When to wean – and how – are among the most asked questions about breastfeeding and formula feeding. Children often show you when they’re ready by grabbing at food and sucking their lips or opening their mouths when morsels are nearby, says dietician Nadia Jansen van Rensburg.
It’s something to celebrate when your tiny tot tastes something other than formula or breast milk for the first time. But often, the overload of information makes parents fearful of starting solids. All you can do is go with your gut and take your cues from your kiddie.
Nadia Jansen van Rensburg, co-founder of Rooted Natural and a clinical dietician with a special interest in paediatric nutrition, says, “It’s natural for parents to be preoccupied with whether their little ones are eating well. But it can become an unhealthy obsession very easily, which means missing out on the joy of the experience.
“The best advice is to be relaxed and let your baby lead the process. Repeat exposure to as many tastes, textures, smells and colours as possible. We eat with all our senses!”
Van Rensburg runs Rooted Natural alongside chef Kirby van Rooyen.
Here are van Rensburg’s answers to parents’ most pressing questions when it comes to solids:
When should I start solids?
It differs from child to child. From four to six months your infant is developmentally and emotionally ready to start exploring a new method of feeding, says van Rensburg.
Their nutritional needs increase and the introduction of solids helps to optimise growth and brain development.
“Children often show you when they’re ready by grabbing at food and sucking their lips or opening their mouths when morsels are nearby.”
“More energy from food supports their increasingly active bodies as they begin to sit, play and crawl. It’s a wide window period, so take your cues from your little one. They need to be able to sit with minimum support and have good head and neck control.”
How do I set the scene for success?
Van Rensburg suggests that it is a great idea to get into regular feeding rhythms right from the start of the weaning process.
“Sit your little one at the table in a chair or in a chair with a clip-on tray and make sure their feet are supported. Avoid screens and any distractions.
“Try to get them excited about the food, its tastes, textures, colours and smells. Positively talking about food is an important part of the process.”
A few quick tips:
- Allow them to play. Play is a vital part of children’s learning process so let them have fun with their food. That’s how they’ll learn to eat by themselves.
- Time it well. Your baby should be rested, hungry and interested; not overly hungry, overtired, stimulated or fed. Importantly, you need to be relaxed as well.
- Go with a single flavour at first. Think about starting with vegetables, then progressing to fruit, grains and protein combinations.
Should I do the puree or baby-led weaning approach?
That’s up to you. There is no right or wrong way in weaning, she says. “A more traditional take is for first foods to be smooth, soft purees, then there’s a progression to textured purees and, eventually, whole meals.
“We recommend combining the two methods. This way, you ensure adequacy, but baby also gets to play, participate and explore, which fuels tactile development. Remember, the bigger the mess, the higher the success.”
Van Rensburg concludes, “Healthy kids are happy kids. We encourage you to relax and enjoy this new chapter. It’s a beautiful, exciting one. Most importantly, you’ve got this. You’re a brilliant parent. Go with your gut and learn with your little one.”