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Safe Weaning

If your baby already has a diagnosed food allergy or eczema, or if you have a family history of food allergies, eczema, asthma or hay fever, you may need to be particularly careful when introducing foods, so talk to your GP or health visitor first.

Introducing foods that could trigger an allergy:

When you start introducing solid foods to your baby from around 6 months, introduce the foods that can trigger allergic reactions one at a time and in very small amounts so that you can spot any reaction.

These foods are can be introduced from around 6 months as part of your baby’s diet, just like any other foods:

  • cows' milk
  • eggs (eggs without a red lion stamp should not be eaten raw or lightly cooked)
  • foods that contain gluten, including wheat, barley and rye
  • nuts and peanuts (serve them crushed or ground)
  • seeds (serve them crushed or ground)
  • soya
  • shellfish (don't serve raw or lightly cooked)
  • fish

Once introduced and if tolerated, keep offering those foods as part of your baby’s usual diet (to minimise the risk of allergy). Evidence has shown that delaying introducing peanuts and hen’s eggs after 6-12 months may increase the risk of developing an allergy to these foods.

If your child has a food allergy, read food labels carefully. Avoid foods if you are not sure whether they contain the food your child is allergic to.

Signs of a food allergy (can include one or more of the following reactions):

  • diarrhoea or vomiting
  • a cough
  • wheezing and shortness of breath
  • itchy throat and tongue
  • itchy skin or rash
  • swollen lips and throat
  • runny or blocked nose
  • sore, red and itchy eyes

In a few cases, foods can cause a severe allergic food reaction (anaphylaxis), which can be life-threatening. Call 999 and get medical help immediately.

Don't be tempted to experiment by cutting out a major food, such as milk, as this could lead to your child not getting the nutrients they need. Talk to your health visitor or GP, who may refer you to a registered dietitian.

For more information on allergic reactions, have a look at the NHS website.

Your baby may gag when you introduce solid foods. This is because they’re learning to regulate the amount of food they can chew and swallow at one time. If your baby is gagging, this is what may happen:

  • your baby’s eyes may water
  • they might push their tongue forward (or out of their mouth)
  • to bring the food forward in their mouth — they might make a retching movement, or they may vomit

Choking can happen with hard foods, bones and small round foods that can easily get stuck in the throat. Remember, you should:

  • cut small round foods, like grapes and cherry tomatoes, into small pieces
  • peel the skin off fruit, vegetables and sausages (though remember that sausages can be high in salt)
  • remove hard pips or stones from fruit
  • remove bones from meat or fish
  • avoid hard foods like raw carrot, apple, whole nuts and peanuts
  • never give them raw jelly cubes, they can get stuck in the throat

Make sure your little one is sitting up properly in their high chair, and never leave them while they’re eating.

If you think your child is choking and cannot breathe properly:

  • shout for help
  • get them out of the high chair
  • support their chest and chin with one hand and with the heel of your hand - give five sharp blows between the shoulder blades

This will hopefully dislodge the object. Learn how to deal with choking here - or even better, do a first aid course.

It’s important to know which foods are safe for your little one. Here’s a list of which ones to avoid and why:

  • sugary snacks – sugar can cause tooth decay. You don’t need to add sugar to your baby’s food either
  • honey – avoid honey until your baby is 12 months old – it contains bacteria that can lead to infant botulism, a serious illness that can make your baby very unwell
  • salty foods – like bacon, sausages, chips with extra salt, crackers, crisps, ready-meals, takeaways, gravy and meals made with stock cubes. Babies shouldn’t eat salty foods as it isn’t good for their kidneys, there’s no need to add salt to their food either
  • soft cheeses — can contain a bacteria called listeria, these include:
    • mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie or camembert
    • ripened goats’ milk cheese, such as chevre
    • soft blue veined cheese, such as Roquefort
  • unpasteurised cheeses– due to the risk of listeria. Check the labels to make sure you’re buying cheese made from pasteurised milk
  • raw shellfish – this can increase the risk of food poisoning. Children should only eat shellfish that has been thoroughly cooked
  • shark, swordfish or marlin – high levels of mercury in these fish can affect your baby’s growing nervous system

  • fruit juice or smoothies – avoid before 12 months as babies don’t need them. If you do choose to offer them, dilute with water (one part juice to 10 parts water) and offer with a meal in an open cup / free flow beaker to avoid tooth decay
  • squash, fizzy drinks, flavoured milk – even when diluted, these drinks contain lots of sugar and can cause tooth decay. Diet or reduced-sugar drinks are not recommended for babies and toddlers either. For older babies and toddlers, these drinks can fill your child up so they’re not hungry for healthier food. Instead, offer sips of water from a cup with meals.
  • cows’ milk – cows’ milk does not have the right balance of nutrients for babies, so should not be given as a drink before 12 months (however, small amounts can be used in cooking)
  • rice drinks – as they may contain too much arsenic. Avoid them altogether until your child is at least 5 years old
  • follow-on formula – follow-on formula, growing up milks and goodnight milks are not suitable for babies under 6 months, and are unnecessary after 6 months.
  • unsweetened calcium-fortified milk alternatives (such as soya, oat and almond drinks) – avoid before your baby is 12 months (but it’s fine after 12 months)
  • ‘baby’ and herbal drinks – these usually contain sugars and are not recommended
  • hot drinks – tea and coffee is not suitable for babies or young children

Your little one’s immune system isn’t as strong and developed as yours – which means they’re more vulnerable to infections and bugs (which can lead to food poisoning). So, it’s important to take extra care with hygiene and preparing food safely.

Basic hygiene

Give your hands a good wash before preparing food (and straight after if you’re touching raw meat and fish). Also make sure your baby’s hands are clean too – especially if they’re feeding themselves with finger foods

The kitchen

Wash all surfaces for preparing or eating food, especially chopping boards, with hot soapy water (and keep pets away from them). Also make sure all bowls and spoons are washed with hot soapy water.

Your tea-towels, kitchen cloths or sponges can harbour lots of germs, so wash them regularly.

Food

To avoid food waste, decant the amount of food you think your baby will eat – you can always offer more if they’re still hungry. Throw away any half-eaten portions – never save it.

You should also:

  • wash and peel fruit and raw vegetables (such as apples and carrots)
  • keep raw meat in a container at the bottom of the fridge (to avoid it dripping onto other food)
  • eggs – as long as they have the red lion stamp, your baby can eat them raw (for example in homemade mayonnaise), or lightly cooked – this includes hen, duck, goose or quail eggs. If you can’t see the red lion stamp – cook the egg until the yolk and white are firm
  • Make sure any food you cook is piping hot, then let it cool down before serving. Remember to stay with your baby while they’re eating, so you can be sure they are swallowing safely.


    Water

    If your baby is less than 6 months old, sterilise water by boiling it first and then letting it cool right down. Once your baby is 6 months old, you don’t need to do this anymore.

      Storing

      If you’re batch cooking, cool the food down (ideally within one to two hours) and then freeze or refrigerate. If you’re keeping it in the fridge – use it within 2 days. With rice, make sure it cools within an hour and then goes straight in the fridge or freezer. Rice kept in the fridge should be eaten within 24 hours – never reheat it more than once.

      Defrosting

      Defrost frozen food thoroughly before reheating. The safest way to do this is in the fridge overnight, or by defrosting it in the microwave (using the defrost setting).

      Reheating

      When reheating food, make sure it’s steaming hot all the way through, then let it cool before giving it to your baby. If you’re using a microwave, give it a good stir to get rid of any hot air pockets – always check the temperature before feeding your baby. Any cooked food should only be reheated once.

      If you need to cool food down quickly, put it in an airtight container and run cold water over it. Keep stirring so it cools throughout.

    Not sure if your baby is ready for solids yet?
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