Transition is always a phase associated with problems of adaptation. Weaning is one such important transitional phase as far as the baby’s feeding pattern is concerned. As parents, while weaning your baby, you should not only know answers of ‘Why’, ‘When’ and ‘What’ about weaning but also the logic behind them, to make a success of it.
What is weaning?
Weaning is the process of introducing foods that are different than breast-milk or formula /animal milk – the first and premier food for babies. Over-reliance on milk feeding and delayed weaning is perhaps the most important cause of feeding difficulties and nutritional deficiencies in early life.
When should you start weaning the baby?
Not earlier than fourth month and not later than sixth month, is the recommended schedule for starting to wean the baby. Before four months, the baby is physically and physiologically not fully capable of making a successful switch because then their enzyme systems are immature, their stomach capacity is low and their swallowing mechanism is not yet perfected for semi-solids. After 6 months, the baby usually has also learnt to sit unsupported with good head control and grab and hold the objects in hand.
Why is weaning necessary?
Beyond 6 months of age, milk alone cannot meet with the increasing energy and nutrient demands of rapidly growing baby and thus addition of other food items is necessary. Behaviourally and developmentally, this process of weaning teaches babies to chew and swallow solids and to accept different tastes, textures and consistencies of food. This paves the way for making them ready to accept food in its traditional, ‘normal’ form.
Weaning is not only about providing adequate nutrition or filling up your baby’s tummy, it is mostly about teaching the baby how and what to eat.
What are the general principles of weaning?
- Liquids (other than milk) to semi-solids to solids. This should be the order of food items in terms of consistency.
- As far as possible concentrate on using home-cooked food items rather than relying on ready-made baby-foods.
- Continue breastfeeding or formula feeding as usual.
- Start one item at a time and give around 1 week (Average 3- 5 days) time to the baby to adapt to it. Initial spitting out of any new food by baby doesn’t mean that it is unsuitable for baby or that the baby doesn’t like it. It is just a passing phase in the process of adaptation.
- Increase the quantity gradually once the baby adapts to a particular food item. Initially start with just one or two teaspoonfuls.
- Every week introduce a new food item instead of just giving the same things over and over.
- The aim should be to make the baby adapt in such fashion so that by one year she should be able to eat the normal, daily home-cooked food.
(Also, read ‘Weaning your baby- Do it right’.)
What should be the timetable for weaning?
Regardless of the cultural and country-wise differences, the basic schedule of weaning remains pretty much similar. The usual guidelines for introducing major food-items in diet in addition to breast milk or artificial feeding are as follows:
- From 4-6 months: Pureed fruits/ vegetables, rice and wheat gruels, vegetable soups.
- From 6-7months: Add meat, chicken, cheese and yoghurt.
- From 8-9 months: Add Egg-yolk followed by egg-white.
- From 9-10 months: Add Fish.
- Onwards: Go on introducing a variety of tastes, textures and types of food.
These are just rough guidelines and not absolute rules. Every parent would need to modify these to suit their baby’s attitude, aptitude and appetite.
What are special precautions for weaning various food-items?
- Fruits like banana, apple, pear, papaya, mango and chikoo are well tolerated. Initially they should be given in mashed or boiled and mashed form. Later they could be given in tiny slices. They should be well-peeled and care should be taken to remove the seeds and strings.
- In vegetables potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and green leafy vegetables like spinach and fenugreek are good choices and should be given well-cooked and mashed.
- Meat, chicken and fish should be well-cooked /grilled /stewed, soft and trimmed of fat and skin. All bones should be removed. Initially they are given minced but later as small, soft pieces.
- Egg should be well-cooked (3-4 minute boiling for soft boiled egg, 5 minutes boiling for medium firm egg and 6-8 minutes boiling for hard boiled egg).
- RAW EGG NOT A GOOD CHOICE. In fact, it could be contaminated with bacteria like salmonella that cause diarrhea. It also tends to destroy vitamins in the body.
- Too salty / too spicy / too sugary food, deep fried food, fruit squashes and fizzy drinks should be avoided.
Should we delay the weaning for a baby with allergies or strong family history of allergic disorders?
In the past, in a baby with allergies (like severe eczema) or a strong family history of allergic disorders like eczema or asthma, it was advised to delay weaning and rely exclusively on breast-feeding till sixth month. Strongly allergenic foods like cow’s milk, citrus fruits, wheat preparations, fish, eggs, nuts and chocolates were advised to be deferred as long as possible, preferably till one year of age.
NOW, SUCH DELAYED WEANING IS NOT ADVISED.
So, what should be the weaning advice for a baby with allergies or a strong family history of allergic disorders?
According to British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI) guidance, early dietary introduction of potential allergens may help the babies with allergies such as eczema and food allergy.
You can read more about this on Anaphylaxis.Org.UK
What are the pros and cons for ready-made Baby Foods?
Dry cereals, biscuits, pureed fruits/vegetables/chicken/meat-preparations- the variety of baby foods in market is amazing. The main advantage of such baby foods is that they are either ready-made or can be conveniently prepared within minutes. Other thing is that most of them are fortified by vitamins and minerals to make them nutritionally more balanced.
On the flip side, they are more expensive and additives/ preservatives used in them could be troublesome. Developmentally too, babies who are weaned mainly on home-cooked foods adapt to ‘normal’ food much faster.
Remember, weaning your baby is the most important stepping stone for the development of good and healthy eating habits in later life. This is a gradual process requiring patience, persistence, and imaginative input from parents.