Weaning on to solids is an exciting time for parents and infants. The baby-led weaning approach has grown in popularity over recent years but it is currently not recommended by the Ministry of Health due to limited research on whether a child can meet their nutritional needs and whether this approach increases the risk of choking.
An infant starts weaning on to solids around 6 months of age but not before 4 months. An infant should start food when they are developmentally ready, which means they are able to sit, hold their head up, close their lips around a spoon, have good co-ordination and are interested in food.
The traditional approach to feeding an infant is to introduce smooth puree foods on a spoon fed by the parent. Food texture is slowly increased by thickening the puree, then adding lumps and finally progressing to solid family foods around 9-12 months of age. First weaning foods are puree fruit, puree vegetables, puree meats/lentils and iron-fortified baby cereal.
The baby-led weaning approach encourages an infant to feed themselves on solid foods from 6 months. First foods offered are soft fruits, cooked vegetable sticks and soft bread fingers with spread. Foods are placed in front of the infant and they are encouraged to explore the food and feed themselves.
By 6 months of age the iron stores from pregnancy have decreased and iron-containing foods should be introduced. First iron foods can be meat, fish, chicken, egg, lentils, legumes and iron-fortified cereals. The traditional approach allows for iron foods to be pureed but the baby-led approach has limitations as solid meat can be hard for an infant to chew. Soft meats such as mince and egg, or protein spreads such as humus can be used on bread fingers to help the child meet their iron requirements if the baby-led weaning approach is used.
The best weaning approach depends on your baby and a combination of both spoon feeding and finger foods may work well for your baby. Your baby is an intuitive feeder and they will tell you if they want to be spoon fed or want to feed themselves with finger foods. Your baby also may need to be fed in a different way at different times of the day, for example they want to feed themselves in the morning and get some help being spoon fed in the evenings. Consider offering your child puree meat/fish/chicken and iron-containing cereals fed on a spoon and cooked vegetable sticks and soft fruits that your child can feed themselves. If your child is struggling to progress with weaning on to solid foods consult your plunket nurse, GP or Dietitian.
Written by Jennifer Douglas
Jennifer is a New Zealand Registered Dietitian specialising in children’s nutrition, allergy and gut health + author of YUM! Recipes & Nutrition for the whole family by Nadia Lim. She runs clinics in Dunedin and sees individuals on skype. She also runs workshops in Dunedin and virtually to parents groups around the country on baby feeding and family nutrition.
*This post has been used with permission by Jennifer. If you would like more information about starting your baby on solids, visit Jumpstart Nutrition HERE.