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weaning
10 Minutes

Ask the expert: the latest science around weaning with @naturedockids

We speak to  Lucinda Miller founder of Naturedoc about all things weaning. She is a family Naturopath and specialist in functional medicine practising for over 20 years. Her clinic focuses on nutritional therapy dealing with everything from allergies to autoimmunity to neurological development. We talk about everything from the latest science on healthy weaning, to long COVID, to the microbiome and allergies and much more! 

For the full podcast conversation click here – for the key highlights read on! 

If you can get children’s health right from the start then you have a much better future ahead of you… 

In our clinic we see lots of children. They all have complex issues, from reflux, to multiple allergies to eczema to autism and downs syndrome. We see a whole range. Of course with these things there are some instances of genetics, but, our aim is for children to become the best versions of themselves.

Food is something that you, as a parent, are in control of: 

Nutrition is the building block for brain, immune and gut health. It is a fantastic place to start when it comes to your baby’s health. 

‘I can’t believe it’s baby food’:  

Is the title of my book. Fundamentally I believe that babies learn from their parents how to eat and what to eat. Eating together as a family as much as possible helps a baby to explore different foods, tastes and textures. I always ate the same food as my children and it worked really well for us. 

Weaning is such an important stage to get your child to enjoy a whole range of textures, tastes and nutrition: 

The good news is that if you’re home cooking you can adjust to your needs. So if your child needs more iron you can add in things like bone broth and liver. If your child is run down and needs more Vitamin C you can use more red peppers, citrus. Prunes and Apples if they’re a bit bunged up. Its much better than grabbing a pouch which is very sugary and blasted of many nutrients. 

Time is of the essence… 

We are all pressed for time. Making your own can seem daunting, but doing batch cooking and cooking for the whole family really helps. A lot of the first baby purees are so delicious and nutritious that mum can have them in a smoothie, you can also freeze in ice cubes for teething. There are lots of easy clever ways to cut time. As long as you don’t add salt or honey the baby can have it. It can be as simple as adding a bit of formula/breastmilk or stock to make it easier for a small baby. 

But how do you know when your baby is ‘ready’ to wean? 

Most of the big organisations say six months. However, over the last 20 years advice has swung between 4 months to 6 months. However, I believe it is very individual and it is about being in tune with your own baby. Even between babies within the same family it can vary (I weaned my own children at different times depending on their needs). One thing I would say is that you shouldn’t wean before 4 months but most babies are getting ready to wean between around 5, 5.5-6 months old depending on their personal development. 

Signs to watch for: all about their developmental milestones: 

A lot of this is simply to ensure a baby isn’t likely to choke. Signs a baby us ready: if he/she can sit up on their own in a high chair, if they are able to physically take their hand to their mouth. Finally one additional sign: there is a reflex that all babies are born with where they press their tongue straight out – rejecting what you put in. If you feed a baby too early they are likely just to push the food out – a good sign that he/she is not quite ready. 

Allergies are becoming more common: here is the best way to approach to reduce risk: 

Firstly, the children who are most likely to have an allergy are those who have cow’s milk protein allergy already diagnosed. Similarly those who have a family history of it, eczema and whether the child/mother has had antibiotics in early days. 

Higher risk of allergies right now than ever before… 

We are seeing more of it than ever before. Interestingly, Covid seems to be upregulating the histamine pathways, at least in what we see in the clinic. Plus covid has meant we are exposed to less bugs, there is more sanitising. Less good bacteria to boost the gut and immune system. (For more on the science around this click here). 

The first 2-4 weeks of weaning are key when it comes to allergies: 

This is the key window to try and introduce as many allergens as possible. There have been big studies done (LEAP/EAT) for Peanut/Egg allergy (click here to read more from Professor Gideon Lack lead researcher behind these studies) confirming this. The research has found that if you introduce it early on you’re less likely to develop an allergy. You do need to be under a paediatrician to do this but the earlier you introduce the less likely to are to develop an allergy. 

Start low and slow. Click here for a list of the top allergens. 

Most people react the second time not the first to an allergen: 

Make a list of 14 top allergens (see above) and over 28 days try each one twice. It only needs to be an absolutely tiny amount at first. A tiny bit of peanut butter mixed into apple puree for example. Peanut is a good one to start with before other nuts. Then you could go to egg (key allergens) plus dairy and soy are the most likely to cause issues. 

Other allergens to be aware of…

There are some other allergens which are not ‘key allergens’. These are common to get reactions but not necessarily IgE. These tend to be histaminic: like strawberries, avocado, tomatoes and bananas. Babies often get a rash of some sort around the mouth or a bigger, itching, going red. 

Food intolerances:

This is where there is a delay. ie. they may not show an obvious allergy but the next day/day after they may have loose bowl, be sick during the night, fractious and irritable. If that’s the case then you would park that food for a while. Unless they have anaphylactic reaction you would wait a while and try it again. If in doubt speak to your doctor. 

Why a baby may not be ready for a particular food but could be ok with it later on: 

A baby is born with a Th2 dominant immune system which means they re more likely to be allergic. It is a protective mechanism but is why in the first six months you have to be very careful with hygiene. At around 6 months it becomes more Th1 dominant ie. more normal and adult like. This rebalance helps fight infection and is better able to adapt to the environment: grass, egg etc. However, sometimes babies with genetic predisposition, with antibiotics, reflex medications or where there is imbalance in the mother’s microbiome can cause a delay in the switch from Th1 to 2 dominance and this may mean that slightly down the line they then adjust. Thats why with a Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy for example, is suggested to wait until 12 months to start the milk ladder. We want to help build tolerance for these exposures. 

Strong connection to the gut microbes:

Often we find in our clinic (via stool testing) that babies who are reacting in some way to foods do not have enough of the ‘good guys’ in the gut microbiome to build healthy immune system and reduce inflammation. They also often mirror the bacteria in the mother’s microbiome. We want to build a healthy balance via food and probiotics. 

How a mother can lay strong foundations in the earliest days: 

A few weeks before you give birth some dendritic cells pass from your gut lining to the back of your breast tissue. The bacteria from mum’s tummy then goes into breastmilk. We do a lot of work with this. Which is another reason why this food is as important for both mum and baby. 

Food for the microbiome: meat stock: 

A baby’s iron stores really start to deplete from 6 months. Babies who have been weaned only on things like fruit/carrots etc and not getting additional iron. The old thinking was that you start with fruit/veg and carbohydrates. However, it is now known that babies are quite good at digesting protein and fat and in fact they are not great at digesting carbohydrates. Like baby rice which was an original favourite.  

The practical approach: 

It’s not easy to get a very young baby to eat meat. So I would take a roast chicken and then I would turn it into a broth overnight without salt with some veg, bay leaves and then would turn into ice cubes which I would add to a blend of veggies. It made it very delicious, has fat, glycine and amino acids and helped the baby digest the starch. Liver is another good one which is soft – I have a Chicken liver pate recipe in the book with cranberry which is antimicrobial too. 

Optimising your baby’s gut – especially for a baby with antibiotic/C Section exposure: 

The main thrust is lots of fresh, whole, bold coloured foods. There aren’t many things to leave out. Meat and fish can also contribute. The key is a varied diet as quickly as possible. Eating the rainbow plus fibre. Fruits, veg, pulses, nuts and seeds (ground up to ensure no chocking). If your baby can tolerate dairy you can get kefir and live yogurt. 

Pouches have often been sitting in there for 1-2 years! 

The trouble with these baby food pouches that you can buy is that they have been heat treated. They have to have long shelf lives, all the microbes have been zapped. So, these foods probably won’t enhance the microbiome. 

Puree vs. baby led weaning: what’s the best way? 

I believe in a bit of everything. Sitting in one camp or another cuts out a whole plethora of wonderful foods. Some of the baby-led only pitfalls can be you get an imbalance of crunchy beige foods/no sauce. It can also be harder to get protein and healthy fats into a baby. In my book I have put in lots and lots of amazing baby-led crunchy waffles, cookies, pancakes that are supercharged with nutrients so even if you go 100% baby-led you can get lots of nutrition in easily. But as adults we like variety so babies are the same. It’s all about different textures, some foods we pick up with our hands, some we eat with a spoon, it keeps it more interesting for everyone. 

First foods: is baby rice always the best start? 

Grains do play a role. Porridge for breakfast is great. The trouble tends to be things like white rice, processed baby cereals which can be very refined and high glycemic. That means you get spikes in blood sugar making a baby feel full but not for very long. This can set up a rollercoaster within the body. This is why I prefer slow release carbohydrates like sweet potato, carrots, beans, pulses, lentils and chickpeas. Oats, buckwheat, millet and quinoa. You can get individual flakes of these grains that you can blend up easily and buy individually (often online).  

Rice is generally high in a toxin called arsenic: 

This can be a problem whether it is organic or not. Unfortunately it is due to the way rice is grown. Some manufacturers are more on top of it than others. There are European guidelines that have to be met, but they still tend to allow relatively high levels. The trouble is you’re never quite sure and it can be quite varied. Rice once or twice a week is great but all the time is not necessarily the right approach.

The wonder of overnight oats…

So far, I have not found a baby cereal I am happy with so I prefer making my own. Blitz up the grain of choice, keep them in a glass jar and you can choose different blends giving you lots of versatility. Quinoia and Buckwheat are very nutrient dense and protein rich which is another benefit. 

Overnight oats are delicious. You can soak the oats in apple, yogurt, raisins (a prebiotic to boost the gut microbiome). You can also do with other grains (particularly good for a baby with a sensitive tummy). You can also soak in breastmilk, formula or even nut milk depending on where your baby is. 

Is COVID really giving us more allergies?! 

We have a big clinical team around the UK. We see adults and children and we have seen so many people with long Covid. Interestingly the bulk (although not all) of them appear to present with high histamine issues. Signs of histamine intolerance include things like breathlessness, dizziness, rashes to diarrhoea, fatigue and brain fog. When it comes to babies, the foods I’d be cautious with in this case: avocado, tomato, banana and spinach. You may see that they just aren’t quite right after eating it. Skin rash, irritable, sore tummy. 

Quercetin from 12 months: appears to have a positive effect:  

In some of these cases we are giving the nutrient Quercetin as it down regulate histamine pathways and it has been really helpful. Vitamin C is also absolutely critical. There are some low histaminic ways to get more Vitamin C, like parsley and red pepper (which I use a lot of in my recipes). I have histamine issues myself so am very aware of this. The NHS have not yet caught up with this and are only now bringing babies and children in for care for long COVID. But it is something we are seeing a lot of. It’s worth reaching out for help if this is something impacting you. 

For more from Lucinda: 

Check out here site Naturedoc – click here. 

Or her Instagram @naturedockids.

Lucinda’s book: ‘I can’t believe it’s Baby Food’ is available to pre-order now and out on 20th May. Click here. 

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This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

 

 

 

 

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