Between advice from well-meaning friends and family and sensational headlines, it’s hard to know what’s best when it comes to weaning. ALANA KIRK-GILLHAM looks at recent recommendations and talks to medical professionals so you can make an informed decision.

Weaning your beloved baby onto solid food can be a challenging time, and involves a lot of work (and washing powder!). So recent confusing advice on exactly when to start spoon feeding infants can make the task even harder.

The current World Health organisation (WHO) advice released in 2001, and supported by the Irish Department of Health and Children, recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months (it had previously been four to six months), with the introduction of complimentary foods at that time when infants need increased nutritional requirements. However, a recent study made the headlines when new research seemed to suggest that exclusive breastfeeding did not provide the adequate nutrition required by six months (especially iron) and caused more confusion to already worried weaners.

Recently the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI) revised their advice for parents following recommendations from the European Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) which stated: “Exclusive or full-breastfeeding for about six months is a desirable goal. Complimentary feeding (i.e. solid foods and liquids other than breast milk or infant formula)… should not be introduced before 17 weeks (four months) and not later than 26 weeks (six months).”

Revised advice

Based on this paper, the INDI also now recommends that previously excluded foods such as wheat and eggs can now be introduced from 17 weeks as there is no compelling evidence that these should be avoided. Previous advice regarding the late introduction of foods containing gluten (pasta, bread, wheat cereals, etc.) into an infant’s diet because of the risk of Coeliac disease has also been changed for the same reason. It is now recommended that these allergenic foods are fine to be introduced from 17 weeks and gluten should be introduced no later than 30 weeks (seven months) and to do so gradually and preferably while you are still breastfeeding your baby.

So, what should you consider when contemplating the culinary challenge of your baby’s palate at weaning stage?

  • Is she/he between 17 weeks and 26 weeks?
  • Is she/he able to sit upright, supported?
  • Does she show any interest in food? Does she grab for things, put things in her mouth and can she hold something like a spoon?

Begin with smooth runny foods such as steamed vegetables and fruits, blended into a purée.

Introduce one food at a time, at least one day apart. This helps them get used to the taste and allow for detection of any adverse reaction.

Establish some savoury flavours before introducing sweet tastes.

Once solid foods have been introduced, breast milk or formula-milk should remain your baby’s main drink until they are at least a year, although water can be given as an extra drink (but no juices as they can cause tooth decay).

Once six months of age, your baby’s iron store will begin to deplete so it is essential to keep their supply up with iron-rich foods such as red meat, eggs, dark green vegetables and cereals with added iron.

Recent evidence has shown that children in Ireland have low levels of Vitamin D which is essential for strong bone health. All babies are now advised to take a Vitamin D3 supplement.

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