For the first six months of a baby’s life, breastmilk alone (or formula) provides all the nourishment a baby needs. The World Health Organization still says that solids should be introduced at around six months and that breastmilk or formula will continue to be a baby’s main source of nutrition for the first 12 months of life.
In May this year, an Australian Infant Feeding Guidelines summit was held and an agreement was reached on three updates to Australian infant feeding advice. The three updates were:
- When your infant is ready, at around six months, but not before four months, start to introduce a variety of solid foods, starting with iron rich foods, while continuing breastfeeding.
- All infants should be given allergenic solid foods including peanut butter, cooked egg, dairy and wheat products in the first year of life. This includes infants at high risk of allergy.
- Hydrolysed (partially or extensively) infant formula are not recommended for prevention of allergic disease.
I think each baby is an individual and will be ready for solids in his/her own good time. Read the signs your baby is giving you and don’t rush it. Sometimes it can be the parents who are the ones wanting to start solids, not the baby. So first of all let us look at why we are introducing solid foods and why around six months:
- The main reason for starting solids is to ensure that the baby is getting enough iron and zinc for growth. At birth, babies have good iron stores which usually last them for the first six months.
- Until the six month mark, most babies’ digestive systems are not mature enough to absorb nutrients.
- Babies need to be able to sit up unsupported and this isn’t usually possible until around the six months of age.
- The tongue thrust reflex diminishes at approximately six months.
- At six months most babies can reach for “easy to grab” objects.
Some unreliable reasons that are often given for starting solids early
- Waking at night
- Weight gain slowing
- Watching their parents eat
- Not going straight to sleep after milk feeds
- Small baby
- Big baby
The next question is how do we feed the baby? Do we spoon feed or use a newer approach called Babyled weaning?
“Spoonfed” is the term used for the traditional way of starting solids, using things like rice cereal and very pureed bland foods that are spooned into the baby’s mouth by Mum or a carer.
“Babyled” weaning involves offering the baby small pieces of food that they can put in their mouth. I think the benefits of the Babyled approach, make it a much more attractive way to commence solids.
Some of these benefits are:
- It is enjoyable and fun for the baby
- Its natural
- It can be fun for the parents – no fighting
- The baby is learning about food
- The baby is learning to eat safely
- The baby is learning about satiety
- Family meals are family meals, not two separate mealtimes
- No need for games or tricks
- No mealtime battles
- Less pickiness as a toddler
- A positive attitude to food
- Eating out is easier
- It’s cheaper
However, there are disadvantages such as the mess (mind you spoon feeding can be messy too) and relatives worrying that this isn’t how it was done in their day.
Next month’s newsletter will continue on, with topics such as initial foods to start with, finger food suggestions, how often do we introduce a new food, drinks/water and choking and gagging. For more information on Introducing your baby to solids, please speak with Angela Smith at your next visit.