This subject has come up numerous times over the last few weeks on the various forums and Facebook pages of which I am a member and opinion on when and how you should wean a preemie is varied.
I was given a Bliss fact sheet and booklet by the hospital where Littlebit finished her 7.5 week stay. Both can be downloaded here. I found these invaluable as the advice for a preemie is quite different to term babies.
The government guidelines for a term baby are that you shouldn’t wean until they are 6 months old, however premature babies aren’t included in that guideline. Bliss recommends that a preemie be weaned onto solid foods between 5 and 7 months actual age from birth. No correcting here!
I was lucky enough to be provided with Leicestershire Nutrition and Dietetic Service premature baby weaning guidelines by my health visitor. The ones I have linked to have been updated slightly since I was given them. Back then there was a timetable, in weeks, on what you should be offering. Their recommendations are very similar, though they extend by a month, suggesting you should wean between 5 and 8 months actual age.
The reason that preemies aren’t included in the government guidelines is because it is recognised that they have usually missed out of some of the normal nourishment that occurs in the womb in the last trimester of pregnancy. Some preemies need a little more nourishment to help them “catch up” and some may take longer to wean than a term baby. Especially babies who have been on oxygen for any length of time.
Littlebit, being the 2lb 4.5oz dot that she was and being quite slow to gain weight compared to some of the other babies on our unit, had a lot of catching up to do.
The signs for whether a preemie is ready to wean are pretty similar to that of a termie. See here. How the guidelines seem to differ is that a preemie can be supported into a sitting position, where a termie should be able to support themselves.
There is also some brilliant information on weaning your 5-8 month old from HiPP Organic. I received a booklet on weaning from HiPP when Littlebit was about 4 months old and it was invaluable.
I knew Littlebit was ready when she went from regular 3 to 4 hour breast feeds to literally wanting to feed all the time. This was different for us than for a lot of breast feeders as Littlebit never really fed on demand. We did try it but her weight gain slowed, dramatically, so we went back to the seemingly regimented system we had in the NICU and SCBU, feeding every 3 to 4 hours and her weight gain shot up again. It was what worked for us, though I know it’s not the recommended method.
She also chewed everything she could get her hands on, and in fact her hands if there was nothing else around and she watched us eat avidly, watching every mouthful.
We started weaning at 5 and a half months. She was definitely ready!
We were lucky enough to have been offered a second hand Bumbo seat. This was perfect for weaning as Littlebit couldn’t sit up on her own, though could easily support her head. The pictures below show us using it on the dining table, we would only do this if we didn’t need to move away from the table during the feeding so she’d never be left on her own in it (just a disclaimer there, you never know!) First we tried a mouthful of baby rice, I’d actually made up about 5 mouthfuls as I was a bit heavy handed. The recommendation was 1-2 mouthfuls. Well, she wolfed it down and when I took it away cried blue murder so we scraped it clean.
Then I tasted it, and yuck! There was no way she was having that again, it had absolutely no taste. So, next day I started batch cooking. Butternut squash, sweet potato, carrot, parsnip, potato, apple and pear all in ice cube sized portions. Our kitchen was like a baby food production line for days. I also made a decision that I would only buy organic from then on in and I would taste everything I was expecting her to eat first.
Littlebit tried some butternut squash on the second day and we never looked back. Seriously, everything she tried she loved. There was no stopping her. I remember calling the HV one day, worried that we were moving too fast, as on week two she was having the week four foods. Our health visitor told me to let her set the pace and as long as she was not bringing it back up, not dropping her milk feeds and was weeing and pooing as normal then not to worry.
Meat, fish, cheese, veggies, all manner of fruits. A taste of chocolate at Easter (pictured below). You name it, Littlebit would eat it. We mixed the cubes together, some really weird combinations too and she’d gobble it up. Proof, if proof were needed, that she was ready for new tastes.
Littlebit was onto finger foods by 9 months old.
When I was pregnant and before I knew what was to come I had done quite a bit of reading into weaning and really wanted to do baby led weaning. Obviously this wasn’t an option for Littlebit but those first few days of finger feeding were brilliant.
One thing I think it’s important to remember and get your head around if you need to, is that weaning is a messy business. I quite easily could have been one of those mums with a wet wipe at the ready, all the time. Cleaning as I went. But I personally think that’s dangerous. A baby could easily pick up on an ‘clean freak’ vibes and then learn to dislike the sensation of food, or other stuff for that matter, on their face and hands. I would occasionally clean during (when she got it on her head or in her ears as below) but generally we didn’t touch the wet wipes until the end of the meal, hard as this was for me sometimes.
This is after eating her first HiPP cocoa and vanilla desert. I was quite disappointed that she ate it all, it smelt lovely!
Baby baking, pictured above helped with this too I’m sure as mess was an understatement. You can read more about baby baking here and here. I can safely say that Littlebit doesn’t mind getting covered in food now a days.
Another important element to weaning that I found was choosing the right highchair. Once she was too mobile for the Bumbo she needed a highchair that wouldn’t swamp her. There are so many out there that just swallow her up…
The bigger, padded ones we find difficult, even now. The picture above was only taken a few months ago and she really struggled with that chair. It was like Peter Kay’s emergency chairs scenario. The best we found was this one from IKEA with the inflatable insert. The insert meant that it really supported Littlebit in a sitting position until she could sit completely unaided, that’s when we took it out. I actually bought two and kept one deflated in the changing bag as it really helped in the bigger restaurant highchairs.
And lastly, Ella’s Kitchen who I’ve waxed lyrical about before and Hipp Organic baby food pouches and jars were my “out and about” saving grace. I tried to give Littlebit home cooked stuff as much as possible but found that it just wasn’t convenient when we were out for whole day at a time. So we used their massive variety of options. We found the pouches the best and Littlebit eventually learnt to suck straight from the pouch too, even easier. It gave her more variety of tastes too, some of their recipes I’d never have thought of making and mixing together for her.
One last word on weaning a preemie, or a termie for that matter. Be prepared for the poo! That’s all I shall say, just BE PREPARED!
As an added bonus I also have a free giveaway courtesy of the helpful and weaning friendly HiPP Organic. You can win a range of stage 1 products, all you need to do is:
1. follow @HiPPOrganic on twitter
2. follow @pinkwellies79 on twitter
3. comment below telling me you have done 1. and 2. and leaving a method of contact.
Here’s the prize:
HiPP Creamy Porridge, HiPP sweet squash and chicken jar, HiPP vegetable with rice and chicken jar, HiPP cheesy spinach and potato bake jar, HiPP just fruit apple and pear pots, HiPP apple, strawberry and banana pouch, HiPP mango, apple and peach pouch.
The competition will close on Friday 17th February and a winner will be chosen at random. Please ensure that I have a way of contacting you when the competition closes. UK Entrants only please.
Disclaimer: while I have not received payment for this post I did receive a few munch treats for Littlebit and the prize giveaway from HiPP Organic.