We all know the Department of Health’s advice that we should start weaning our darling sprogs when they reach 6 months and not a moment before. Even if our little ones are performing impressive contortionist acts in order to get to our cake (in my experience mums do eat a fair amount of cake in those first 6 months- I certainly did!) we know we must say ‘no, little dumpling, your body is not ready for food yet’.
Or should we……..?
Just over a year ago, researchers released findings that suggested that the WHO and DoH guidelines might be slightly antiquated and that we should be starting our babies off on fruit and veg (the first stage of weaning) at an earlier stage or age.
The researcher argued that breast milk alone was not enough for babies ¹ and that they needed food which contained more calories and provided babies with more iron in their diet. This belief is shared by weaning guru Annabel Karmel who has advised parents to ignore the official weaning guidelines and to start giving babies simple fruit and veg purees after 17 weeks ². She adds that the advice to exclusively breastfeed until 6 months were relevant in third world countries, but misplaced here as ‘people know the importance of sterilisation’.
However, a strong counter argument has been launched by the WHO, DoH and the Royal College of Midwives as they believe changing the official guidelines “plays into the hands of the baby food industry”. The Department of Health maintained its guidelines should stand and didn’t amend them.
I personally feel slightly frustrated that there is yet another sticky (and not the good, jam on fingers type, sticky) topic within the larger field of weaning that seems unclear and unresolved. More importantly, there is no mention of individualism in babies and an acknowledgement that some babies seem very keen to start eating as soon as possible, while others need more time to adjust to food and are happy to wait until 6 months.
When weaning our son, he made the decision fairly easy for us and he didn’t show any interest in food before 6 months. He was quite happy with his Mums milk and seemed quite aghast and a bit peeved that food was being added to the mix (he has since done a 180° and LOVES almost everything). However, and at the other end of the scale, when my friend’s babies were fairly young (around 20 weeks) they felt extremely hard done by if food was present, and they weren’t offered some (and in some cases staged lie down protests which included a full repertoire of agony and despair). If this wasn’t a cue that their babies were ready for food, I’m not sure what is!
So what do you think? Did you wait religiously for the 6 month mark to come before introducing food to your baby, or did you start earlier? Was it you that initiated feeding with your baby, or did your baby let you know when they were ready? I would be very interesting to hear a range of different ‘when to wean’ experiences so do let me know…
Rosie Wright runs weaning workshops for first time parents in Brighton.