Transitioning to Solids – Infant Nutrition

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Are you a new mother? Having a new baby can be overwhelming at times. A flurry of emotions and mixed information. You will have been told again and again, ‘breast is best’ and it has probably been drilled into you by each of your health professionals. Now, your little one is growing up, and you think it might be time to start weaning off the breast and on to solid foods. Just when you thought you were getting this mothering thing down pat, this new obstacle arises. Read on if you want to know more about getting off the breast.

When

The WHO guidelines suggest introducing solids after 4 months, and no later than 6 months. While these guidelines are a great place to start, your bub will let you know when they are ready to try solids, and you have to be on the look-out for these cues.

When children are ready to start solids, they are able to sit up by themselves unsupported. They are putting things in their mouth, testing out the idea of eating. When they are surrounded by people eating, they might smack their lips together, or show interest in their food by grabbing at it.

If you start to see these signs, and your child is 4 months or older, it is time to start with solids.

Why

It is important to introduce solids after the age of 4 months. At any time before this the child is simply not ready to handle real food. The gut is not yet formed enough to handle food, and the risk of chocking is high, due to poor oral motor skills. Before 4 months, breast milk (or formula) is all your bub needs and this is the best source of nutrients for him/her.

After 6 months, the introduction of solids is necessary, and this is for three main reasons. Firstly, your child is born with iron stores that it received from you, in the womb. At birth, you baby has stored away enough iron, to last them about 6 months. At this point, the iron supply coming from breast milk is inadequate to support your child. Now, iron through food is absolutely necessary to ensure normal growth. Secondly, at 6 months of age your baby needs to start developing the motor control skills associated with eating. Eating isn’t as easy as you might think. It is a learned skill that your baby needs to start to develop. Finally, there is an evidenced based link between baby weight gain, and those who stay on the breast too long.

What

Since iron is starting to run low, it is important to give iron rich foods first. This is typically unknown to parents who think mashed banana and peas are the most appropriate first foods for a baby. Some iron rich foods you might like to try include:
– Pureed red meat
– Pureed legumes
– Fortified baby rice cereal
When you first start feeding your child, buy a food processor. All food should be a smooth puree with no lumps. You’re first try is likely to be pretty unsuccessful. Be prepared for a mess! Your baby will most probably play with the food, spit out the food, smear the food across the high chair. Pretty much do anything expect for eat it. DO. NOT. PANIC. This is okay! Babies take time to learn how to eat and this sort of food play is the best place to start. The worst thing you can do at this point is to try and force feed your child. Let them go at their own pace.

Once you have introduced the iron rich foods, you can try mixes with new foods. The guidelines state that any foods can be trialled at this point. However, try starting with vegetables, before fruit. Often, once a child gets a taste of the sweetness of fruit, it is much more difficult to go back to the vegetables.

Eventually, once they seem to be more comfortable with pureed foods, you can progress them up slowly in texture. Start leaving in some lumps. And once the hand handle lumps, try some soft foods. Slowly work your way up!

How

Solids should be given first, followed by a breast feed.

What to Avoid

Babies should never be given whole nuts, which are obvious choking hazards. Honey, sugar, sweetened drinks and juice should also be avoided at this age in order to protect bub’s teeth and gums. You should also never add salt to your baby’s food. Their little kidneys are not yet developed enough to handle high salt intakes (and trust me, they won’t taste the difference). Commercial packs of baby food can be used, but not all the time. Often, they do not carry the same nutrient density as foods pureed at home, and as such, can be used on occasion, but should not be the baby’s sole source of food. Finally, and this should go without saying, ‘junk’ foods are not appropriate to be feeding your child. A healthy diet that is nutrient rich is required for adequate growth, in order to give them the best start in life!

Allergens

All the allergen foods should be given at 6 months and before 1 year of life. There is a misconception amongst the mothering community that waiting to trial potentially allergenic foods will reduce the risk of an allergy developing. This is not true. In fact, the evidence says quite the opposite. It is important to trial, eggs, nuts (as butter), shellfish, dairy and wheat even in children who are at risk of allergy (for example, mum and dad both have the allergy). For (understandably) anxious parents, you can try rubbing a bit of the food against the baby’s cheek before letting them eat it. A rash is likely to appear if the child is allergic. I have also heard of parents trialling allergen food in the car park of the hospital. If this is what you have to do, then by all means, go ahead!

Let’s talk in practical terms

All this information is all well and good, but not always 100% achievable in reality. If your baby is fussy (let’s face it, most of them are) feeding is going to be tricky and at times, frustrating. It is important you stick with it and seek help when necessary. Consult your paediatrician or paediatric dietitian if feeding is manageable. There also some fabulous feeding clinics around which can help you wean your baby off the breast. Always reach out to Mother’s support groups if you are struggling, chances are most mothers are experiencing the exact same issues as you!

Renae Earle

Renae Earle is a Masters of Dietetics student at the University of Queensland. Having achieved her Bachelor of Exercise and Nutrition Science with distinction, she is motivated to complete her studies and become an accredited practicing dietitian.

Renae is passionate about evidence-based practice and debunking nutrition myths. She believes that in today’s fad celebrity diet culture, it is increasingly important to deliver the facts. She aims to help people achieve a sustainable and healthful lifestyle by combating the flurry of misinformation offered by tabloids and social media.

In order to achieve this goal, Renae has dedicated herself to the field of nutrition. She is well educated on a wide range of nutrition topics such as supplementation, chronic disease, restrictive diets and metabolism.

Renae has a keen interest in offering personalised nutrition plans that suit the specific needs of her future clients.

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