Everyone wants the best for their child, especially when it comes to their diet. When you’re at the start of the weaning journey though, it can all seem like a minefield. What to do and when – and where to start? Annabel Karmel will advocate for purees, and the baby led weaners will insist that steamed carrot sticks are the way forward. Your friends will have differing opinions based entirely on what worked for them. Mumsnetters will tell you four thousand different things. As always though, you are the parent, you are in charge. So all you have to do is simply read the evidence, and then make decisions based on the evidence, and on what feels right for you and your baby.
The World Health Organisation states that ‘infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.’ (It is a sad truth that with regards to breastfeeding, the vast majority of women in our country are not supported nearly well enough; as a result only 1% of mothers are breastfeeding exclusively by 6 months despite this recommendation.)
Previous generations were told to start weaning their babies much earlier, before it was understood that an infant’s digestive system was too immature to cope with solids before six months of age. So beware the mother in law who suggests putting the Sunday roast in the blender for your four month old; stay strong and stick to your guns.
The baby led weaning method may improve fine motor skills but the puree method may get a bit more food into your child. If you are out and about a lot the hand held foods may make life easier, or maybe you’ll prefer to pop a tub of mush in your buggy. But we are living in a world where many children starve to death every day – in the great scheme of things, how you feed your baby doesn’t really matter. You’ll probably end up doing a bit of both; some of those steamed carrots with some pureed parsnip as well, and the odd breadstick with some yoghurt spooned in afterwards.
‘Up until one, eating is just for fun’ – so spend these second six months of your angel’s life helping them to simply enjoy food. Milk is still the main part of their diet and so you needn’t worry too much about how much food they are getting. Babies aren’t daft – they get what they need. Your job is simply to expose them to as much delicious as you can. It’s messy – but fun! There is nothing like watching someone taste a strawberry for the first time. Bit like the first time they see the sea or snow. It’s a little bit of magic happening right there in your kitchen.
And now for the controversial part. This will not make comfortable reading for most. I became a vegan nine months ago after discovering that the meat, dairy and fishing industries are destroying our planet faster than any of us can even begin to comprehend. (If we continue to demand meat, dairy and fish at the rates we are currently devouring it, we will need TWO PLANET EARTHS by the year 2030.) I also learnt more about the desperate cruelty of the industries, and also the very real dangers of eating animals and their secretions, and decided to cut all animal products out. (You can read about our journey into veganism here.)
Extensive research that has been conducted over the past fifty years confirms that the healthy consumption of flesh is an oxymoron. (An example can be found here, but note that of the iceberg, this is only the tip.) We are not designed to eat meat, and when we do our bodies pay the price. Dairy too, an infant food not even intended for human consumption, is hugely detrimental to health. There are 51,000 species of mammal on planet earth and we are the only one who consumes the breastmilk of another. Over 70% of the population are intolerant to dairy, (it is designed to grow baby calves, not humans), and research proves that the number one cause of colic is intolerance to cow’s milk proteins in the diet of the breastfeeding mother or in formula. Dairy is full of casein, the biggest cancer promoter ever discovered, and growth hormones which clog pores and cause acne and eczema. The calcium in milk is poorly absorbed compared to plant based calcium, and addictive dairy products such as cheese are packed with saturated fat and cholesterol which increase the risk of heart disease. The idea that you need dairy to get calcium is a lie sold to you by the dairy industry – calcium is a mineral found in the ground. Calcium, not cowcium. Fish is bad for us too. It contains no fibre or vital phytonutrients, too much mercury and too few omega-3s. It is also contaminated by all sorts of nasties, and damages our bodies nearly as much as overfishing damages our oceans. Scientists estimate that by 2050 the human population will be immune to antibiotics. A threat greater than that of Ebola or even cancer. Why? Because 70% of all antibiotics produced are given to livestock.
I had none of this information when I was weaning my babies. I worked from the healthy eating pyramid that is practically tattooed onto all of our minds, so familiar is it to us all. I fed my babies vegetables, fruit, dairy, meat, and fish. It was fun and messy and exciting, and not for one second did I consider that what I was feeding them was in any way unhealthy. I worried about sugar obviously, and tried (and still try) to keep them away from processed foods, but serving up chicken casserole, roast beef, toad in the hole and fish pie gave me a great sense of satisfaction. I fed them the diet I had grown up on and was very pleased when they ate it all up.
Now I know what I know I wish I could go back in time and do it all again very differently. Eating behaviours are learned through very early experiences with food and eating, and I regret feeding them the addictive foods I fed them in their infancy. Today nearly a third (31%) of children aged 2–15 are overweight or obese – a figure that could be significantly lowered if more parents knew the damage that meat and dairy (and sugar of course) cause. I don’t feel guilty – we can only do our best from our own level of awareness and I simply didn’t know any better, but I’m angry that I was so unaware. There are reasons why all this research has been hidden from us for years, and they all stem from corporate greed. (The pyramid above was designed by the dairy industry itself.) My children are now fully and very happily vegan but the transition was hard for them because they were addicted to meat and dairy – as are 99% of the population in the West.
I hope that if you’re reading this as you venture into weaning, it may help you and benefit your child. If this information is new, you may well be feeling very shocked, maybe angry, probably extremely doubtful of the truth of it, so strongly is food culture ingrained in us all. I understand that, but urge you to seek out the information for yourself, digest it, and then make an informed decision for yourself as well as for your child. It could change your life and the future of your whole family. Being vegan is easy, delicious and really exciting – message me if you want to find out more!
‘Comfortably Unaware’ by Richard Oppenhanger
‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer
‘Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows’ by Melanie Joy
Documentaries (all on Netflix):
‘What The Health’
‘The Kids Menu’
‘Forks Over Knives’
Vidoes and Speeches: