Weaning and Breastfeeding
When to wean?
Up to 6 months of age the World Health recommend that babies have all they need from mothers breastmilk. Around the 6 month mark they recommend an introduction to solid foods to gain additional nutrients as well as the experience and oral motor development of swallowing, chewing and speech.
Markers for when baby is showing interest in family food…
When babies take in milk they suck and this is the same for puree, they suck it off the spoon and are not neurologically ready to start weaning. Up to the age of 5-6 months babies have difficulty supporting their heads and posture. When they are ready to wean it is important that they can sit up and have head control as this is a ‘motor skill’ that is essential to coordinate the mouth to chew - move food from the tip of the tongue to the back and then swallow. This is what is needed when we move and talk about solids – not ‘mush.’ This is usually present by 5-6 months of age.
Another indicator is your baby showing an interest in food. Reaching out and taking interest in family meals , dipping hands in the pasta and taking a penne, licking the tomato sauce and sucking and chomping under mums careful eye - this is baby led weaning. Letting babies wean for themselves.
There is no need to mash or puree food, just cut to bite size foods, letting your children experience eating as a family – it is such a social thing to eat together. Your baby can go straight onto lots of different foods but it is advisable to give more savoury and minimise the desserts as you want to minimise sweet food sources.
More information on baby led weaning can be found here and you can also seek advice from your health visitor or family nurse.
What about Breastfeeding?
For the first few weeks up to a month breastfeeding is still your baby’s main food source and it is advisable to offer the breast first and then offer the meal. You will find that your baby will progress to take more and more food at their pace and you will adapt their meal times to offer food first and then the breast as a drink to quench thirst. You may want to introduce a cup of cooled boiled water or expressed breastmilk as an alternative
Many mums think that when their babies move onto solids that’s good bye to night feeds but this often is not the case. In the early weeks of weaning, babies often wake or feed more as their tummies have to adapt to activating new digestion enzymes to break the food down, also to having more bulk left in the stool and this can cause more wind and gripe which is to be expected as mums breastmilk is so easy to digest and has very little waste.
Usually night feeds adjust a little – but it is worth remembering that baby wakes for many reasons and not just hunger. At this time their teeth buds are also moving around and causing them distress and tenderness
“Nanny says I should wean at 4 months and the shops stock jars that say 4 months”
Unfortunately, brands are continually giving wrong advice and babies should wait until they are 6 months of age. Many years ago there wasn’t the same research and information available around food intolerances, allergies and the benefits and nutrients in human milk. There is no need to wean early.
My baby is always hungry after feeds – I don’t have enough milk, should I wean?
The answer to this is possibly that your baby is going through a growth spurt and all the semi-routine has gone out of the window and baby just wants more milk, more frequently. Also that word teething keeps on cropping up and babies are often on and off the breast.
My paediatrician says I am ok to wean but I’m unsure
If on the advice of your health professional, there are some circumstances when moving onto solids is the right choice for your baby. Circumstances such as prematurity when your baby needs additional calories and energy, severe reflux or those who have swallowing challenges. Occasionally if your baby is not gaining weight your health visitor and GP may explore your options with you and look at ways to help your baby grow- this is in association with a feeding plan as well as looking at weaning.
There is so much information out there – take it easy, enjoy and keep on trying new foods, textures and experiences.
Sioned, Medela UK’s in-house Lactation Consultant and Education Manager x