By Martina Corkery
Starting your child on solid food is an exciting milestone in your child’s life. Choosing a variety of nutritious interesting and healthy foods can benefit your child throughout their lifespan. The introduction of solid food should not be started before four months and should be delayed to as close to six months as possible to allow your child’s gut and digestive system to mature. Some parents can find the experience of weaning overwhelming and encounter setbacks along the way. In this article, I will outline some of the common issues parents experience and how to overcome them.
The window of opportunity to commence children on solid food is between four and six months, somewhere in the middle or towards the end of that window is an ideal time to start. Working within this window and being aware of signs of your child’s readiness for food are excellent indicators. These signs include your child watching with interest what you are eating, not being satisfied with milk feeds, waking more at night time (this should last over one week), your child is able to sit up with some support and chews and dribbles more often. Once you commence your child on solids you should find your child is able to take food from the spoon without much difficulty (your child may push food back out with their tongue at the start but this is normal). If you find your child is not taking food well from the spoon and it is before 5 months don’t worry stop and try again in a few weeks. It is also important for your child’s nutrition not to wait until after six months as once your child is six months old nutrients from milk alone is not sufficient and other food groups are required. If you have any questions with regard to the timing of the introduction of solid food please contact your local PHN or health professional.
Fear of Choking
This is one of the main fears voiced by parents when introducing solid food. Firstly it is important to say infants should always be supervised when eating and never left alone. Also foods which do pose a choking hazard to children such as whole grapes (they can be given if cut into slivers), peanuts etc should not be given to children under the age of 5. Like adults the cough or gag reflex we see in children is very important as this prevents food from going down the wrong way. Coughing is normal when introducing solid or lumpier foods for the first time, try to remain calm and remember it is good this reflex is doing its job.
Allowing your infant to touch and feel the texture of the food they are eating is vital. This can help them to process the texture of the food they are eating and reduce their risk of coughing or being surprised with lumpier textures. This can be quite the messy education for infants so try not to worry about the mess put paper on the floor and have a wet cloth ready for the porridge shampoo. Allowing them to enjoy food and be comfortable with it will make for an easier life in the long run (trust us). Ensure you give the blender a break around the seven months and begin mashing foods for your child and giving them soft finger food. You will be pleasantly surprised what children can do and what they enjoy doing for themselves during this stage. If you do find that your child is not managing lumpier foods, stop go back to softer foods before trying again in a week or two. Contact your health professional if your child is not progressing to lumpier and whole foods by nine months.
What foods to give your child?
- Do not add any sugars, salts or gravy’s etc to a child’s food. Children’s taste buds are untainted and should stay that way for as long as possible. Infants really enjoy the natural flavours of foods.
- Do not give your baby honey, unpasteurised cheese, undercooked eggs, bran, tea or coffee, liver, unprocessed or cured meats such as sausages ham and bacon, crisps chocolate, cake or sweets and whole or chopped nuts (as there is a risk of choking).
- Natural unprocessed foods are ideal for infant’s first foods.
- Avoid jars of baby foods – their expensive and children can find it hard to transition back to home cooked meals.
- Making family meals which everyone can enjoy is the easiest way to reduce stress and give everyone the best nutrition.
If your child is a faddy or fussy eater you may be aware how quickly mealtimes can turn into a nightmare. The introduction of solid food can set the foundation for you and your child’s eating habits so forming good routines and boundaries from the outset is key.
The most important thing to remember with food refusal is Never Force Your Child to eat, your child will not enjoy mealtime and may develop a very negative relationship with food.
The first question to ask if your child refuses food is; ‘Is he or she hungry?’. If your child is drinking large volumes of milk or having snacks too close to mealtime they may simply not be hungry for their food and therefore refuse to eat. Remember hunger is the best gravy so therefore having set meal and snack times is an excellent way of ensuring that your child is hungry for their meals.
Allowing your child to make their own decisions with regard to food is a lovely way of showing that you encourage their independence. Now to clarify I’m not saying offer icecream or salmon we all know how that will go. Your child should be given the meal which is prepared for the family, if they do not wish to eat something on the plate do not make a fuss. Allow them to eat what they want. Do not make alternative meals for your child as this will quickly become the norm as your child will refuse to eat what you have given while awaiting their alternative. Meals are a social opportunity for interaction between families, young children benefit from being part of this. Observing others enjoying and eating food is a valuable lesson for life. If you are concerned about your child’s weight or if you feel the fussy eating has become an issue contact your local health professional or PHN.
Giving your child the adequate amount of food to supplement their growth and development is vital during the weaning period. Allow your child to eat to his or her satisfaction. Most children will turn their head away or push the bowl away to let you know they are finished. This is usually a good time to give them the spoon so they can practice feeding themselves and play with their food. If you are concerned that your child is not aware when they are full and may possibly be overeating it is important you monitor portion size. Baby bowls and baby plates are good indicators of portion size. Further portion size information is available on safe food.ie. If your child has finished eating and requests more food try giving more vegetables to fill them up. If you are concerned with your child’s growth or development please contact your GP or PHN.
Martina Corkery: Registered in General Nursing in 2006, returned to complete the Public Health nursing course in 2011 and completed a Masters in Nursing in 2015. Public Health Nurse in South Lee since 2012.