our weaning research
Background – why we commissioned the research:
Weaning is a very confusing time for mums – there’s a lot of contradictory information out there and not all of it necessarily correct. Even the official guidelines seem to change every couple of years!
That’s why Plum commissioned one of the most far-reaching new research studies on weaning with one of the country’s leading experts in weaning, Dr Pauline Emmett, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Child and Adolescent Health in Bristol. This involved finding over 11,000 weaning studies from around the globe over the last two decades, of which 109 contained sufficient details to warrant a full review to assess this amazing journey of weaning!
The study is only the start of the work that we are doing to support our mums to trust their natural maternal instincts – there is much more to come over the coming months, such as a Weaning of Life e-magazine (based on the research findings), working with baby charity Bliss to support children who haven’t had the best start in life, and the launch of the Plum Start Foundation.
Plum Survey results:
We recently conducted a weaning survey amongst mums, which found that over half of you were confused by the advice and guidelines on when to start weaning. It also found that babies were all weaned at different ages and mums decided when to wean the baby because of the signs baby was giving them.
The results of this study agree with many experts that weaning should start between 4-6 months, resulting in a two month “Weaning Window”. Before 17 weeks, the digestive systems are too delicate to cope with anything other than milk, and after 6 months babies start needing more nutrients than they can get just from milk.
This “Weaning Window” is the time to introduce as wide a range of flavours possible. The study found evidence that the wider the range of tastes introduced during weaning, the more adventurous baby’s tastes will be later – and the more likely he or she is to have a balanced, nourishing diet in later life. Once the “Window” closes it becomes more difficult to introduce foods that your little one hasn’t got taste buds for yet.
Dr Emmett is an advisor to The Plum Start Foundation – a group of experts who have come together to focus on childhood nutrition particularly in relation to growth and development.
A summary of the studies looking at taste and texture:
In developed countries some longitudinal studies have shown that early experiences with flavours and textures that help to develop food preferences in infancy are important in promoting healthy eating patterns which track into later childhood (Agostoni et al., 2008, Coulthard et al., 2009).For example a liking for a sour taste by infants was related to fruit eating (Blossfeld et al., 2007) and the timing of introduction to lumpy foods was related to being choosy and the frequency of fruit and vegetable eating at later ages (Northstone et al., 2001, Coulthard et al., 2009, Coulthard et al., 2010).
There is a limited window of opportunity for optimal acceptance of different tastes and textures by infants (Birch, 1998), with some suggestion that the ideal time is between 4 and 6 months. According to an authoritative European expert review, it is important to give age-appropriate foods of the correct consistency for both nutritional and developmental reasons (Agostoni et al., 2008).
Quote from leading Paediatric Dietitian, Sarah Almond:
“There is a window of opportunity to for all babies between the ages of 4 and 6 months, and this is the critical time to introduce new tastes and textures. Baby’s taste buds are developing fast and in some cases leaving the start of weaning till 6 months may mean that this window of opportunity has been missed. Research has shown a link between fussy eating toddler behaviour and a reluctance to eat fruit and vegetables if this critical window is missed. Potentially this could lead to poor health outcomes later in life if this eating pattern continues.”
Quote from Dr Pauline Emmett:
“Mothers want to do the best for their babies and this is a key time for them to be receptive to sensible advice from well-trained health professionals. This advice should include information about widening the range of tastes and textures fed to infants while avoiding sugary, fatty or salty snack foods.”
Quote from leading Health Visitor, Nicola Joseph:
“The facts I give to Parents are to stay within the age guidelines, check their weight is appropriate to start weaning, check for cues from your baby, ie they are watching you eat, holding objects in their hands and putting them in their mouths. Make sure they are sitting upright without support and holding their heads without bobbing about (these are for babies growing within ‘normal limits’ and can be subject to change depending on life experiences that have occurred during baby’s first four to six months).
As for health visitor input towards weaning, all health visitors would endeavour to help all of their clients with the trials and tribulations that can occur during this time, this would include joining in with cooking demonstrations, weaning classes for parents and home visits to support but due to the time constraints cause by low staff numbers, heavy case loads and prioritising workloads not all health visitors can fulfil this role. You find that depending on where you live in the country you get a different level of service almost like a postcode lottery, making health visitors different in their roles and not providing a seamless service for all.”
British Mums need more support and advice when it comes to weaning.
There is a lack of consistent information and support for parents leading to many mothers being confused about when and what foods to introduce during weaning (Hart et al., 2010). At present, there is a mass of information surrounding Breast Feeding but very much less about weaning.
• Education – parents need information about the signs to look out for to assess if their child is ready to accept solid food and about what foods are appropriate to feed
• There are few studies following children over many years to establish the long term impact of what infants eat. Most focus on 1st 12 to 24 months only
Health Visitors and Dietitians should play an active role in supporting parents at the time of weaning and should be ready to answer questions when the parents ask them even if it is before their babies reach six months – this should be when mum’s want to talk about it.
At Plum we are determined to help mums give their babies very best start, we promise never to ‘lecture’ and will openly talk to mums about weaning. We are a brand created by a mum for mums and want to support mums and their natural maternal instincts!
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