I always struggle to answer parent’s questions about feeding routines in babies that are going through the weaning process (when solids are introduced). It would be lovely if there was clear scientific evidence for what exactly to do when solids are introduced but the truth is that there is no clear evidence of what to advise parents, as babies are different sizes, have different growth velocities and different hunger and satiety patterns. I also think that it is really important to take into account other siblings and meal patterns at home, when thinking about a baby’s routine.
The best way to address this question (I think) is to start by thinking what we know in regards to baby’s routines:
- In the early stages of weaning the majority of nutrients will come from breast milk or formula and this will remain an important part of the diet until around 1 year of age (give or take)
- After 6 months of age babies will need some of the key nutrients to come from food and this includes iron rich foods
- The responsive feeding style has been shown to be the most effective in early childhood (see blog on feeding difficulties). To be responsive as a parent around mealtimes, means you listen to their hunger and satiety cues – if they want to stop you stop if they want more you give more (it’s not driven by specific portion sizes)
- It is important to broaden the variety of tastes and textures early on, because > 10 months of age it becomes much harder introduce new foods and increase textures
So, when you start weaning, I usually suggest keeping the milk (breast or bottle) routine exactly the same and introduce a midmorning solid. Initially this may just be a couple of teaspoons and you may find that these initial vegetables/fruit do not displace any feeds. It is important to know, that fruit and vegetables do not replace the energy, fat and protein rich breast milk or infant formula. You will soon see whether your child wants to progress faster (i.e. they want bigger portions, they exited about the meal and do really well with new tastes/textures). If your baby is progressing well, you can introduce 2 meals per day quite soon (even if this is within the first week of weaning) and at this stage you may find that they start signalling that they may not want to drink all of their milk. You an follow their lead at that stage and reduce the breast/bottle feed that they are not that interested in.
Introduce iron rich protein foods soon after 6 months, which then allows you to go onto 3 meals per day. At this stage, your baby should naturally signal that they want to cut down some of their feeds, so you may end up with a routine as below:
Early morning breast feed/bottle
Breastfeed/bottle – depending on the age of the baby you could cut out either midmorning or mid-afternoon feed and replace with a snack (i.e. yoghurt and fruit)
I do sometimes have parents that report that their baby eats big volumes and do not want to cut down any breast/bottle feed. If this happens, it is worth to check growth and see whether your baby is moving up excessively in weight gain. If this is the case, I would recommend you talk to a dietitian to see what can be done to prevent early onset overweight/obesity.