The Weaning Process, When and How To Wean A Baby
Weaning is a natural process in which you gradually introduce your baby to "solid" food. There are two main reasons for weaning; one is nutritional and the other is social.
Breast milk, or formula milk, is a complete food. It provides all the nutrients, energy, and liquid that your baby needs during his first few months. However, it is quite a dilute food, containing a high percentage of water. As your baby grows, breast milk alone will not satisfy him.
Solid foods are far more concentrated in terms of nutrients than breast milk, so tiny amounts will help to satisfy your baby. While a single solid food, such as pureed carrot, may be high in certain nutrients, it may be low in others, so it is important that your baby has a varied and balanced diet of solid foods to ensure healthy development.
The early stages of weaning are more about social change than nutrition. Breast of formula milk is still the main food. At this stage, babies are most receptive to new tastes. Babies given a large variety of non-allergy forming foods from the age of 4 months tend to accept a wider range of foods at 1 year than those weaned on a restricted diet. Children given lots of sweet things often prefer sweet foods through to at least the age of 2.
Most babies are weaned when they are between 4 and 6 months old. Because every baby is unique, some may start later, but none should start earlier. Rushing things can be much more damaging for his health than continuing breast milk or formula milk feeds, because a baby's immature digestive system cannot cope with solid foods. Solid food can hinder a baby's ability to absorb nutrients, particularly iron, from breast milk or formula milk. There is growing evidence that giving solids too early increases the likelihood of your baby developing serious food allergies and intolerances.
When To Wean
The most obvious sign that your baby is ready for weaning is that he will begin to last for less time between feeds and may be restless after them. He may be irritable and start to chew his hand or toys before the next feed is due, or he may begin to wake earlier than usual, especially at night. Other, less obvious, indications are:
• His tongue thrust reflex has diminished.
• He may show an interest in the food you are eating, particularly by drooling - don't be tempted to give him your food.
• First teeth may develop.
• His weight may level off.
• He may be able to hold things.
• Don't ignore these signs and leave weaning too late, as babies can be less receptive and less willing to try different flavours of food after 8 months or so.
How To Wean A Baby
Weaning requires patience and will entail a lot of mess, but it's a rewarding experience because your baby learns to eat with the family. A plastic sheet under the chair and a bib that catches food are useful. Try to feed your baby some solid food at family mealtimes. Even if you are by yourself, try to eat something at the same time - babies learn through example.
Baby rice diluted with breast milk or formula milk is the best food for the first week of weaning. I found lunchtime (late morning) to be the best time of day to introduce first food, as babies are alert and satisfied from their breakfast milk. All that is needed is 1-2 tsp baby rice or ground maize mixed with breast milk or formula milk.
As your baby becomes used to the new texture, you can begin to offer other foods, every three days or so, after his milk feed. Let your baby set the pace. Offer small tastes on the end of a plastic, shallow weaning spoon. (Never use a metal spoon - they can be sharp or too hot.) He may spit it out, but persevere. You can begin to introduce the second feed after his milk at suppertime, before bed. This will help to keep him satisfied until morning.
If any purée seems to be too thick, dilute it with breast milk or formula milk. During the first few weeks of weaning, the food ideally should be bland vegetable purées mixed with a little baby rice, breast milk or formula milk if they have strong flavours. Stick to single-ingredient purées for the first few weeks in order to identify any food to which your baby may have an adverse reaction.
Between the age of 5 and 6 months, you could introduce a third solid feed at around breakfast time, halfway through a milk feed. Purees now should be both non-citrus fruit and vegetable, but try to offer more vegetable purées than fruit. Ideally, by the end of the sixth month, your baby will be enjoying three small solid meals each day. If he is still not showing any real interest in solids you may need to reduce his milk intake slightly; however, he will still need 800-1000m1 of milk each day.
Remember to take weaning slowly - it's better for the baby and better for you. Don't make any sudden changes. If you are breastfeeding and you wean your baby too quickly, your breasts will become extremely sore; they may get engorged and blocked and you could get mastitis.