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The Basics of Weaning

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Starting your child on ‘solids’, or weaning, is a milestone in your new life as a parent. When’s the best time to begin? What foods should first give your baby? Here are some answers to those questions.

To be clear, weaning is the addition of solid foods. Human breast milk (or formula) will still be the main source of your baby’s nutrition until he or she is older. The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months. Because your child is still getting nourishment from breastmilk, there’s no hurry. It’s okay to introduce solids later than six months. There’s good reason for this.

Babies at six months are more physically capable of eating and digesting new foods. At six months, your baby can sit up without assistance. This makes eating and swallowing easier and lessens the risk of choking. Less obvious, though very important, is that by six months your baby’s gut lining has matured and is less porous. Good digestion and gut health is fundamental to one’s immune system.

There is little or no advantage to introducing foods earlier than six months. Babies who are exposed to foods at 3-4 months, while the gut is still maturing, are more susceptible to developing allergies. *

Your best cue for weaning is when your baby is ready. This is called Baby Led Weaning. It’s similar to Baby Led Latching in that you learn cues from your baby: when she’s ready, what he likes, signs of being full and content. A very useful book that answers most of your questions about weaning is, appropriately titled …“Baby-Led Weaning” by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. After reading it, you will say, “Of course, that makes sense!”

Your baby’s first foods are more like ‘explorations’ of new tastes and textures rather than meals. I have a fond memory of my son tossing green peas in the air, like little basketballs, and squishing the rest on his face.

Having said that, enjoy each other’s company at the table. Let your baby sit with you and grasp, gum and squish food. Whatever you are eating, your child can eat. (That’s what’s happening while you’re nursing anyhow). Avocadoes and sweet potatoes are fine for babies. You can offer a chunk of cooked meat for your baby to gnaw. The meat juices are a good source of iron.

Studies show kids, given access to healthy food and left to their own decisions, will choose a variety and a balance of good food. Having good, clean, whole food in your home benefits the whole family. Not having jars and boxes of cereal benefits all of us and the planet.

It’s not medically necessary to start with only rice cereal or different phases of meals. Your baby does not need special Step One cereal or Graduated Meals. Those designations are for marketing, not medical, reasons. A label on the baby food package shows a man in a white coat, looking like a doctor. This implies there is a medical reason for these ‘steps’. Look carefully and you’ll find the disclaimer, in very fine print, stating this man is only an actor.

When introducing foods, here are two basic guidelines.

• Wash and rinse fruits and vegetables first. Organically grown produce, whenever possible, means less exposure to chemicals and often means better taste, too.
• Cut food into large chunks. Here’s a guide to prevent choking on small things (this goes for small toys, too): The pieces should be too big to fit through a toilet paper tube.

Sitting at the table with you is a social experience. Learning to grasp with fingers and gnaw on things is a messy experience. A mat on the floor under your baby’s chair makes it easy to collect the debris afterwards. All in all, however, meals are easier because there’s no fuss with spooning certain foods and amounts into your baby. Meals being an enjoyable, calm experience is just as important as getting calories into a body.

You’ve got the bibs, the high chair, and the washable mat under the chair. This is going to be fun. And so it should be. Eating is a lovely thing to share with your baby and your family.

* Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Professional Ruth A. Lawrence, Robert M. Lawrence, 7th edition, Elsevier Mosby