Teaching grandma to suck eggs? Older generation ‘giving out-of-date advice’ to new mums
New mums are at risk of being given out-of-date baby feeding advice by their own mothers.
Research by British Lion eggs* shows that fewer than one-third of women over 50 with adult children knew that it’s now recommended for weaning to start when babies are around 6 months old. And only 15% of the ‘grandma’ generation knew that foods such as eggs should be introduced early in the weaning process, to help prevent future allergy.
Unsurprisingly, more than half of the over 50s agreed that the advice around weaning is more confusing and complicated than when they introduced solids to their babies.
Four in ten over-50s wrongly expected weaning to start between 3-5 months whereas it is now known that babies’ digestive systems may not be ready for solid foods until around 6 months. The same number of older mothers did not know when potentially allergenic foods such as eggs and peanuts should be introduced, with nearly a third (29%) thinking they should not be given before 12 months of age, which is now known to increase the chance of allergy.
Only 8% of older women would give a runny egg to a baby before 12 months – although British Lion eggs have been deemed safe for babies to have runny since 2017.
Government guidance on introducing solid foods has changed significantly in the past two decades, reversing much of the advice given to parents weaning their babies in the 1980s and 1990s.
“We know that many new mums rely on their own mothers for feeding and other child rearing baby advice so it’s worrying that so many grandparents are not aware that much of the advice given in the 1980s and 1990s is now out-of-date, and are likely to be giving their own children who are now parents the out-of-date advice,” says Bridget Halnan, Fellow of the Institute of Health Visiting,
“Some of the old advice - such as avoiding eggs – may not only deprive babies of important nutrients, but also increase their risk of egg allergy.”
Bridget Halnan has shared her top 5 tips for new grandmas, where advice on introducing solids to baby has changed.
1. When to start introducing solids
In the 1970s, babies were weaned at 3 months, moving to 4 months in the 1980s, but Government advice changed in 2003 to recommend exclusive breastfeeding for a full 6 months before solids should be introduced alongside breastmilk. Currently the NHS advice is that solid foods should be introduced at around 6 months of age.
“It’s best to wait until baby is developmentally ready – there are 3 clear signs that they are ready,” advises Bridget Halnan:
• Staying in a sitting position and holding their head steady
• Co-ordinating their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth by themselves
• Swallowing food (rather than spitting it back out)
“Waiting until around six months helps ensure their digestive systems are ready for solid food and helps makes the weaning process easier for both parent and baby,” says Bridget Halnan.
2. Introducing allergens early
Parents used to be told to hold back on introducing potentially allergenic foods like peanuts and eggs, but now it is advised that they should be introduced when you start solids at around 6 months.
“It’s important not to delay the introduction of eggs to your baby’s diet, as this may help reduce the chances of developing an egg allergy later on,” says Bridget Halnan. “Research has shown that delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods beyond 6-12 months may increase the risk of developing an allergy to these foods.”
3. Serving runny eggs
Previously it was advised that eggs needed to be fully cooked for vulnerable groups such as babies. However, in 2017 the Food Standards Agency confirmed that British Lion eggs can safely be eaten runny, even by pregnant women and babies. All British Lion eggs are stamped with a red lion symbol.
“This is particularly good news as eggs are an ideal food for babies, full of protein and important vitamins and minerals,” says Bridget Halnan, “and in the early days of weaning, babies may find it easier to eat softer textured egg dishes than hard-cooked eggs.”
4. First foods
When previous advice was to start solids earlier, there was a slower progression through different types of food – with baby rice leading to purees. Now babies begin solids around 6 months, variety and texture is key.
“Most babies are given vegetables and fruit first but can quickly move on to a wider selection of family foods such as plain yoghurt, eggs and pulses. However, it is still important to avoid any salt and foods high in sugar, in family foods. You can add this later for the rest of the family if necessary.” says Bridget Halnan.
5. Baby-led v spoon
When weaning started earlier, parents needed to use a spoon to feed but when weaning an older baby many parents now let baby feed themselves with finger foods.
“There is no right or wrong here and many parents do a mix of baby-led and spoon feeding,” says Bridget Halnan.
“Natural foods such as eggs are a particularly versatile option for babies as they can be cooked in a variety of ways – scrambled, boiled, as omelettes or baked in mini savoury muffins. This lends themselves easily to both baby-led and spoon feeding. It is still important to stay with your baby as they learn to eat for themselves but there is no evidence of increased risk of choking if a baby feeds themselves.”
*Research conducted by OnePoll between 9-14 July 2021 among 500 UK mothers 50+ with children 18+