Weaning (to solids, not related to the process of weaning off breast milk) is the process of introducing solid foods to your baby, after completion of six months of age.
The World Health Organization recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed until six months of age, after which complementary foods are introduced, along with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.
How do you know your baby is ready for solids?
- Baby should be at least six months old – this is the World Health Organization’s recommendation on weaning guidelines.
- Baby shows interest in your food, often reaching for or grabbing food off your hand or plate.
- Baby, while not required to be able to sit up on their own, should be able to hold a sitting position for some moments while retaining trunk control and without slumping to the side.
- Baby has lost tongue thrust, which means they stop pushing the food out with their tongue when offered with a spoon.
- Baby is willing to chew – This doesn’t mean baby needs teeth; babies can masticate food with their strong gums, even without teeth!
How do you start weaning?
There are two broad ways in which you can choose to wean your child -
Traditional Weaning is the conventional method of weaning where the child is fed mashed or pureed food in the beginning. The care-giver starts solids for the child by spoon feeding purees or mashed food, for the period between 6-8 months, and starts finger foods for the child at around 8 months. By one year, the child is gradually weaned to family food and eats what the family eats.
- Baby-Led Weaning bypasses the more conventional route of starting weaning with purees and mashed food, while also allowing the child to control what and how much they eat. Baby led weaning allows the child to self-feed from the age of six months when babies are ideally developmentally ready for solids.
The way you choose to wean your child will not potentially impact his growth and development, if you learn to understand your child’s cues and respond in a respectful manner.
Irrespective of the type of weaning you choose, here are a few things you need to keep in mind while weaning your child to solids.
- Have baby join at mealtimes – If your family eats at the table, it would be a good idea to invest in a high chair or booster chair, so that baby can eat with the family at the table. And if you all eat on the floor, give baby a plate and have them sit with you on the floor.
- Baby should always be seated upright at mealtimes to prevent choking.
- Do not focus on quantity; read the child’s cues instead – During the meal, if the child shows signs of refusal to eat, or stops eating the food and starts playing with it instead, end the meal. Do not coax the child to eat more or finish the meal. This will help the child to understand their hunger and satiety cues. Remember, a tbsp of food is a complete meal for a one year old.
- Irrespective of the type of weaning, allow child to handle and play with the food. Mess is good!
- Processed food – Family foods are the best to get your child started on solids. Processed baby foods contain sugar and salt in some cases, which are not recommended for small babies.
- No distractions – That means no screens, no toys and no reading too. Meals are for eating and focusing on the meal will help the baby to understand his hunger and satiety cues better while avoiding choking.
- How many meals? – At six months, we start with one meal, at any convenient time of the day, and keep adding a meal or snack for every forty days or so. At 1 year, baby needs to be having 3 meals and two snacks in a day without dropping their feeds.
- Do we continue to offer milk? – Yes, breast milk or formula continues to be an important part of your baby’s diet, since milk is the primary source of nutrition for a child who is younger than one year. Nurse 15-30 min before offering food.
- Do not add salt to the food – Excess sodium from added salt may damage the child’s immature kidneys. Our daily foods and breast milk contain ample sodium for the baby.
- Do not add sugar to the food - Your baby’s insulin resistance is still under-developed. Adding sugar also sets up the baby’s preference for sweet food, and may lead to the baby not being able to appreciate savory food.
- Do not use honey until child turns one - Honey, a potential source of the spore, Clostridium botulinum may cause infant botulism.
- Flavoring – Add flavorings like garlic, ginger, pepper, cumin, hing etc. Babies love flavors and tangy foods even when the food is not salted!
- Do you add chillies? – We recognize that Indian food is high on spice, but that should not prevent you from letting your child try out a bit of spice. Ideally start spicing with very little black pepper, and gradually move to green chillies and finally to red chillies, provided the baby is able to handle the heat.
- Allergens – Introduce common allergens (shellfish, fish, nuts as powder, eggs, milk, etc) separately at six months preferably during the day time. This offers you the option of seeking medical intervention, if required, more easily. The most recent studies show that delayed introduction of specific highly allergenic foods may increase the risk of food allergies and recommends early introduction of allergens to prevent allergies in infants and children.
- Ideally, we recommend delaying introduction of fruits by a month or so to avoid setting up baby’s preference for sweet foods.
- Use lot of good fats – Ghee, butter, seed and nut oils are great sources of fat for the baby, and adequate fat helps in brain development.
- Pairing iron with Vit C helps your body to absorb iron better from the food.
- Pairing Vit D with Calcium increases the bio-availability of calcium.
- Never pair calcium with iron – Calcium impairs the absorption of iron by the body when offered together. This is especially important for very small babies whose iron stores start getting depleted at around six months.
- Do not offer cow’s milk as a drink before baby turns one – While milk can be an ingredient in your cooking, avoid offering cow’s milk as a drink before your baby turns one – cow’s milk may cause anemia, diarrhea, vomiting, intestinal bleeding and the overload of protein in cow’s milk is harmful for your baby’s kidneys. Cow’s milk is tailored to be suitable for calves and not for human babies.
- What about other sources of dairy? – Paneer and other low sodium cheeses, curd, plain yoghurt etc., are great dairy based sources of nutrition. Curd is also a natural probiotic. You should however, limit consumption of all dairy based products to below 350ml in a day to avoid anemia or loss of appetite. Choose full fat varieties for your child since fats are good for brain development.
- Water – Water may be offered to the baby to cleanse the mouth after meals, and when baby indicates thirst, but do not go overboard. Water has no nutrition and an overload of water may cause water intoxication in babies. Offer to nurse instead if baby indicates thirst.
- Juices and other watery foods – Juices are not nutritious, and loaded with sugar minus the fiber of the fruit. They are terrible for the milk teeth of the baby and you should avoid juices and replace with servings of fruits instead. Watery foods are not nutritious when your baby’s intake is minimal, and hence, it is recommended to give thicker porridges instead, if at all porridges are being offered..
- Regardless of the type of weaning you choose, your child must be self feeding family food by the age of one. Weaning is always easier if you regard meals as family time rather than a time to battle by relinquishing control over food and letting child follow his cues!