Let’s Talk About Weaning
If you’re looking at starting weaning or are getting towards that stage in your little one’s development and wonder how weaning can affect their milk feeds, naps and routine, then you are in the right place! Weaning is one of the most popular topics that I am asked about and so I wanted to share some of my top tips around all things weaning.
First thing’s first
When it comes to weaning, we are looking at starting around 6 months but you can start earlier than that, if baby is showing signs that they are ready. It’s really important to take into account each individual baby’s readiness signs, how they’re doing with their milk feeds and their weight gain and generally their overall development to try and assess whether your baby is ready for weaning. If your baby is ready earlier, then I would take into consideration how they’ve been in the first 3-5 months of their life and, if you feel that there has been any tummy issues or perhaps you have a reflux baby, then do consider whether weaning could help or not.
Some doctors advise to wean a reflux baby early, it isn’t true for all babies. For some it can make their symptoms worse so, of course, do listen to your doctor’s advice and please keep a real eye on their symptoms to note any flare ups. Primarily, for babies who have had reflux brought on by diet (sensitivity to dairy or eggs, which you may or may not know about before you start weaning) you may find whilst weaning that they have a sensitive or underdeveloped gut that can struggle to digest the food you’re now giving them. Probiotics can support reflux babies with weaning, if they are finding it difficult, and just – as you always would with their milk feeds – keep an eye on any reactions that strike you as unusual.
Essentially, you’re asked to wean at 6 months unless you feel that your baby is ready before that. How this goes will depend on your baby. For some babies, weaning can be a revelation! They might be sick less and suddenly have less severe reflux symptoms. When it does help, there can be a huge improvement in baby’s reflux but, unfortunately, when it hinders your baby’s reflux and it gets worse, this is when it can be really difficult to work out what to do. If your baby’s had any reaction to food then you take that straight to your doctor or paediatrician – I’m talking here about babies who have slight reactions that could be linked to reflux; clearly if your baby has a severe reaction then do seek medical support.
Sleep and weaning
I am often asked if you should sort sleep before weaning and I always say that you don’t necessarily have to choose between sorting their sleep and starting weaning. If a baby is sleeping well before weaning that is a really good measure of their tummies – if they’re sleeping brilliantly then go for it! If you have a baby who is not sleeping well or you haven’t fully established a routine – perhaps day naps are very short or they don’t settle themselves to sleep, which for the average 4 month old is fairly normal – then my suggestion would be to try and work on sleep before you start weaning. The reason that I suggest you do this is because I am a big believer that whatever is going on in their tummy massively affects their sleep. If we’ve got a 5.5 month old baby who has been putting on weight fine and starts weaning but they haven’t slept well at night time, because they had to feed often, then there’s a chance that weaning will help them sleep better because they’re fuller for longer.
However, the reality is that I do see a lot of the exact opposite to that: when baby has food if they’re colicky, windy or a reflux baby, then the likelihood is they may well start to sleep a little bit worse. You may find that their day naps get shorter with early waking and, sometimes, you might find that there is more night time waking; maybe babies who were going through the night with 1 or 2 feeds at 4 months old suddenly wake up more when weaning. This would suggest that digestion of food is causing them sleep disturbance or disruption. This might disappear after a couple of weeks (because tummies take time to adjust to what is going on in them) and you may find that they’re just getting used to their food, as it is very different to the milk that they’ve always had.
However if you find it continues to happen and sleep is disturbed for a period of time and you’re sure that their routine is ok, then you might start to consider whether you need to scale weaning back a little and give them a bit less food. If they’re a hungry baby and eating a lot of food very early on you don’t want to take away their interest but if you give more than their tummy can handle it might upset their sleep, so scaling the volume of food back a little can be really key.
There is no exact quantity of food that a baby should eat but it’s around a couple of teaspoons (if that) when you start out and then gradually increase from there. If you find a baby is sleeping well during the day and night time and weaning is going well then you are free to build up the volume but, if that’s not the case, then you could reduce the quantity. If you reduce the quantity and their sleep is still disrupted then I would suggest that you consider adjusting the timings.
Fitting weaning into a routine can be difficult to get your head around! Once you’ve figured out sleeps and naps at 5 months old and your routine is settled, it can feel tricky to know where to fit solids in. I would always suggest that you start with lunch after a milk feed (at around 10.30/11am); give it a good 30 minutes to an hour and then give baby lunch before they go down for their middle of the day nap. I say after milk initially because milk is still the most important part of their diet but, of course, you can reduce this as they move on towards 12 months.
If you start with lunch and they’re sleeping well then great but, if their lunchtime sleep is reduced after weaning, you can think about switching it up and reduce the amount they’re having or do solids at 10/10.30am and then give their milk afterwards. The reason for this is that the milk can help to push food through and help with baby’s congestion a little bit. For some babies this can really help them have a longer lunchtime nap, which is what you want!
Thinking about how you can tweak the lunchtime routine for your baby is really important.
Secondly, rather than start with lunch, you could move that one meal a day towards the start of the day as a breakfast meal. This could be helpful for babies who start waking at around 1-2am after weaning has started. The reason I find that this can be a helpful tip is because some babies just need a lot longer in the day to digest their food and giving them a whole day to digest it means their night time sleep is not affected.
Play around with it – don’t feel you have to stick to “the normal” structure – do what works best for your baby.
Foods and digestion
Generally speaking, the rule of thumb with weaning was always to start your baby with root vegetables, such as carrot and sweet potatoes. I’d say that’s changed a lot over recent years and nowadays parents start more with green vegetables, as they’re more bitter.
One thing that a lot of parents don’t know, when it comes to choosing foods to start weaning with, is that babies have a lot less of the enzyme needed to break down starch, amylase, than adults do and, therefore, the vegetables that can cause more sleep disruption are those high-starch vegetables. You might find that things like parsnip and sweet potato may be too much for your baby, causing constipation, tummy pains and disrupted sleep.
As a parent, you need to decide how much digestive discomfort you’re ok with, for example are you happy for them to eat well and, possible, have the odd disrupted nap or do you want to take weaning a little bit more slowly?
Having a look at the foods you’re giving your baby and seeing how their behaviour and sleep is affected by them is really essential. I’d advise you to keep a food diary and see how they get on, it’s so helpful to refer back to over time.
There are so many ways to approach weaning and you have that amazing opportunity to expose them to such a wonderful array of foods! It’s an exciting time and one to enjoy, whilst keeping a gentle eye on how they respond to foods and taking time to ensure that their tummies do not affect their sleep.
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