It’s very important that you make informed decisions when weaning your baby. Studies have shown this crucial period in their diet can and will affect their long-term health. While weaning is a process which occurs naturally given enough time, the process can become complicated due to strong emotions and habits that typically accompany breast-feeding. For many women, weaning babies can become a time of sadness and they feel like they are losing a special connection to their baby. However it does weaning baby need to be a time of turbulent emotions. When done properly, weaning becomes a time of improved connection and love between you and your baby.
If you are unsure whether your baby is ready to move onto solid foods, there are a few noticeable signs. Most importantly your baby will be able to sit upright and will experiment with placing things in their mouth. If these signs occur before an age of 5-6 months, do not start the weaning process yet. Even in the best case scenario it will take about 6 months before the lining of the intestines is developed enough to cope with solid food.
Perhaps the best case scenario for weaning babies is when they outgrow the need on their own. From the age of 5-8 months, babies can be offered a selection of solid foods right after breast-feeding has taken place. Some babies may grab and try food as early as 5 months old, while others will be totally uninterested in the solid food for a few more months.
There are many advantages to continued breastfeeding even when the baby has started to try some solid foods. Breast milk is still by a long way nutritionally superior to any formula, artificial infant feeding products and even normal food. Of course solid foods will have to be introduced at some point, but it is important to know that breast milk is healthy and wholesome for humans of any age (ignoring the ethical complications), including the elderly. So while solid food can be introduced from as early as 6 months, there are no health reasons to stop breast feeding. Indeed research has shown that breastfeeding has a protective effect against:
While the so-called baby led weaning is the optimum scenario, when weaning babies some may not want to stop breast feeding as early as 6 months. If this is the case, be patient. Wait a few weeks and try introducing some solid foods again. Provide a wider variety of colours, smells, tastes and textures until your baby chooses one. After your baby has started to eat a certain food, wait 3 or 4 days before introducing the next one. This serves a few functions. Most importantly it lets you know if your infant has a bad reaction to any sort of food :– Watch out for diarrhoea and vomiting in particular, but be aware of more subtle signs such as; excessive gas, moodiness, red cheeks, blocked nose or puffy eyes.
A sudden stop to breast-feeding should always be avoided. Not just for your baby’s sake but for your own health too. Any sudden stop will result in your breasts becoming engorged, which leads to infection and abscesses. Furthermore your hormone levels will take a dramatic dive which almost always leads to anxiety and depression. If you have a background of mental illness, weaning should be very gradual. Remember, weaning babies is not simply an event, it is a slow transition, a continuing process.
Softer foods will generally work best as the first additions. A general guideline is fruit or vegetables, which are soft and can be easily gummed. These include, but are not limited to:
A few months later when the intestines have developed more and gotten used to whole foods, try out a larger variety of foods such as:
Stick with the same rule of introducing them one by one, with gaps of 3 or 4 days. Meat, cheese and other foods that are taxing on the digestive system are best not introduced until your baby is approaching 12 months or at least 6 months after the weaning babies process has started.
As a cautionary warning, you should never give your baby fruit juices or other sweetened drinks. Water and/or breast milk are always better. And more importantly, never ever give refined carbohydrates to your baby. This includes various types of pasta, macaroni (even those products aimed at babies), sweets, baby jar food, rusks/biscuits, and cereal. Doing so will cause subtle yet widespread health problems; hormones and immune response will be compromised, the intestinal flora will become imbalanced, even mental and cardiovascular health has been shown to be affected.
While weaning babies, try to place an emphasis on whole and (if possible) organic foods. Your aim is not only to provide the nutrients necessary for growing but to help shape your baby’s taste preferences so that throughout their lives they will have an instinctual yearning for healthy food.