Weaning onto solids is an exciting milestone for you and your little one. However, there has been a steep rise in food allergies over the last 10 to 15 years that has many parents doubting how and when to begin the weaning process.
In addition to these real worries, weaning guidelines seem to be constantly changing. Not only will your paediatrician and nursing sister disagree on what to introduce and when, but your friends and family will all have opinions, too.
In the past, it was generally accepted that all babies should be weaned onto baby rice. However, we now know that baby rice lacks basic nutrition, can be high in arsenic, and is often an ultra-refined product. It may also set a craving for high-carb foods in motion.
These days, most health professionals recommend butternut or sweet potato as first foods.
When to introduce allergenic foods
While variety is important, there is a chance your baby could be allergic to certain foods, which is why it’s important to introduce cows’ milk, eggs, wheat, gluten, nuts, peanuts, seeds, fish and shellfish one at a time and not before your baby is six months old. If you’re planning to introduce fish, wait a couple of days before introducing eggs.
It’s always best to discuss introduction of potentially allergenic foods with your paediatrician if there is a family history of food allergy.
What’s up with eggs?
It wasn’t long ago that we were told to introduce egg yolk between six and 12 months and egg white at 12 months. This is because egg allergy is the most common food allergy in infants and toddlers and can cause hives, vomiting, diarrhoea and even anaphylaxis.
However, a study from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and University of Melbourne has found that delaying the introduction of eggs may actually increase the risk of developing an egg allergy.
Giving babies cooked egg (scrambled, boiled or poached) proved more protective against allergy than egg in the baked form (cakes, biscuits and similar products). Of the babies who participated in the study and were introduced to cooked egg at the age of six months, just 5.6% developed egg allergy compared with 27.6% of those introduced to cooked egg after 12 months.
Eggs are a wonderful source of nutrients. The yolk, in particular, is loaded with vitamins A and D as well as choline, which are all essential for development.
If your baby already has a known allergy, such as a diagnosed food allergy or eczema, or you have a family history of food allergies, eczema, asthma or hay fever, you may need to be particularly careful when introducing peanuts.
However, the advice to wait to introduce peanuts until your baby is a year old is now firmly outdated. The current recommendation is to introduce peanuts as close to six months as possible. You can do this by adding a quarter of a teaspoon of sugar and salt-free smooth peanut butter to a vegetable dish.
If you’re worried, or have a family history of peanut allergy, you can rub a small amount of the food on the inside of your baby’s lip. If there is no allergic reaction after a few minutes, you can start giving small amounts as described above. You should continue to give peanut butter regularly after this.
Wheat and gluten
There are two main immune reactions to wheat:
- A classic food allergy that may include hives or wheezing soon after your baby has eaten.
- Celiac disease or non-celiac gluten-sensitivity that include typical symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhoea, irritability, poor weight gain and slow growth. Celiac disease may reveal itself shortly after your baby has her first wheat-containing food, but in some cases, symptoms are so minor that the condition can smoulder at a low level for years and a diagnosis may not be made until adolescence or even adulthood.
It is now recommended to introduce grains into your babies diet from seven months. These include wheat, rice, rye, barley, quinoa, oats and corn. They should be introduced one at a time and a few days apart.
As the symptoms associated with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten-sensitivity may not be as clear as with a typical food allergy, it’s important to watch any negative symptoms your baby may have – from sudden sleep and mood changes to gastrointestinal issues, and keep in mind that they may be related to gluten-containing foods.
Superfoods for baby
There is plenty hype around “superfoods” like cacao, maca, spirulina and lacuma. However, these have no place in your baby’s diet – especially during weaning.
The best superfoods for your baby are those found in the fresh-food section of all supermarkets. In fact, the more vegetables and fruit you can get your baby to eat from a young age, the more likely they are to eat them as a toddler. Some of the best include:
- Avocado Once mashed, they are the perfect consistency for a baby and are packed full of nutrients.
- Blueberries Cooked and pureed for babies and then as a finger food when appropriate, blueberries are packed full of phytonutrients for immune support.
- Broccoli Getting your baby used to bitter foods sooner rather than later will make life much easier later on. Broccoli is also high in nutrients.
- Sweet potato These have a naturally sweet flavour and creamy texture, so most babies love them.
How much sugar?
The general recommendation is that babies under the ago of two should not be given any sugar. The recommendations for toddlers and young children are:
- Two years, a maximum of 13g (three sugar cubes) a day.
- Three years, a maximum of 15g (4 sugar cubes) a day.
- Four to six years, a maximum of 19g (5 sugar cubes) a day.
However, many feel that these recommendations remain too high.
Baby-led weaning is a form of weaning that involves allowing your baby to feed himself. You simply cut the food into manageable pieces and leave the rest to him.
According to proponents of baby-led weaning, it helps fine-tune motor skills by supporting the development of hand-eye coordination, chewing skills, dexterity, and encourages healthy eating habits. It also offers babies an opportunity to explore the taste, texture and aroma of foods.
Baby-led weaning may help babies learn self-regulation (learning to stop eating when they feel full). With spoon-feeding, babies are often fed more than what they would usually eat, which some suggest leads to overeating later in life.
Starter foods include ripe fruits, cooked egg, flaky fish, moist and shredded meats, puffed cereals, and cooked pasta and vegetables.
In theory, baby-led weaning is great – your baby eats what you eat and you don’t have to spend all those hours making purees. However, there is the potential for plenty of gagging. This is a safety response to food travelling too far back in the throat. It is a natural reflex reaction and is very different from life-threatening choking. The problem is that it’s often difficult to tell the difference between the two, especially as a first-time mom. However, choking is rare in baby-led weaning if food is cooked appropriately.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.