Is the six-month wean too mean?

WHEN is the right time to start weaning your baby on to solid foods? Well, if you get your advice from the media, who knows?

I found myself shouting at the telly again this week. This time about the mish-mash of mis-information being chucked around about feeding new babies. Badly-headlined bulletins about how long you should breastfeed have confused the real issue – when to wean.

The “research” that prods news organisations into publishing health information comes thick and fast, and most of it flies under the radar.

But last week one report was picked up because it contradicted the advice of NHS health visitors, who have been under orders to encourage breast-feeding – and breast-feeding alone – for the first six months of a child’s life, before introducing solids. This six-month-rule was doing the rounds almost three years ago when I had Bonnie. But the ‘newest’ report said to do so was detrimental to the health of the baby, sending new mums into a tail spin. Some of them mentioned that the authors of the report had previously received funding from baby food companies. Oooh, conspiracy!

I ‘dual-fed’ all my kids. By this, I mean I breast-fed exclusively for the first couple of weeks or so, then introduced the odd bottle of formula so Bloke could do some feeds and so we could go out without always having to find somewhere for me to discreetly flop out a boob. I still breast-fed 90 per cent of the time for at least the first six months.

Then at around four months for each of them, despite the ever-changing advice, I started adding solid food – if you can call sloppy baby porridge solid. None of our kids have any allergies and they all seem pretty healthy, so far.

As a new parent, you already get a plethora of information from health professionals, books, internet forums and well-meaning relatives. And most of it is muddled. You always feel like you’re doing something wrong.

So who do you trust? Well, yourself. Hard, I know, when you haven’t slept properly for months and everyone else is a ruddy expert.

You have to trust your instincts. It’s not exactly science, but it seems to have worked for trillions of mothers for billions of years.

When our boys, now aged 13, 11 and 7, were babies, the advice was to wean – start giving them solids – at around four months. My own mum will tell you that when she was a new mother, it was three months or even earlier. The advice changed to six months for Bonnie, but I ignored it.

Starting them on solids is not an exact science. Firstly, four-month-olds don’t usually sit up by themselves. When you prop them up in a high-chair stuffed with cushions, it’s not long before they start slumping one way or the other. But as long as they can hold their head up and are willing to slurp from a spoon, you should both soon get the hang of it.

It’s a messy business, (from both ends) but you should find that a few spoons of liquid porridge or pureed fruit will make the difference to their sleep patterns too. My lot really started to sleep through the night once on solids.

There’s a certain amount of experimentation that has to be done. You may find strapping them into a portable car seat or lie-back chair is the best position for feeding. My lot couldn’t stand baby rice (not terribly surprising, as it tastes disgusting), and refused just about everything I cooked and pureed myself.

However they were all quite partial to a shop-bought organic pot of dribbly carrot. The one that stains everything it touches forever. Banana bashed into oblivion and mixed with a splash of baby milk went down well (but be warned, it produces toxic nappies). Tiny pots of fromage frais are useful to try.

Baby food didn’t have to be heated in our house, in fact, I think if you start weaning on cold foods they’ll eat anything, rather than expecting food to be warm. An exception is Weetabix and rusks, which need warm milk to get slushy enough for them to swallow.

You may find they refuse a spoon but will accept a clean finger dunked in mush. This is fine, because you don’t give them much at first. A few tiny spoons once a day at first is all they can manage. And keep up the milk feeds because this is where they get most of their nutrients and hydration. If they don’t like solids, stop, and try again next week.

If you only feed a single food type at a time, you have more chance of finding out if they do have any allergies, rather than swapping the type of solids every day and having to go through a lengthy process of elimination.

While my lot were all greedy enough to accept food from any source at around four months, I know other babies who refused any attempt to feed them anything other than milk until six months and beyond. You know when the time is right, because if they don’t want it, they won’t take it.

I’d take all the advice, and that probably includes mine, with a pinch of salt (but make sure you don’t add any to the baby food. . .)

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