Let your baby watch as you prepare the food. With older children it may help to include them in the preparation of their meal.
  • The colour of food is important. Ensure your baby is presented with a variety of different foods.
  • Make mealtimes more interesting. You can play games together, such as teddy bear picnics, or use straws for drinks. Use pastry cutters to make interesting looking sandwiches.
  • Your baby might be encouraged to see you try their food.
  • It can be quite a shock for a baby who is used to milk or very mushy food to try chewy or crisp food. One idea is to mix mashed banana with dry cereal.
  • Your baby can be helped to feel a bit more in charge of being fed by having some food to hold while you do the feeding.
  • Give your baby a selection of chopped up foods to help him/herself to.
  • Different fruits, such as banana, can be blended into milk.
  • Introduce new tastes gradually at first, for example, by including a new vegetable each week.
  • To help your baby keep the bowl upright, it can help to have a bowl that sticks to the table.
  • If you give your child too large a portion of food it may put them off.
  • Do not frighten your child by putting the spoon too far into the mouth.
  • If you are worried that your child is not getting a balanced diet, ask your health visitor about vitamin supplements.