The first week in May is National Weaning Week in the UK, designed to offer help and support to parents in weaning their babies onto solid foods.
Although milk is the only food a baby needs in the first months of life, from six months an infant’s nutrition needs to start to broaden to support their rapid development.
At this stage their hand-eye coordination allows them to explore new things, while their ability to sit confidently and hold their head up means they’re ready for the high chair and the world of food!
Baby-led weaning is putting your child in control, and letting them lead the way. It will undoubtedly be messy, and possibly frustrating at times, but it is believed to be the best way to wean. The key is to allow them to explore their foods with their hands and mouths, learning what they enjoy and want more of through trial and error.
It can be a slow process, but making it fun and allowing them the freedom to explore will bring success in the long term. It may need up to 10 different exposures to certain foods before they will accept them!
Use soft foods that are big enough for them to grip, with some extra for them to put in their mouths. And did we mention be prepared for mess?! Putting an old shower curtain on the floor can help with the post-meal clean up.
Some more tips for weaning a baby
When you feel your child is ready to start weaning, try the following tips:
- Offer foods around the size of your finger that your baby can easily get hold of and suck/chew on – cooked carrot or sweet potato, avocado chunks, stewed or soft fruit, banana
- Foods can be pureed and/or mashed, but don’t need to be – just make sure they are soft enough for your baby to suck or chew
- Start weaning at a time of day that suits your baby – when they are not sleepy or too hungry
- Make sure you have a variety of options available, and plenty of time and space
- Do not give small round foods like grapes or cherry tomatoes, or hard foods such as raw carrots as they can be a choking hazard
- If the first (or second or third!) attempt at getting your baby to try new foods doesn’t go to plan, try again the next day or a few days later
- Show them how to do it by eating at the same time as them
- Avoid distractions at mealtimes – switch off phones and the TV
- Reduce your baby’s daily milk consumption slowly as you introduce solid foods, although milk should be their main nutrition source until they are 12 months old
Weaning and the gut microbiome
The introduction of solid foods sees the first major change in the gut microbiome following birth. The gut bacteria increase in both number and diversity in order to be able to break down the complex carbohydrates that are now introduced into the diet.
Due to the difference in the composition of milk, this is particularly true for breast-fed infants. Less rapid development is seen in formula-fed babies, as their diet has already contained more complex sugars and their microbiome is frequently seen to be more diverse at a younger age.
As the composition of our gut bacteria is associated with health and disease later in life, it is important that the introduction of solid foods should also consider gut health and the development of a healthy gut microbiota.
A varied diet is a key to supporting gut health and bacterial diversity both during infancy and into adulthood. As well as bacteria from the mother, breastmilk contains galactooligosaccharides, which are prebiotic fibres that help to feed friendly bacteria in the gut and support gut and immune development.
Starting National Weaning Week with lots of vegetables will help to ensure that your baby is getting the fibre required to support gut health.
Some food ideas for weaning
Just as with children and adults, think about introducing a rainbow of cooked/boiled fruit and vegetables to your baby. For example:
- Purple/pink – watermelon, aubergine
- Orange – carrots, sweet potato, butternut squash
- Yellow – melon, bananas
- Green – broccoli, courgette, avocado
- White – cauliflower, parsnip
Fermented vegetables can be introduced after around seven months once your baby is more established on solid foods and these will help to introduce more beneficial bacteria to your baby’s gut. Using organic fruits and vegetables wherever possible can help to avoid exposure to pesticides and other chemicals used in farming, which can affect the gut lining.
Chicken and other broths have a number of benefits for the gut lining and can also be given to babies from around seven months to start to introduce protein and healthy fat. Bone broth can also be added to vegetable purées and other foods.
There are many books and online plans available discussing how to wean your baby, although many do not include a reference to the importance of supporting the development of the microbiome and we would recommend always keeping this in mind. A friendly bacteria supplement designed specifically for babies can help support this development, particularly if your baby is a fussy eater and is struggling to eat a variety of fibre-rich vegetables.
For more tips and advice about weaning, visit:
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