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Frequently Asked Questions on Weaning answered by Gina

These are questions and answers taken from The Contented Little Baby Book of Weaning.

Gina's useful articles on Weaning

My six-month-old baby is just being weaned but I can’t get her to eat anything from a spoon. I’d like to try her with some finger foods, but am not sure which ones would be best. She hasn’t got any teeth yet so will she be able to manage?

Your baby might need more help using a spoon. Try placing it just inside her mouth and bringing it up against her upper gums which will help take the food into her mouth. She will probably be enthusiastic about trying to use one herself in due course, so when she seems keen try putting it in her hand and guiding it into her mouth. It will be messy, but worth it so she can eat yoghurts and casseroles in the months to come.

In the meantime, you can offer her lightly steamed vegetables cut into small pieces. Try broccoli, carrots and green beans. Grated fruit, such as apples and pears, is good in the early stages. Mealtimes must always be carefully supervised in case of choking. As she gets more confident you can introduce salad vegetables such as cucumber and baby tomatoes (provided there is no history of allergies). You can also give her lightly buttered toast. Babies’ gums are remarkably tough and she should be able to manage all of the foods mentioned above without any teeth.

Remember to always wash your baby’s hands before and after meals.

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I’m worried that my nine-month-old baby isn’t getting enough milk. He has gone off his breakfast milk and isn’t keen on his bedtime milk any more.

It is entirely normal for babies of this age to reduce their milk intake, so try not to worry. Experts advise that large amounts of milk should be discouraged after the age of one as it can reduce the appetite for solid foods which contain the vital nutrients a growing baby needs.

Aim to give him a minimum of 18oz (500ml) and a maximum of 20oz (600ml) each day. But remember that this includes milk used in cooking. Instead of giving him toast or fruit for breakfast, encourage cereal and porridge. For lunch and tea use some of my recipes which have cheesy sauces such as Mini Moussaka, Pizza Potatoes and Macaroni Cheese. You can offer fromage frais and milk puddings at teatime as well if you are still concerned.

It is worth checking that he is not having too much water or juice late afternoon. This can affect an appetite for milk. Try to only offer him a drink of water in the afternoon, but no later than 3pm. He should only have a a few ounces with his tea.

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My seven-month-old baby has developed a rash suddenly and I think it could be after eating carrots. How can I be sure?

If you suspect carrots are the cause of your baby’s rash, eliminate them from his diet immediately and do not introduce any new foods until the rash has disappeared. Keep feeding him things you know have not caused any reaction and keep his diet simple.

You should consult your GP if you are in any doubt that this is not a reaction to the carrot and if it doesn’t quickly clear up. Remember allergies can be caused by any number of things including animal fur, house mites, wool and certain soap and household cleaning agents.

Keeping a detailed weaning diary can be a great help if you find your baby displays any signs of allergy which can also include wheezing. Any family history will also be significant and you talk to your health visitor about waiting to introduce the common allergy-causing foods such as wheat, fish, eggs, citrus fruits and nuts.

My baby is following your sleeping routines but doesn’t nap for long in the mornings. He eats well at breakfast and teatime but I can’t get him to eat much at lunchtime and I’m worried that he won’t be getting all the solid food he needs.

It sounds like your baby is over-tired by lunchtime – an over-tired or over-hungry baby will not feed well. Try making lunch earlier and take your cue from him as to when he needs it. By nine months you are aiming at giving lunch somewhere between 11.45pm and 12pm. If he seems hungry nearer 11pm than 12pm you could try giving him a larger breakfast. This might make his morning nap last a bit longer too.

You are right to be concerned about lunch. Protein is vital for babies over six months and this is best given at lunchtime when he is most likely to eat a really good meal, so persist with my suggestions above until he is taking a decent amount of food at this time.

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My friend is only giving her baby organic food, but I find it’s too expensive. Does it really matter?

I do appreciate your dilemma. We all know that organic foods are produced without using pesticides and other chemicals which certainly sounds appealing. Yet they are expensive. No one yet knows the long-term effects of ingesting chemicals used on fruit and vegetables. Organic food is promoted as having higher nutritional value but, in fact, opinion is still mixed as to whether this is true. So it’s a personal choice in the end. My opinion is that organic food tastes much better and it’s important for a growing baby to have the best available food. He can manage with fewer toys or hand-me-down clothes, but food is an area you should try not to compromise on.

Try and buy organic fruit and vegetables if you possibly can. Organic meat is also advisable as organic farmers feed their livestock a natural diet and the use of chemicals to promote growth are prohibited. You can buy the less expensive non-organic pasta and bread. Always wash fruit and vegetables before giving them to your baby. Use filtered water to cook them in.

Have you thought about growing some of your own vegetables? This is the truly healthy and cheap way to feed your child. It can also be fun - when he is older he can help with planting seeds and harvesting the produce, as well as cooking it.

The most important thing is that your baby eats a healthy and well-balanced diet with foods from all the major food groups.

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I cooked everything for my first child who is now three, but am struggling to do the same for my second baby. I feel like I’m cooking all day long!

It sounds as if you are trying to prepare one set of meals for your toddler and another set for the baby which would be exhausting for anyone. Especially if you are cooking for yourself and partner in the evenings as well! It’s unavoidable in the first stage of weaning, but as soon as your baby is at second stage weaning and is at least six months you will be able to cook many of the recipes in my book and put aside portions to puree for the baby. Your toddler can enjoy them in their bulkier form and with seasoning, if you wish. These recipes include Tuna Pasta, Quick Chicken and Vegetable Gratin, Spotty Couscous and Lamb Hotpot.

If your toddler is quite fussy and then this is a good opportunity to lay down some new rules for mealtimes, although it could be hard work at first. Try to make mealtimes happy times. If you can sit your toddler at the table and the baby in the highchair then it will set the pattern for future family eating, which is your eventual goal. Serve yourself a small portion as well and try to set a good example. If your toddler refuses to eat what you have prepared, simply remove his plate and offer nothing until the next mealtime. Praise both your children for eating new foods and clearing their plates.

For more details on ending the battle with fussy eating, see The Contented Child’s Food Bible which I have co-written with Great Ormond Street Hospital’s specialist dietician.

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We are vegetarian and I’d prefer my baby to have a vegetarian diet, but I don’t want to put her at any health risks by not giving her meat. What do you advise?

Many families nowadays choose a vegetarian diet but you are right to have concerns. Whenever foods are eliminated from the diet it’s important they are replaced with suitable alternatives. Not eating meat can cause the body’s iron levels to drop and there is then a danger of developing iron deficiency anaemia. You must replace the meat with iron-containing alternatives.

With a baby under one introduce vegetarian sources of protein such as lentils, eggs and soya. You will find iron in spinach and leeks as well as in dried apricots and raisins. To improve iron absorption give your baby orange juice with his meals once she can hold a beaker and is ready to take a drink with her lunch and tea. Keep plenty of dairy products in your baby’s diet as well, such as yoghurt and cheese.

You also need to be aware that too much fibre is fine for adults but not so for children where it can fill them up before they have eaten enough and can inhibit the absorption of some minerals. To avoid this happening, once your baby is ready for finger foods offer white toast rather than wholemeal. Give white pasta as well rather than the wholemeal variety.

It is worth investing in a cookery book that has vegetarian recipes for children in it as this will give you plenty of choice. Hopefully you will all be eating meals together before long.

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My baby is five months and is very enthusiastic about the fruit he has tasted, but he refuses to eat the vegetables I have offered him. I’m worried he will develop a sweet tooth.

A sweet tooth can be a real problem as your child’s teeth can be damaged, so it’s best to nip the problem in the bud at this early stage. In my experience babies are less likely to develop a sweet tooth if they are offered more vegetables than fruit in the early days of weaning.

Many root vegetables are sweet so I would go back and try again with carrot puree, sweet potato and parsnip. Try to buy organic vegetables where you can as they will have more flavour. Home-grown produce is ideal as it will be super-fresh from your garden.

You can try mixing the vegetables in with some baby rice to make it more palatable. Never force feed a baby and remove the food if he gets upset, but keep offering it every day until he accepts it. He is changing and growing every day, so you just need to persevere. Once he is happy to eat carrot and sweet potato, you can mix in the less sweet vegetables such as green beans, courgette and broccoli.

The early stage of weaning is all about first tastes, so try not to worry too much. It won’t be long before your baby’s repertoire will expand to include all sorts of meals into which you can add plenty of vegetables. When they are part of casseroles and sauces he will find them much more enjoyable.

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I have read your advice about giving my baby home-cooked food, but the jars in the supermarket seem to be nutritious and there are even organic ones these days. Is it really necessary to cook everything myself?

There is a huge market now for commercial baby food and I understand how tempting the jars appear, with all their promises of organic ingredients and guarantees of no preservatives and colourings. But I strongly advise cooking everything yourself. Over the years I have found that many babies who are weaned on commercial foods grow so used to the bland flavours that they will refuse to eat family meals once they are old enough. You are aiming at establishing life-long healthy eating habits for your child, so even though they are convenient try to restrict them to when you are travelling or eating away from home.

There is no substitute for home-made food. It tastes better, you have control of every ingredient that goes in and you can alter the textures as your baby develops. Jars of baby food labelled from 4 months will be completely smooth purees, whereas those labelled from 7 months will contain lumps. If you move your baby from purees to lumps in one go it could be quite an ordeal. When you cook food yourself, you can find a middle ground such as finely mashed textures. Remember that the swallowing and chewing of lumps is linked to speech development and is an important stage for a baby.

If you are going to buy commercial baby food, you must get into the habit of reading the labels very carefully and not falling for the marketing hype. Did you know that drinks labelled “fruit drink” are nothing like fruit juice and often contain just a small amount of concentrated frozen fruit juice (lower in vitamins than fresh) and are bulked up with water and sugar. Look out for the carbohydrate levels on labels because sugar is also a carbohydrate – if a food label lists carbohydrates as 17g and sugar as 14g, you know that only 3g of what is listed is the actual starch, vital for energy to growing children.

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My eight-month-old baby enjoys his solids but has recently become very constipated. It is making him irritable and he has gone off his milk feeds. What can I do?

Fluid intake is very important in avoiding constipation. Loss of appetite is also a common symptom. Keep a careful eye on his milk consumption, including what you use in cooking and check that it is at least 12oz (350ml) a day. Offer him plenty of water at mealtimes and in between to try and relieve the constipation and hopefully his appetite for milk will then increase.

Constipation can be caused by lack of fibre in the diet. If he is eating a lot of processed food this is often low in fibre and high in fat. Fat can slow down the rate food moves through the digestive system causing it to get clogged up and make your baby very uncomfortable. If you are feeding him commercial foods, stop immediately and try to include high-fibre foods such as wholemeal toast and pasta, brown rice, wholegrain cereal such as porridge or Weetabix, plenty of raw or lightly cooked vegetables and dried fruit such as apricots and raisins.

If he does not get better quickly after increasing his fibre and fluids, the constipation may be related to an allergy or digestive problem and you should consult your GP.

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