Dr Zoe Williams, GP, and TV doctor is supporting the Better Health Start for Life weaning campaign. We spoke to Dr Zoe all about the challenges parents face when introducing solid foods to their babies, how best to overcome them, and the impact that modern life and social media can have on the weaning journey.

What are the common challenges parents face when weaning and how can parents overcome them?

I think one of the most common challenges is confusion. Nowadays there is so much information out there online on social media, and sometimes parents might receive conflicting advice from family and friends about when to start or how to approach weaning. The NHS advises starting weaning from around six months, as that’s when most babies are ready, but new research published by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) found that 40% of first-time mums had already introduced solid foods by the time their baby was five months old.

You can tell if your baby is developmentally ready to start consuming solid foods when they display the following three signs at around six months of age:

  • They’re able to stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady
  • They can coordinate their eyes, hands, and mouth so they can see food, pick it up and get it to their mouth
  • They can swallow the food rather than pushing it back out of their mouth

Although, it is important to note, that most babies’ nutritional needs in their first year will come from breast milk or infant formula. So really, weaning is not about ‘weaning milk out’ but instead ‘weaning solid foods in’.

I want to support parents to overcome this confusion about when to start and how to approach weaning, which is why I am working with the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities on this fantastic Start for Life Weaning campaign. The campaign is aiming to raise awareness of the Start for Life weaning hub, which provides parents with weaning top tips, guidance, and information backed by science.

What role do you think social media has played for parents who are introducing solid foods?

Social media can bring both pros and cons. Let’s start with the positives. If you are looking at posts shared by healthcare professionals, then social media is a really good way of accessing reliable information. Charlotte Stirling-Reed, who is a trained nutritionist specialising in weaning, provides helpful advice on social media and shares some great tips on how to be creative when planning recipes.

One of the things that I also found helpful on social media was to see other babies making a complete mess of themselves and their highchair when eating. This helped me to realise that for children to really take to weaning, they’re going to make a mess and that’s normal!

Some of the downsides to social media is that it builds into that comparison syndrome. We know we shouldn’t make comparisons, but it’s difficult to not compare our child to other children of a similar age. Whether it be who’s walking first or who is eating solid foods first, it can affect our judgement when it comes to making decisions about when to start weaning.

The other danger of social media is that it amplifies information that is perhaps not based in science. Sometimes it is not always clear what is science and what is other people’s opinions, this can make the weaning journey even more confusing. That’s why it’s so good that the Start for Life weaning hub is one place where you can get reliable information backed by the NHS.

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How do you think modern life has affected the way parents approach weaning?

Generations ago, parents learned about the weaning journey through healthcare professionals or through family members. Whereas now, we have access to so much more information from different sources, like the internet, Twitter, and Instagram. We also have more information in the sense that there is more research into weaning and infant nutrition, which can help guide us and can allow the NHS guidelines to evolve over time as we learn more.

Another big change we have seen is the rise of convenience foods being sold to aid weaning. Recent reports have shown that some of these products are being labelled in a misleading fashion. For example, packages are labelled with ‘no added sugar’ which might lead to some parents thinking that it contains no sugar. This marketing can mean that parents might be giving babies more sugar or larger portions than they realise.

What role can loved ones play to support the weaning journey?

I think the whole family can support weaning because we know that little ones learn a lot from us as role models. The more that a baby can interact with other people and see other people eating, be that older siblings or parents, the more a baby can learn about eating.

Loved ones can help create a social atmosphere, especially when the whole family sits down at the table to eat together. Even involving a baby during mealtimes from the day they are born, as this is a great way for a baby to feel part of mealtimes right from the get-go.

Let’s face it, sometimes weaning can provoke anxiety among parents, which may in turn result in babies feeling anxious around food. However, having the whole family coming together is a nice way to help make mealtimes fun and relaxed!

The Better Health Start for Life weaning campaign is here to support parents on their weaning journey. The Better Health Start for Life weaning hub is packed with advice, videos and tips, plus simple, healthy recipes. For more information click here.

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