My daughter Martha was about five and a half months (a littler earlier than the six month government recommendation) when I thought I’d try her on a little baby rice. Amongst my NCT group, weaning was generally going well. Little Isla was happily scoffing her carrot, little Lucas his mashed swede. Meanwhile, Martha’s three-day-older cousin Freddie (a hungrier than average baby, it has to be said) was on three, three course meals a day and devouring whole sticks of broccoli. What could go wrong?
Alas, the weeks slipped by and Martha, bar the odd spoonful here and there, was just not taking to solids.
I tried spoon-feeding and baby-led weaning; I tried pea puree songs and sweet potato dances.
I tried at different times of day, in the high chair, on my knee, at home, in a cafe; I tried spoon-feeding and baby-led weaning; I tried pea puree songs and sweet potato dances. I read all the weaning books I could lay my hands on. All to no avail. Then, suddenly, when Martha was about seven months old, she got it. Five joyous spoonfuls of mashed butternut squash and carrot down the hatch. We were off. Or so I thought….
The truth is, since then, we have had many ups and downs on the weaning journey. Over Christmas, she was going great guns: three meals a day, lots of variety, finger food; a (mostly) happy bunny. After Christmas, it was three weeks of almost complete food refusal and quite a lot of crying. One day, she’ll happily eat my lovingly prepared cheesy fish and leeks; the next day, only if every spoon is dipped in yoghurt first. Sometimes, she’ll take the spoon voluntarily, other times I have to sneak it in while she’s gumming a bit of toast. Then there are the days when I give up completely and let her suck down an Ella’s pouch.
The good (and bad) news is I’m not alone. Online forums are full of mothers with babies who won’t eat this or will only eat that, but what can we do about it? I contacted nutritional therapist Mary van der Westhuizen to help troubleshoot some common weaning problems.
Help! My baby only seems to like one thing. How can I encourage him/her to try new flavours and textures?
If your baby is hooked on yoghurt, or any other food, it may be that this is the only food they feel comfortable with and that they are nervous about trying anything else. To address this, it helps to make very gradual changes to your baby’s diet. For example, if you are giving your baby flavoured yoghurt, try a natural variety; or offer fromage frais instead of “runny” yoghurt; try Greek yoghurt for a change. Then you could add stewed or grated apple or pear to the yoghurt to alter the texture and taste. This approach is aimed at encouraging your baby to accept a wider range of foods without making a dramatic change to their diet.
Help! My over six month old baby won’t sleep through the night. What is the best food to give a baby to keep him/her fuller for longer?
There may be all sorts of reasons (unrelated to food) why your baby is waking in the night. However, if you feel that he/she is genuinely hungry then it is worth focusing on getting your baby to eat some protein (e.g. fish, chicken, beans, pulses) with their last meal of the day. Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates so can help a baby to feel full for longer and may help them to last the night. This assumes, obviously, that your baby is at the right stage in the weaning process for protein, i.e. over 6 months and already accustomed to other foods such as fruit, veg, carbs.
Help! I am often short on time and end up giving commercial baby food instead of cooking fresh. Will this cause problems for my child’s health or eating habits long-term?
In terms of nutrition, a University of Glasgow study published in September 2013 in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood tested over 400 baby food products from leading manufacturers and concluded that shop-bought options are half as nutritious as home-cooked equivalents. Offering your baby a pouch or jar every now and again shouldn’t create a habit but you may find that daily substitution of home cooked purees with commercial baby food could make your baby accustomed to the very fine texture of shop bought puree and less likely to accept bowls of home cooked food or more lumpy consistencies. If you can home cook your baby’s food and give them a varied, balanced diet (protein, carbs and veg) you’ll be giving them the best nutrition and reducing the chance of developing fussy eating habits.
Help! My baby will only eat sweet stuff. What can I do to encourage them to eat more savoury food?
Don’t make a big deal of it. Still offer some sweet things in the form of fruit but gradually reduce the amount of sweet foods that you offer and instead add vegetables and other savoury foods into the mix.
Try giving your baby savoury foods in the form of finger foods. Babies often like feeding themselves and will happily wolf down a cauliflower floret or chopped Brussels sprout when they can hold it for themselves whereas they may not find a mushed spoonful of these vegetables so appealing.
The length of time you cook vegetables can also make a difference. Overcooked broccoli becomes soggy and unappealing to even the most enthusiastic eater compared to the firm texture offered by al dente cooking. I know this from experience. For example, my oldest daughter absolutely loves courgette “spaghetti” but isn’t so keen on larger cubes of steamed courgette.
Help! My baby was eating solid food really well, but has suddenly regressed and now only wants her milk. What should I do?
You may well find that there are some days or a whole week where your baby goes off their food and wants their bottle more. I would relax about this and go with what your baby wants so that you don’t force it but also regularly try to offer food so that your baby has a chance to change their mind. Having said this, if your baby isn’t taking their bottle or solids then see your GP to check there isn’t an underlying medical issue.
Help! My baby is not interested in solid food. Should I be worried?
It’s important to remember that breast milk or formula should be the principal source of nutrition and calories for a baby up until the age of one. This means that you can relax a little if your baby isn’t taking solids as well as you’d like as during the first year.
Having said that, the timing of any extra milk is important as picky eaters also often fill up on fluid which means they can maintain their resistance for longer. A bottle of milk before a meal is as likely to diminish a baby’s appetite as an oat biscuit. Ensuring your child is hungry for a meal will help them to eat it.
Help! My baby cries and purses her lips whenever I try to give her the spoon. What should I do?
When your child is still a baby I wouldn’t push it. It’s different when your child is a toddler and beyond as at this point they are more likely to be playing games, using food to get attention etc. But the first few months of weaning should be relaxed and enjoyable – something they look forward to and relish.
Try not to focus on getting a child to eat everything on their plate; more important is to get them to try everything. Don’t give up on a particular food. Just give it a break. You may find that your child actually likes food that was once rejected when presented in a different form a week later.
Help! Every other baby seems to be wolfing down food apart from mine.
Hard though it can be, don’t compare your baby to others – especially when it comes to eating! Take comfort in the knowledge that even the best eaters can go through a fussy stage and for a myriad of reasons as children’s appetites go up and down depending on the weather, amount of exercise they have had that day, how tired they are, if they are unwell, teething etc. Some children won’t be hungry in the morning but will wolf down their lunch and supper. Try to look at the day as a whole instead of fixating on one particular meal.
Help! Will my fussy eating baby turn into a fussy eating child?
Not necessarily. However prevention is the best cure. Children can become fussy about the texture of foods as much as the appearance or flavour so from early on in the weaning process offer your child foods with a variety of colours, textures and flavours which will prepare them for anything. Children often don’t like to deviate from the familiar so providing them with lots of “familiar” foods will help to ensure they don’t become hooked on one particular food.
- To contact Mary or for more information see maryvdw.com