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Yum Yums - From Milk to Roast Dinners
Baby Food Hints/Tips
Member Name: sandemp
Baby Food Hints/Tips
Advantages: Get it right and it sets your child up for life.
Disadvantages: It doesn't always run smoothly
==First There Was Milk==
Milk is the only food your baby will need for the first few months of his life, and while breast is undoubtedly best, your baby will come to no harm if you feed them formula. Breast (or formula) milk will provide your baby with all the nutrients their body needs in the most easily digested form for the first six months of their life. It's only after they reach six months that your baby's stores of iron will start to deplete and they will need to be introduced to solid food. When your baby is born his tummy will produce enzymes that allow him to get the maximum nutrition from milk, and he won't be able to digest other more solid foods (in fact introducing solid foods may actually stop these enzymes from being produced). Then sometime between 17 and 26 weeks (a little earlier with some babies) your baby's gut will start to mature, meaning that they are able to digest foods other than milk. The trouble is not only does this change vary from baby to baby, but there's no way of knowing that the change has happened. That's why current guidelines state that if possible you should hold off weaning your child until he is six months of age and should definitely not wean before 17 weeks unless advised by a medical professional.
So how do you know your child is ready for something a little more substantial? Well there's really no hard and fast rules as to knowing your child wants food, but there are a few clues you can look for. One possible clue is that baby starts waking in the night when they had previously slept through. But there are other explanations that you will need to rule out before deciding that waking at night means baby needs food. Firstly are they teething, teething can completely disrupt even the best sleeper, and believe me it can and does start as early as a few weeks. The next cause to rule out is a growth spurt, many babies go through a growth spurt at three to four months old and will begin to once more wake in the night. It's easy to confuse this growth spurt with baby needing solid food so don't rush for the baby rice. Instead try increasing the frequency (or amount) of feeds for a week or so and see if that settles baby. If this doesn't work then yes it is possible that baby needs to start on solids.
Another possible sign that baby is ready for solids is when they begin to take an interest in food. The trouble with taking this sign as gospel is that most babies start to take far more interest in the world around them at three to four months and this could be the reason why your toast suddenly becomes so fascinating. Yet another sign would be baby chewing on his fists, but again this could have another cause, namely teething once more. So you can see there are really no hard and fast rules as to when baby shows he's ready for food, you really do have to trust your instincts and ask advice if you're not sure.
As I said, I've weaned five children and with each of them the signs have been different, it's really a case of knowing your child and then trying as many different things as possible before turning to solids. With one of my older children, it was the fact he was drinking 9oz of hungry baby milk every two hours that gave it away. This was during the time when it was recommended that you weaned your baby at three months, but after seeking advice it was recommended to wean him at about ten weeks. With my youngest the guidelines had changed, but the signs were all there at three months, but we tried everything to hold him off, including increasing his feeds. However as he has reflux, we could no longer increase his feeds so we started the weaning process just before four months (on the advice of a doctor).
How the weaning process works depends on how young your baby is when you begin the process and whether you follow traditional methods or baby led weaning. Having only used the traditional methods, I'm now going to focus on them.
==And Then There Was Mush==
If you decide to start the weaning process with a baby under six months, then their first experiences of food will be of very smooth, runny purees that can make lots of mess. So it's a good idea to be prepared before you get a spoon anywhere near baby's mouth. Although there is a lot of specialised equipment available, I really wouldn't recommend adding any of them to your shopping list. What I would recommend you buying is :
Bibs - You will need lots of these, and as most starter foods (even homemade) seem to be orange, it's best to buy coloured bibs rather than plain white.
Spoons - First spoons should be made from a soft material, with shallow bowls and narrow tips. Remember baby only has a small mouth and the spoon needs to fit in (eventually). I really can't recommend the Tommee Tippee weaning spoons enough, they are perfect for first tastes.
Bowl - Although you could just use one of your normal bowls, I personally feel it's a good idea to get baby used to his own bowl right from the start. Choose a plastic bowl that baby will still be able to use when they are old enough to feed themselves.
Steamer - Not an expensive electric one, but one that fits on top of a saucepan. This will allow you to cook vegetables (and chicken/fish) in a way that keeps in the maximum of goodness.
Blender - Again not an expensive one, but a cheap supermarket hand blender will do the job. I've got one from Sainsburys that cost under £5 and it perfectly blended food ready to be passed through a sieve.
Sieve - For the very youngest babies a blender won't actually get the food smooth enough to prevent them gagging, so a metal sieve is perfect to ensure that there are no lumps.
Ice cube tray + Storage Containers - Forget fancy baby food storage containers, invest in some ice cube trays and Tupperware style containers. Each ice cube is perfect for one serving at the beginning of weaning and then you can mix and match different foods later. Once the food is frozen you can store it in the containers in the freezer.
A Beaker - Weaning doesn't just involve food, it also involves helping your baby learn to drink from a beaker. You won't be using this to begin with but as baby start to eat more food you will also want to introduce a drink at mealtimes and move your baby away from the bottle. It may take a lot of trial and error to find the right beaker for you and your child, but as a rule of thumb you want to avoid the beakers that they to bite down on.
Somewhere for baby to sit - If baby is unable to sit unaided then a bouncy chair is ideal as long as it doesn't lay back to far. Other choices include Bumbos, but do be careful with these as some babies learn how to push themselves out. In a squeeze you could use a buggy if it has a multi-position backrest or even a car seat. Once baby can sit unaided then a highchair or booster seat is by far the best option.
A Splash Mat - Again this isn't required in the first stages, but once baby starts feeding themselves then you will want something to protect the floor from dropped food.
Ok so you think baby is ready and you have all your equipment ready what's next? Well first things first, chose a time of day when neither you or baby is too tired, it's far easier to begin the weaning process if baby is alert. Next if your baby is under six months then sterilise the spoon and bowl. Now it's time to begin the big adventure. Many parents start the weaning process with baby rice, but you could go straight to purees. If using purees then steam the vegetables (or fruit) until soft and then blend to a smooth consistency, but do not add either salt or sugar. Good first tastes include carrot, sweet potato, butternut squash and swede, these are all naturally sweet and easy to blend. If you are using baby rice you can mix it with either cooled boiled water or your baby's usual milk. In either case with first tastes you're looking for a very runny consistency that's just slightly thicker than milk.
Once the food is prepared give baby a little of his usual bottle, enough so that he's not starving but not so much as he is full and then it's time to get messy. For the first few days baby won't want a lot a food at a time, little more than a taste really. Don't overload the spoon, just put a tiny bit on the tip and then place the tip of the spoon on baby's bottom lip. Now every baby reacts differently to this first taste and remember baby has to learn to take food off the spoon. Some babies are naturals and immediately realise that they need to use their tongues to transfer the food to their mouths, others take longer. Some babies will gag, others will spit it out, so don't be worried that your baby isn't a natural. It's at this point that many parents discover that their baby wasn't as ready for solids as they thought. So if your baby isn't happy with being fed then put the weaning equipment away for the time being and try again in a few days. What I will say is never make mealtimes a battle, both you and baby should be relaxed. Oh, and I don't like the idea of games at mealtimes either, I've never understood why parents play aeroplane games when their child first starts eating and then goes on to tell their child it's wrong to play at the table. Start as you mean to go on, make feeding time a relaxed time for eating.
Once baby has got used to first tastes, you can start adding more and more foods to their diet. Just don't try adding them too fast or too many at a time. I've always gone by the four day rule, which involves only adding a new food every four days and then making sure that the child doesn't have a reaction to that food. Although you can add many different foods at this stage (and I'm a firm believer that the more varied a diet you introduce a baby to the less fussy an eater they are later in life), there are some foods you should avoid. Wheat and other gluten based products should not be given to children under six months, this includes bread, cakes, most biscuits and rusks. You also should not add salt or sugar to any of your baby's food either during cooking or after. Honey should be avoided until after the age of one as should nuts. Citrus fruits should also be avoided before the age of six months. Before six months of age any food cooked with milk should use your baby's usual milk, although after six months you can use full fat milk for cooking and breakfast cereal.
No matter what, this first stage of weaning is all about new tastes and learning to eat solid foods. Your baby should still be getting the vast majority of their nutrition from milk, so if your baby starts cutting out bottles then you should cut back on the solids. Oh and I'm sure I really don't need to point this out but you should never add food such as rice to your babies bottle as this causes a serious choking hazard.
==Lumps And Beyond==
Once baby is eating a good variety of different foods, it's time to start introducing more texture into their food. As with everything else what age baby is ready for lumpy and finger food depends on so many different factors that I really couldn't give you an actual timescale. My youngest started eating mashed bananas at five months, but many baby's aren't ready until seven months.
If you've held off weaning until six months then you'll most probably have missed out the sloppy stage and will be starting at this point. Once baby can sit in a highchair then you'll want to start encouraging them to eat lumpier and then chopped food. I began this stage by simply mashing rather than pureeing foods. Be prepared for some gagging at this stage, this is a natural reflex and not at all dangerous. Of course you should always supervise your baby while eating, but the chances of them actually choking is very slim. This is also the time to start introducing finger foods, pieces of banana and lightly cooked carrot sticks were popular choices with my youngest. Rice cakes are also brilliant, they start with a crunchy texture but quickly turn to mush in baby's mouth. Just don't buy expensive baby versions, I buy salt and sugar free adult rice cakes from the co-op, half the price of the baby versions and my little one loves them.
Once baby is over six months you can gradually add more and more different foods to their diet and increase the size of the lumps until they are eating the same as you. After six months I would suggest forgetting the baby cereal and moving them onto Ready Brek, Weetabix or even homemade porridge. You can also start to add in other wheat based products such as bread. Plain breadsticks make another great finger food at this stage, although you will need to watch your child. Well cooked egg can also be introduced after six months of age, but do ensure that it is cooked through, scrambled egg is a favourite in this house.
It's during this stage that your baby really learns to chew and begins to get more nutrition from their food than their milk. But did you know that if you delay giving your baby lumpy food you are also possibly contributing to their speech being delayed? That's right, chewing food actually helps your child learn to talk, as the same muscles are needed. So even if it's a struggle getting your child to accept lumps, it's an important stage in their development. You should also be ensuring that your baby has plenty of milk, aiming for a minimum of one pint a day. With one of my children this was a real struggle, so it's good to know that there are other foods that count towards this pint. Cheese, obviously counts towards this as does yoghurt, and if you're really struggling you can cook a milky pudding.
In an age when we have healthy eating rammed down our throats it's easy to think that we should be stuffing our children full of fruit and vegetables to the detriment of other foods. But young children and babies need balanced diets that include fat, protein, carbohydrates fruit and vegetables. Don't be tempted to give your baby low fat versions of dairy products, because they need that fat. In fact your child will need at least one pint (or equivalent) of full fat milk a day until they are two, when you can change to semi-skimmed. We are also bombarded with adverts for follow on and growing up milk. In my opinion, these are totally unnecessary, it is perfectly possible to give your child a balanced diet without resorting to these formulas. By giving your child red meat, pulses (lentils, dried peas) and leafy green vegetables they are getting more than enough iron. If you really are worried about how much your child eats then you can buy vitamin drops from baby clinic at a heavily reduced price (or free if on certain benefits).
==Family Meals And Beyond==
The ultimate goal when weaning is to include your child in family mealtimes. My little man is almost one and now eats whatever we do, simply chopped into bite sized pieces. Of course this does mean that we've made a few adjustments to how we cook, we no longer add salt while cooking, instead we use more herbs and spices to add flavour. (OK I sneakily add salt to my food after it's served). By encouraging the little man to try a variety of home cooked foods from the very start we've now got a little boy who happily tries any new food and eats a healthy balanced diet. We also have a little boy who would much rather eat a piece of fruit or rice cake than chocolate, although I'm not sure how long that will last once he starts school.
Oh and because we also felt that an important part of weaning was not only eating at home but also eating out, we also take little man to restaurants with us and because he is used to 'real' food we do not need to take jars with us. We simply give him some of the food from our own plates and cut it up for him, so much cheaper and easier. That's not to say that we've never given him jars of food, because we have on occasion while out and about, it's just he far prefers proper food and has from day one. Not that I blame him, have you tasted the jars? They're bland, watery and in a word disgusting.
==When Things Go Wrong==
Now I realise that in a way we've been lucky while weaning, I have successfully weaned five children using the same method, and all of those children ate varied and healthy diets from a very young age. That's not to say that weaning ran smoothly all the time, of course there were times when they refused to eat. The trick is not to get stressed, if your child won't eat then don't push it, simply take the offered food away. Also don't expect your child to like a food the first time it's offered, it can take many, many times for a child to accept a new food. Another thing to expect is for your child to suddenly refuse a food that they had previously enjoyed, this is nothing unusual, just as their fine motor skills develop so do their taste buds. If you really are struggling to get your child to eat then keep a food diary for a couple of days where you record everything they eat and drink and then speak to your health visitor or GP. It maybe something as simple as they are having too much milk or juice.
If you've managed to read this far, then thank you for allowing me to share my experiences and weaning tips. Hopefully you've found something helpful, but remember, every child is different and what has worked for me and my children may not work for you. Also please remember that I am not a medical professional and medical advice changes regularly, so if you are planning to start weaning your baby then please speak to your health visitor or GP before you begin.
Summary: A few tips on traditional weaning