A baby's kidneys take up to four months to mature enough to cope with waste products from solid foods. During the first four months of life the lining of the gut develops and for these reasons experts advise waiting until at least four months (17 weeks) before introducing solids. If they are introduced before this time when the baby has not got a complete set of enzymes to digest food properly, the digestive system could be damaged and there is evidence that gastroenteritis will be more common.
The most recent advice from The Department of Health which many of you might have read or heard about, is based on that of the World Health Organisation. It recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. This report obviously applies to many different countries and cultures around the world.
In Britain, The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) which informs the Department of Health regarding policy has said that there is sufficient scientific evidence that exclusive breastfeeding for six months is nutritionally adequate. It has, however, stated that it is common practice in the UK for mothers to wean babies at 4 months and that all babies are different and mothers' circumstances vary greatly.
The advice, put simply, is that waiting until 6 months will not harm your baby. Once your baby has reached 17 weeks, you will need to watch him carefully for signs that he is ready to wean and discuss weaning with your health visitor or GP. The signs are listed on page 190 in The New Little Contented Baby Book and in my weaning book.
If you, your health visitor or GP feel your baby is ready, you can follow my weaning plans which will help you introduce the right foods in the right order.
If you decide to wait until six months to wean your baby you will have to accept that he may go back to needing a feed at 10pm. He might even need a feed in the night as well until solid food is introduced. Once you start weaning you would also need to give him larger amounts than those recommended in my weaning plan for 4-5 months and you will need to move more quickly through the food groups to ensure he gets everything he needs for his growth and development. I'd advise introducing new foods every 2 days or so.
Remember the iron stores a baby is born with have been depleted by the time he reaches six month s.. Iron helps us to make healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. Unfortunately, lack of iron is the most common deficiency in the UK, and is found in about 12 per cent of children between 18 and 29 months.
The symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia include poor appetite, tiredness, lethargy and even fractious behaviour. Babies and children who are anaemic tend to cry a lot, are clingy, difficult to rationalise with, and are more prone to temper tantrums.
It is important that you introduce iron-rich foods during the six month. Formula milk contains iron, if you are using it. Beans, lentils, broccoli, green leafy vegetables,dried fruit and breakfast cereals and baby foods fortified with iron are all good sources iron during the first stages of weaning. Once your baby is used to digesting reasonable amounts of these foods it is important that you progress quickly onto animal foods which provide the best source of iron. Red meat has the highest content of iron, followed by fish and chicken and it is important to remember that iron is absorbed much better from animal foods that from plant foods.
If you decide that you wish your baby to follow a vegetarian diet it is important to seek specialist advice to ensure that animal protein is replaced with the most suitable alternatives.
Paul Sacher's Top Tip
Iron is easily absorbed from meat, but less so from other foods. Consuming something rich in vitamin C alongside iron-containing foods increases the body's absorption of the iron, so try to serve iron and vitamin C combinations, such as lentil casserole and orange juice.