Often parents look back and laugh that they were ever unsure about when babies were ready to start solids, what and how much they should eat. The most important thing about baby feeding is not to make a fuss. Take Sister Lilian’s approach to heart.
There is never only one correct way of feeding a baby. I am a great believer in following what works for your little one. When to wean is probably the most basic of concerns in the food department.
Being a very individual affair, it is helpful to have a guide to consult to help one assess baby’s readiness for solid foods.
Baby suddenly demands more bottle or breast feeds
Baby might simply need more milk, so first try to increase the number or length of feeds for at least a week – if still seeming dissatisfied, it might be time to introduce solids, unless there is another rational explanation, like teething or stress in the family.
Everyone says baby is old enough
This is an inaccurate indicator! Most babies don’t need solids before six months, although there are exceptions – both younger and older. Milk is food, don’t forget. You must let baby take the lead in this one – it is his tummy, after all.
Baby is teething
Teething often precedes interest in solid food, maybe because there is some connection! Once a few have sprouted your little one will start chewing. Late teethers may well start with food later.
Baby shows interest in your food
This will seldom happen before baby is ready to eat. Sometimes it’s more about the sensation of squelching food between the fingers, but eating is always more than just physical nutrition, so allow some measure of exploration at mealtimes. Do be careful not to give baby seasoned foods at this tender stage.
To get you going with the practicalities, use this easy early feeding summary:
- Offer first foods between milk feeds, when baby is a little hungry but not ravenous and is in a good, inquisitive mood.
- Between 10h00 and 14h00 is the most optimal digestive time for first meals.
- Offer only 1 to 2 teaspoons or cubes at a time, and wait to see if over the next day there are any adverse reactions.
- Increase amount slowly, maybe by 1 teaspoon or cube a day every 3 to 5 days, until baby indicates that you should settle at a specific amount.
- Introduce new foods one at a time so that you can readily identify problem foods and adverse reactions.
- Add a second meal after about 4 to 6 weeks, and a third meal from 6 to 8 weeks later.
- Do not add sugar, salt or butter to a baby’s foods.
- Never force baby to eat if he is disinclined and do not resort to antics and bribes to persuade him to eat healthy food.
- Do not give a heavy meal at night and supper should be at least 2 hours before bedtime to sufficiently digest.
- Make sure that you do not offer unhealthy snacks like biscuits, crisps and sweets at all.
- Restrict dairy products like cheese and yoghurt as babies are often allergic to these.
- Bananas are constipating in many babies under the age of a year – they should always be ripe and in season.
- Always keep fruit separate from other foods and offer sweet and acidic fruits at different times to avoid skin rashes.
- Many babies are allergic to eggs – give only free range eggs and start slowly.
- Many babies do not want a big breakfast and thrive on nibbling at fruit for most of the morning.
- Many babies are natural ‘grazers’ – they might spurn regular meals, preferring to snack throughout the day. Your task is to provide healthy snacks.
Milk (breast or formula) is very important right up to one year and baby needs nothing else in the first six months of life.
Preparing fresh food daily is the most nutritious – convenience foods should be reserved for busy and difficult times.
Most babies are only ready for food once they have sprouted their first few teeth. A teething baby often goes off his food for a while though.
Buy only good quality animal protein if giving to baby, make it a small part of the meal and preferably use free range, un-medicated produce.
Set a good example as parents. Eat healthily and your baby will do so too.
How much is enough?
Four to six months
- Start with just a teaspoon of the chosen food at a time of day when baby is not hungry for milk, overly tired or ratty. A typical time would be mid-morning or mid-afternoon, but take into consideration that digestion peaks over the midday hours and you might have most success trying between 10h00 and 14h00.
- Do not increase the amount or variety for the next three days to a week. Only offer a different food if your baby plainly does not like what is on offer, although this might be an indication that she is not ready for solids at all yet, so try and interpret her body language.
- Then increase by one half to one teaspoon the amount of this food every two to three days. If two weeks pass without any adverse reactions, introduce one new food, either at the same mealtime or in the afternoon if you have been giving in the morning (or the other way around). Every week or so, another new food is in order, but babies will often be most happy sticking to only about three or four varieties at any one stage.
- Be guided by your baby’s appetite, but stay on two meals of not more than about a small baby food jar each, until about seven to eight months.
From six months onwards
- Prepare a few (about four) cubed pieces of the veggie or fruit that seems to have caught your baby’s eye, or choose a brightly coloured, naturally sweet-tasting food to offer. Place these in front of your baby and watch to see if they find favour, and for possible choking. You might have to help your baby to negotiate the pathway to the mouth in the beginning but remember this is all part of the learning process.
- While baby experiments you can offer a mashed version of the same food by spoon if you wish, to see what baby prefers, but stick to about three teaspoonfuls initially.
- It is quite okay for baby to take food from your plate at this stage, even a few times a day, so long as the food is not spicy, processed or unhealthy. Milk should not be relegated to second place, although its importance as the first food will very slowly decline between now and the first birthday. This means they can eat solids before a milk feed now, unlike when solids are introduced before six months.
- Quantities will vary from baby to baby once meals are established and you must be led by your child and your common sense. Do not offer any form of non-food or ‘junk food’, do not prepare foods with oils, butter or margarine, or sugar and you need not fear weight problems. Also do not fob your child off with food if he really needs love and some of your time. Remember that milk is still providing many of the nutrients needed by your growing baby.
- It is still wise to only introduce one new food at a time so that you can more easily identify the cause of any adverse reactions.
What does one need to feed?
Always wash hands before preparing baby’s food. Make sure that utensils used in food preparation are well-rinsed after washing, so that no chemical deposits are left.
If baby does not eat the whole jar or container of food, remove the desired amount first and feed from a different bowl as the spoon that goes into the mouth should not touch remaining food. Keep the rest in the fridge for up to two days or according to instructions. This prevents the growth of bacteria. Very little special equipment is needed to prepare baby’s food, but just incase you are feeling at a loss as to where to start, check this list:
- An electric blender or food processor is very useful although an old fashioned sieve, or mechanical blender, can do the trick too.
- Invest in a few baby bowls that attach by suction to surfaces to help prevent spills.
- Use a shallow baby feeding spoon, preferably coated in plastic so that burns from hot metal or injury to soft mouth tissue from unaccustomed hard surfaces is avoided.
- Large absorbent bibs with a plastic backing will help curtail the extent of messiness of initial trial-and-error baby feeding.
- If you are making larger quantities of your own baby food, use ice cube trays to freeze meal size portions – as baby grows you’d simply use more than one block at a time.
If baby refuses to eat
If your baby simply clamps those jaws tightly shut, you might despair of ever getting any food past her lips. Most important is that you take the heat off her for a few weeks and never make an issue of food. Chances are you have introduced food too soon and she is building up negative connotations. When you start again, adopt a totally different approach of simply making food available. Leave pieces of fruit in little bowls and make sure she has access at mealtimes, but do not set out to feed her.
If she is thriving, her eyes sparkle and she is generally a well child you have a clear indication that she is still in good nick and not necessarily in need of more or different nutrition. Many babies only start becoming really interested in food closer to a year to the horror of moms, clinic sisters and doctors alike. Sometimes a healthy dose of common sense must prevail though, so if you can see that your baby is just fine, do not force the issue.
© Sister Lilian 2011