Weaning is the process of switching an infant's diet from breast milk or formula to other foods or fluids. Experts recommend that infants should be fed only with breast milk for the first six months after birth. After that, you can use a combination of solid foods and breast milk until the infant is at least one year old. Do not give cow's milk to children younger than one year as the protein will be heavy for the baby’s body to digest.
Why weaning shouldn’t be too early?
If solids are introduced too early, there is a risk of a reaction to foods. The baby’s immune system is more susceptible to react to the proteins found in food other than human milk, which can trigger responses like a rash on the skin, loose motions, or sore ears.
Introducing solids early does not help your baby sleep through the night. Dropping the night feed is more likely to be a developmental stage and has little to do with feeding.
When solids are started, they displace some human milk or infant formula your infant drinks. This reduced quantity of milk may not be sufficient to meet their nutritional needs.
Why not too late?
Human milk and infant formula do not have enough iron to meet the baby’s needs after six months of age. Iron is responsible for the baby’s brain development, immunity building, and energy needs for carrying out basic activities. Hence it is imperative to start weaning at the right age to avoid nutritional deficiency as the baby grows in age.
What are the signs that your baby is ready for solids?
- If your baby can hold his head up.
- If he can swallow foods by moving the tongue from the front to the back of the mouth.
- If he is interested in what other people are eating and tries to grab it.
Why do infants need solid foods?
At about six months, babies need more iron than they can absorb from human milk or formula. The foetus stores iron during pregnancy. Under normal circumstances, if the baby is born at full-term, these iron stores generally last for about six months. Henceforth, additional iron is required from dietary sources other than human milk and formula. Solid foods also help the baby learn how to chew food, which further helps in developing muscles needed for speech.
Early tasting of solid foods is mainly for educational purposes than for nutrition. Human milk or infant formula continues to form a large part of their diet. Even when the baby reduces milk intake (as they want more solid foods), it remains the primary source of nourishment for them. Offer only 1-2 teaspoons of solid food initially, increasing gradually to 2-4 tablespoons per meal.
Infants are most likely to spit out the first semi solid food they are fed with because they only know about the tongue motion used for sucking. Gradually they should be taught about the new feeding technique- spoon-feeding. Go for a small and smooth-edged spoon so that it does not hurt the baby’s mouth. The baby may find plastic or a rubber spoon much easier to use.
Select foods that are easy to digest, contain iron and not likely to cause an allergic reaction to the baby. You can blend/puree the soft solid foods in a blender or food processor or mash with a fork. Some common starter foods include:
- Rice-cereal infant mix, combined with expressed human milk, infant formula or boiled water (cow’s milk not to be used).
- Cooked/softened fruits
- Steamed/boiled/softened vegetables such as sweet potato, potato, zucchini, carrot and broccoli.
General advice on introducing solids:
- Introduce a single food at a time so that you can learn if the baby reacts to any particular food.
- In case the baby refuses a new food, offer it again after a few days. The more times a new food is offered, the more likely your baby will accept it after repeated episodes of tasting it.
- Do not force foods on the baby. If they don’t want to eat, try again after sometime.
- Keep each food separate so that the baby can learn about different tastes and textures.
- It is important to gradually change the texture of the food from soft pureed to finger foods like pieces of soft fruits, cooked vegetables, strips of chicken, or soft cheese.
Celebration of weaning in India:
Hindu culture celebrates the introduction of first foods with a grand ‘Annaprashana’ ceremony where close family members and friends gather together and bless the child. Generally weaning is started with 1-2 tsp of rice/moong dal water. Gradually the quantity is increased to about half a cup. Any supplement, liquid or solid- can be introduced to the baby’s diet after six months of age.