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Weaning, do you follow the guidelines?

Friday, 3 October 2014  | 

Millar is almost five months old and I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked me ‘is he eating solids now?’ It’s like an extension of that old chestnut ‘is he a good sleeper?’ People always seem to want to know how well a baby sleeps and whether you are weaning them yet. And people seem pretty unanimously horrified that I plan to wait until he’s at least six months – which, incidentally is the current advice.

I’m not judging people who choose to wean early – I’m sure they have their reasons, but I’m amazed at how regularly I have to defend my choice to do it ‘correctly’ (i.e. following the current guidelines). Just last week when we had family down, one of them said ‘Can you believe it? He’s not allowed food till he’s six months – imagine that!’ The reply was ‘Poor little mite – you mean he can only have milk for another month? Poor little boy’s hungry!’

But that’s the thing – he really isn’t hungry. And if he was, I’d give him more milk - surely rich, high-calorie formula milk would fill him up a lot more than a bit of pureed carrot!

It seems like everyone around me is weaning now – most of the people I go to baby groups with have at least started on some baby rice (which, I might add, looks really vile – do babies actually like that stuff?). I hear lots of reasons for weaning early and I really just don’t think any of them apply to us. I know that sometimes paediatricians recommend early weaning, particularly for reflux. The doctor didn’t seem to think this was necessary for Millar’s reflux though. Having said that, the health visitor did say last time I saw her that I could start to wean him at 20 weeks if I wanted to, to see if it made his reflux better. But he’s not on any reflux medication anymore, so I don’t think we need to.

Other reasons I have heard for early weaning include things like the baby watching you eat – showing that they’re ready to start eating solids. Millar does stare at me with fascination when I eat. He also watches me brush my hair and put on make-up but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need to start wearing eye-liner! He is just learning about the world by watching and this includes about food.

I am determined to wait until six months partly because I want to do baby-led weaning, where Millar will just eat the same things I eat, pretty much. He’ll feed himself and learn about food by squishing it and dropping most of it on the floor. The book I have read on baby-led weaning makes it so simple – it should all be about fun and experimenting at first. The baby doesn’t need to eat a set amount because he is getting most of his nutrition through milk still. It’s a kind of no-pressure, relaxed approach and I think it will suit us. And I think the dog will like it a lot!

The current guidelines say to wait until six months because the baby’s stomach lining is only mature enough to deal with solids at some point between four and six months, but there is no way of knowing when exactly for your particular baby. Millar has such a sensitive stomach – everything seems to upset it, so I am fully prepared to wait, as I don’t want to give his poor tummy any more grief. My generation were all weaned at four months, and although many people are totally fine, there’s no denying that there is a lot of IBS around – myself included – and I want to take whatever measures I can to avoid Millar getting that. There are also suggestions about allergies – weaning after six months is supposed to lower the chance of developing allergies and intolerances.

So although I am so excited to start giving Millar some food and seeing what he thinks, there really is no rush. And if he isn’t interested until he’s seven or eight months, then so be it. Milk will fill him up and give him all the nutrients he needs, and he will start eating when he’s ready. And let’s face it – things get more complicated once they start eating solids – you have to think about sugar and salt content – about bibs and high chairs – about variety, clean hands and making sure you have healthy food to give them at the appropriate time. Suddenly a few more weeks of a simple bottle of formula sounds quite appealing!

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