It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: your baby decked out in a new bib, propped up in his highchair and ready to mouth his first spoonful of mush.
Once baby moves on from just milk, mealtimes will never be the same again.
Welcome to the world of weaning. Introducing your baby to the delights of solid food heralds the beginning of a new and exciting stage in her development. By six months, milk alone is no longer enough to satisfy baby. This “smilestone” can also be a confusing process, with heaps of opinions on when to start, how to do it best, what to make and how to store them. It will probably be baffling initially, especially if you are a first-time parent. Rest assured that weaning isn’t necessarily a complicated affair – it’s more about a messy, adventurous experience for you and your baby.
Is your baby ready for solids?
The baby’s grandmother may say, “I started you before you were four months. What are you waiting for?”, the well-meaning friend may add, “Starting solids earlier will help baby to sleep through the night” while your paediatrician asks you to wait until baby is six months, citing the most recent studies.
Whom do you listen to? Your baby! To decide if your baby is ready for the world of solid foods (most will be between four to six months), look out for the following cues in your baby:
- Seems still hungry after you have increased the milk feed.
- Wants feeding more frequently.
- Watches intently as you eat or tries to grab your utensils.
- Picks up food, put it in her mouth and chew.
- Can hold his head up well and sit up.
- Graduates from his tongue thrust reflex – an inborn mechanism in young babies that push foreign matters out of their months. Try putting some cereal thinned with breastmilk or formula in your baby’s mouth from the tip of a spoon. If the food comes right back out after several tries, the thrust is still present and baby isn’t ready for spoon feeding.
Not too early…
There are instances, however, when even a baby who seems developmentally ready for solids may have to wait – most often because there is a history of allergy in the family. The United Nations Children’s Fund recommends exclusive breastfeeding (consumption of breastmilk only – no water, no juice, no non-human milk and no foods) for the first six months. According to World Health Organisation, earlier weaning raises the risk of gastrointestinal disease.
“Ideally, weaning should begin at 26 weeks. Your baby’s gut isn’t developed enough to handle the proteins in solids before 17 weeks old. If his weight gain slows down drastically, that might be another sign to wean,” says dietician Ng Yee Voon of Sunway Medical Centre.
Early weaning might also increase the risk of infection and allergy. The tendency of developing allergies is often inherited, but the type and levels of reaction may vary:
- 40 – 60% If both parents have had allergy problems
- 20 – 40% If one parent have had allergy problems
- 5 – 15% If neither parents have had allergy problems
Not too late…
If your baby hasn’t shown signs of eagerness for solids, it’s still important to begin weaning. “Around six months, a baby’s reserves of nutrients such as iron deplete. A varied diet gives your baby the nutrients and calories needed. Additionally, the actions of biting and chewing develop the muscles needed for speech. If your baby was born pre-term, seek specific advice from your paediatrician,” Ng says.