To wean or not to wean? When is it too early?


All the advice nowadays points to the fact that parents should be weaning their babies at 6 months and most moms are repeating this advise over and over on forums. For those moms with babies at 4 months and wanting to wean their babies are feeling a little pressured as what to do.

Here is some information regarding when to wean and when not to. I truly believe that weaning a baby before 4 months of age is too early. Very few babies are able to digest the food you are trying to provide them and will find it hard to swallow. Breastfeeding should continue as much as possible so that the baby receives the right amount of calories necessary for his / her development and also the vitamins and antibodies required to keep them healthy. For those babies who are on formula, weaning is definitely an option at 4 months. Formula is not the best thing under the sun, there are many concerns as to what is actually contained in formulas and the regulations around this has been rather weak. weaning baby

The choice concerning whether to beginning thinking about weaning your baby should not be based upon if they are sleeping through the night or if they are always hungry. These are not signs that your baby needs weaning!

The signs are the curiosity to eat the food you are eating, by reaching out for it, wanting to put it in their mouths. Sitting up steadily and not having the gagging reflex. These signs I do agree with, as it shows your baby is physiologically ready to eat normal food. As with everything baby steps are necessary, what do I mean by this? You cannot just give a baby lumpy food. At 4 months your baby probably doesn’t have any teeth to chew with and with his little gums what he/ she can best do is chomp on a bit of well processed puree.

A team of experts from the British Medical Journal said last year that breastfed babies may benefit from being given solid food earlier, at 4 months. They have suggested that later weaning may increase food allergies and iron deficiency levels, but other experts backed the existing guidance. This has been reported by both the daily mail and the bbc.

The research team, led by Dr Mary Fewtrell a paediatrician from the University of London Institute of Child Health, said it supported the recommendation for developing countries, where access to clean water and safe weaning foods is limited, and there is a high risk of infant death and illness.

But they added: “Many western countries, including 65% of European member states and the US, elected not to follow this recommendation fully, if at all.

It concluded that babies just given breast milk for six months had fewer infections and experienced no growth problems.

But another review of 33 studies found “no compelling evidence” not to introduce solids at four to six months, the experts said.

Some research has also shown that six months of breastfeeding does not give babies all the nutrition they need.

A US 2007 study found there was an increased risk of anaemia compared with those introduced to solids at four to six months.

Swedish research also found that the incidence of early onset coeliac disease increased after a recommendation to delay introduction of gluten until age six months, but fell back after the recommendation reverted to four months.

Sheffield NHS published a paper 2 years before the above findings to discuss why it is important to wait till 6 months before beginning weaning:

Evidence for delaying weaning until six months:

Reasons for not introducing solids too early

Reasons for introducing solids at 6 months

  •  Immature kidneys may not be able to cope with the renal solute load and create a risk of hypertonic dehydration
  •  Potential allergic reactions as the immature gut is more vulnerable to infection and permeable to antigens which may cause allergic reactions, particularly as the immune system is poorly developed.
  •  Milk meets the nutritional requirements up to 6 months of age.10,11
  • Solids may reduce availability of nutrients in milk particularly breast milk
  • Absorptive capacity of the gut is not developed until four months.
  •  Neuromuscular co-ordination is not sufficiently developed to: – (a) pass food from front to back of mouth (b) leave food in the mouth to bite or chew or (c) to sit up in the best position to receive food from a spoon.
  • Increased risk of
  • Nutrient needs increased
  • Decreased body stores of iron and Vitamin D 13,14
  • Breast or formula milk no longer provides all the nutrients required for a growing infant.
  • To encourage chewing – to develop muscles that help with speech
  • Less chance of food refusal. It is important that a wide range of tastes are introduced and repeatedly reintroduced from the outset. This is because infants will accept different flavours at this age but are more suspicious of unfamiliar tastes as they get older
  • Key developmental stages may be missed At 6 months babies can be actively spoon fed with the upper lip moving down to clean the spoon. By nine months they are able to control their tongue to enhance swallowing of mixed texture foods and by twelve months they are able to swallow with closed lips. During this time the infant becomes more adept at picking up and moving things towards the mouth and therefore will be developing self feeding and be able to take finger foods

 

As with any food for a baby, wash the veggies and fruit well and cook it. Make sure it is not too hot when you feed your baby and mix some milk with it if you think it’s too dry or it will help with acceptance of the flavour. Start simple with foods such as potatoes, pear, carrot, sweet potato and swede. Uncooked foods such as bananas and avocados are also good.

I would say don’t introduce more than 1 flavour every 3 days and watch your baby’s stools, tummy aches and skin for signs of allergies.

The golden rule is to put the spoon in front of your baby’s mouth and allow them to open and take in the food if they want to. Don’t force them under any circumstance, as you risk resistance and potentially you may choke your baby.

A few things mothers have said:

When I had my daughter 10 years ago I followed the breastfeeding recommendations religiously. I breastfed exclusively for six months before introducing solids. My daughter is now extremely fussy with what she eats and suffers from food allergies some of which are really rare, for example she is allergic to baked beans. She is also very small for her age. I honestly believe that complying with these guidelines has had a detrimental affect on my daughters health. Karon Grace, Derbyshire

I am so tired of hearing health professionals, midwives and health visitors pontificate as to what is best for babies. Every baby is different and every situation is different. I started weaning my two children as soon as they showed an interest in reaching out for solid food. Both wanted solids at 4.5 months old and started on baby rice. Perhaps we should stop listening to blanket guidelines (which cannot possibly be completely correct since they are changed every five minutes) and listen to our babies instead! Joanna Scott, Basingstoke

I think breast feeding is best for the first six months but all babies differ and whilst I didn’t give my son solids before six months I did with my daughter so it does depend on the babies individual needs. In all cases of weaning you should consult your doctor or health care worker. Jude, Manchester

An article from the Paediatric Allergy and Immunology Institute has reported the findings that conclude that breastmilk does indeed protect your baby from asthma and allergies. It isn’t just a myth.

In conclusion, these works are pioneer in providing biological evidence on the immuno-modulatory ability of breast- feeding in early life. This activity could be explained by the protective effect of breastfeeding against infections (3, 4). Alternatively, breastfeeding-induced protection might rely on tolerance induction to common environmental and dietary antigens because of antigen transfer across mammary epithelium or to the presence of factors in breast milk influ- encing neonatal immune system maturation, including immu- noglobulins, oligosaccharides, and antimicrobial proteins/ peptides (5). These results could explain thus the potential protective effect of breastfeeding against asthma/allergy.

Allergy UK recommends that irrespectively of when you introduce solid foods, it is important that it should start with what are considered low allergenic foods, and foods most likely to cause an allergic reaction should not be introduced before six months. When you do, you should introduce the foods one at a time, so that you can spot any reaction. At the end of the article they write that there is controversy as to whether it is better to wait to introduce allergenic foods to children, or to introduce them as soon as possible. They  admit that they simply do not know, as research to date has been inconclusive.

It is important that you do not delay weaning beyond the age of six months; at this age, babies need the additional nutrition from solid foods. Furthermore, delaying or avoiding foods after this time does not seem to offer any protection against allergy starting in response to those foods, and some research suggests that it may increase the risk of allergy and other diseases.

If you delay the introduction of foods, you can cause problems with a child accepting those foods later on. This can become serious in terms of a baby’s growth and development. Also, as they grow, they need an increasing number of calories supplied by food rather than milk. These extra calories are found in carbohydrate and protein foods, and cannot be supplied in enough quantity by fruits and vegetables alone.

When first weaning, it is recommended that parents choose rice, potatoes, green and root vegetables, apples, pears, bananas and stone fruits as starter foods. If you are concerned about the risk of allergy when weaning, the best advice is to feed the infant one type of food at a time until you are happy that the infant is not reacting to the foods.

Their recommendation table is as follows:

By the age of 12 months, your baby should have been introduced to all the major allergenic foods (where appropriate), with the exception of whole nuts which should not be introduced until the age of five because of the risk of choking.

First weaning From 6 months 7 to 9 months (not before 17 weeks) (26 weeks)

9 to 12 months

Serve food as:

Smooth purees Smooth purees Thicker mixtures with some lumps and

soft finger foods

Mashed, chopped and minced foods, chopped firmer finger foods

Introduce:

Smooth cereals, eg. Soft cooked fruit and baby rice, potatoes cooked, pureed

pulses

Raw soft fruit and vegetables as finger foods

 

Lightly cooked or raw foods

Soft cooked fruit ‐ bananas, pears, apple, stone fruit

Soft cooked vegetables ‐ carrots, swede and turnips

page3image53120Continue introducing as many new foods as you can to your baby
Root and green Gluten containing vegetables foods ‐ bread and cereals

Dairy foods ‐ custard, cheese, yoghurt

page3image69592 page3image74928 page3image75520 page3image75944

Well cooked egg and fish

page3image85920

All high allergenic foods ‐ milk, egg, wheat (gluten), fish and shell fish, treenuts and peanuts, soya, celery, mustard seed, sesame seed, sulphites

Peanuts Peanuts page3image99696 page3image100288

Peanuts

By 12 months

  • Mashed and chopped family foods and variety of finger foods
  • All major allergenic foods except peanuts.
  • Unsweetened fruit juice with meals (not as main drink)
  • Peanuts
This is all the advice i can provide you with regards to this topic. I think the key thing is that a baby’s kidneys are not developed up until 4 months of age and if you want to start introducing foods little by little it won’t harm your baby. In any case I would recommend you get yourself a good bib and have the camera ready. And let’s face it, a baby might not like everything you give him or her, so try something else and then try again later.
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