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New research: What to feed your baby and when

What to feed your baby and at what age can lead to parent anxiety. Credit: PA

Letting your baby feed themselves does not increase the risk of choking, according to new research from Swansea University.

Allowing children to feed themselves solid foods from as young as six months has no more risk than spoon-feeding, claims the research.

More than a thousand mothers with a baby aged between 4 and 12 months reported how they gave their baby solid foods, what foods they gave them and whether their baby had ever choked.

Solids are not recommended until six months of age, but some mothers introduce earlier.

Credit: PA

Dr Amy Brown, Associate Professor in Child Public Health, says overall no difference was found in how often their baby had ever choked amongst mothers who just allowed their baby to feed themselves family foods, used a mixture of spoon-feeding and letting their baby have finger foods, and those who mainly spoon fed their babies.

Credit: PA

Following a baby-led weaning approach where you allow your baby to simply self-feed family foods, rather than preparing special pureed or mashed foods to spoon feed, has been growing in popularity over the last ten years in the UK and other countries.

However some people have expressed concerns over whether this is safe, and might put babies at risk of choking.

This study adds to previous research conducted in smaller sample groups that also showed this approach does not increase the risk of a baby choking, and indeed in the UK, supports the Department of Health recommendation that babies can have finger foods from six months old.

– Dr Amy Brown, Associate Professor in Child Public Health

Babies used to be introduced to solid foods when they were much younger – at three months and then four months, but in 2002 changes were made to recommend solids were not given until six months, due to research showing waiting can reduce the risk of babies having certain illnesses, such as gastroenteritis.

WHAT THE RESEARCH ALSO FOUND:

  • Giving a baby solid foods when they are six months old is very different to giving it at four months old, as babies are not developmentally ready to sit up and swallow food until around this age.
  • At 6 months they can sit up, pick up foods and put them in their mouths and chew, which removes the need for the spoon-feeding of soft foods.
  • Some people worry that a baby feeding themselves might not be very skilled at doing so and as a result may not eat very much, but at 6 months milk should still form the major part of their diet as they get used to tastes and textures.
  • The amount of energy needed from food is relatively small: around 250 calories a day until they are 9 months old.
  • There is no ‘right’ way to introduce a baby to solid foods – the most important part being that you let your baby go at their own pace and provide them with lots of different tastes and textures to experiment with.
Credit: PA

WHAT NOT TO FEED YOUR CHILD

This research from the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests baby-led weaning does not pose a choking risk, as long as those foods known to be a choking risk to babies are avoided.

Although babies are skilled at eating a wide variety of foods and can chew foods well even without teeth, parents should think about what food they are giving their children.

  • Children should not have whole nuts until five years old
  • Babies should not be given very hard foods that can snap into small bits in their mouth, such as raw apple slices and chunks of carrot.
  • They should also not be given gelatinous foods like pieces of sausage, raw jelly cubes or sticky sweets.
  • The new study shows that there was a small increased risk of choking with very sticky foods such as thick chunks of bread that might get stuck, at least temporarily in the throat.
  • Large chunks of very slippery foods which might accidentally slip in a baby’s grasp and be swallowed whole, such as large hard chunks of melon and avocado, or very ripe banana.
  • There was also a small increased risk when spoon-feeding very dry, lumpy purees that if given in too big a spoonful might get stuck in a baby’s throat.

The research also states that regardless of their method of weaning, a caregiver should always stay with their baby throughout a meal.