From milk, to food and beyond!

Lucy Upton, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist


Nothing describes a rollercoaster more accurately than the early months with your newborn baby. With the rush of love and amazing bonding experience that many new parents feel also comes numerous unknowns and challenges which can cause high levels of anxiety. Not always having the answer or being unsure of where to look for trusted information can naturally leave some parents feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

The first 12 months of your baby’s life contain many stages which are critical for their health and development. We have listed our top ten tips below to help any new parent feel supported during milk-feeding, the introduction of complementary foods (weaning) and the transition to family foods.

  1. BENEFITS OF BREASTFEEDING – Breastfeeding not only helps protect your baby from illness, but also has some benefits for you, such as a slightly lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It may take time for you both to learn how breastfeeding works best for you, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it! Breastfeeding involves no preparation or sterilization of equipment and is immediately ready at the right temperature. Breastfeeding is also free whereas formula milk costs on average £50 a month.
  2. PROLONG THE BENEFITS – Breast milk, the best option, or infant formula should be given for at least 12 months. As long as breastfeeding continues, your baby will continue to reap the benefits including protection against illness, thanks to the maternal antibodies in breast milk.
  3. VITAMINS ARE VITAL – Breast milk and foods alone are unlikely to provide enough vitamin D, which is essential for bone health. It is advisable to take a Vitamin D supplement from birth to ensure you and your baby are receiving the optimum amount. If your baby is having formula milk, Vitamin D supplementation is recommended once daily if formula intake is less than 800mLs/day.
  4. RESPONSIVE FEEDING Let your baby decide how much milk to drink. Offer feeds when your baby is showing signs they are hungry and remember babies will cry for reasons other than hunger. Responsive feeding is key to preventing over consumption and excess weight gain in babies, so trust your baby and learn to follow their cues.
  5. HUNGRY FOR MORE – When your baby is showing signs they are ready for more than milk, begin to offer food alongside their milk feeds. This should happen by 6 months, but not before 4 months. Complementary foods will provide essential nutrients for health and give your baby the opportunity to learn to like different tastes and manage different textures.
  6. IT’S ALL ABOUT IRON – Offer iron rich foods such as meat, oily fish, eggs, pulses and nut butters, from the start of weaning as this is the most critical nutrient during this time. Pulses, eggs and nuts contain ‘non-haem’ iron, which can be more difficult for the body to absorb than iron from meat sources. Including foods high in vitamin C at mealtimes will improve iron absorption.
  7. DEVELOPING FEEDING SKILLS – Offer spoon-feeding, soft finger foods and a cup of water at all meals so that your baby begins to develop their feeding skills. It is important to be aware that babies develop feeding skills at different rates and that it’s not a race, so don’t worry if your little one is yet to move on from the spoon-feeding stage.
  8. LISTEN TO YOUR BABY – Stop feeding when your baby shows you that they have had enough. Signs include; keeping their mouth closed, pushing food away or turning away from milk or food. Feeding responsively is vital to allow babies to transition from a milk-based to a food-based diet, as food provides more energy and nutrients in a smaller volume.
  9. ALLERGY AWARE – Introduce allergenic foods one at a time, from 4 to 6 months. One allergenic food can be given every day for about three days, and if tolerated should continue to be given regularly (2-3 times per week). The latest research suggests that including these foods regularly as part of the weaning diet may actually reduce the risk of food allergies developing.
  10. TIME FOR TEXTURE – Move onto thick mash with soft lumps between 6 and 8 months then onto minced and chopped family foods alongside firm finger foods between 9 and 12 months. Babies should be offered milk drinks in cups instead of bottles by around 12 months, as prolonged bottle use can impact on teeth and speech development.

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Further Reading

  • Katie Fox, Primary School Teacher   Due to coronavirus, playgroups and nurseries are shut and those children due to start school in a few months will be out of routine and away from friends. It is understandable that many parents are worried about getting their children ready for September. Children learn and progress at different rates so there are no set criteria on what they need to be able to know or do when they first start nursery, but if they have had some experience learning at home it could help to make it a smoother transition. Turn taking games, imaginative play, reading, and developing fine and gross motor skills can promote independence, build confidence and help develop simple skills.
  • Dr Gill Harris, Consultant Paediatric Clinical Psychologist Dr Maddy Harris, Clinical Psychologist   In times of crisis – such as the one we are currently living in – parents may find that the normal stresses of everyday life are magnified and additional worries and concerns emerge. Knowing how to cope may prove difficult, but an approach which has widely been discussed in the media and on social media is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).The premise of ACT is that fears and anxieties are seen as real and cannot be ‘challenged’ away, unlike with cognitive behavioural therapy. By concentrating on our actions we are able to work past our fears. This method may help those struggling with this new chaotic routine we find ourselves in. The Infant & Toddler Forum are here to help with our top tips on how to apply this intervention.
  • Lucy Upton, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist   As social distancing policies are put in place, and schools and nurseries shut their doors indefinitely, keeping your toddlers entertained and active for hours on end during COVID-19 may seem daunting and at times virtually impossible! Parents and carers have been thrown into a cozy and chaotic ‘new normal’ and may wonder how they can meet the recommended three hours a day of physical activity for under-fives who are walking. But do not panic, the Infant & Toddler Forum are here to help make sure you have plenty of ideas to keep your toddler happy and entertained whilst encouraging physical activity.