When to begin weaning


When to begin weaning

Moving from breast milk to solids for your baby is a transition that requires some careful planning, says Dr Prachi Bhosale

Mother’s milk is the best food that your baby can get during the initial months of his/her life. But is it really sufficient to cater to all growth needs after the first few months? The answer is no.

Weaning must be introduced after the few months. Weaning is the process of introducing a child to foods other than breast milk. This enables the child to gradually receive a higher percentage of calories. Weaning is one of the many milestones in your baby’s process of development and health.

Why wean?

- After  the first six months, breast milk does not provide all the nutrients (calories, iron, proteins and calcium) that your growing baby needs in particular. Weaning provides your child a nutritional balance for proper growth and development.

- Weaning helps your baby develop eating skills too. Your baby will learn to chew and acquire taste. He/she will also learn to hold and use a spoon to feed himself.
nWeaning allows your baby get familiar with new textures. This will help him/her to distinguish between different foods groups.

Doctors usually recommend exclusive breast feeding for the first six months. You can gradually start giving solid foods after the first six months along with the breast feeding.

A baby’s internal digestive system matures over a period of four to six months. Their fine motor skills also develop enough to allow them to self-feed. As per the World Health Organisation’s guidelines, babies can begin receiving appropriate complementary foods breast milk after six months. There are some signs which indicate that your baby is ready for weaning.

- Can sit in an upright position during feeding.
- Shows interest in other foods
- Shows signs of hunger before the usual feeding time
- Starts chewing on things

If you feel that your baby needs to be weaned before six months, particularly if your baby was born prematurely, you should discuss it with your doctor. Weaning too early might put your baby at a higher risk of developing digestive disorders and adverse reactions or allergies to certain foods. On the other hand, weaning too late may deprive your baby of adequate nutrition and can result in improper growth and development.

Types of food

Introduce only one food item at a time as it will be easier to detect if your baby is allergic to any particular food. If you have a history of allergies in your family, consult your doctor for the best weaning diet for your baby.

At six months: Food should be only slightly thicker than milk so that the baby can lick it off the spoon easily. Start with liquid paste and progress to semi-solids. Milk should still remain the main source of nourishment.

At seven-nine months: As your baby gets older, he/she will be ready for foods of different textures and tastes. It need not be in a milky consistency anymore. You may leave it thick. Milk should now not be the only source of nourishment, and since acceptance of foods is important at this point, it is necessary to give the food first followed by milk feed.
From nine months onwards: The food need not be blended and mashed anymore.
Roughly-chopped soft foods can now be given. Your baby can also be introduced to finger foods like teething rusks or biscuits. This helps to encourage him/her to try self-feeding. By the end of the first year, the food can be adapted from the family meals and there is no need to cook separately for him/her.

Foods to avoid

- Never add salt to your baby’s food. Avoid processed foods which contain high amounts of salt

- Too much sugar may cause teething problems. Avoid it until your baby is one year old

- Cow’s milk does not meet an infant’s nutritional needs

- Honey. The infant may contract Botulism in a rare case

- Avoid nuts or seeds until the baby turns three

- Tea and coffee

- Cold drinks or any diet drinks

- Citrus fruits (orange) until your baby is six months old as it may cause diaper rash

- Foods containing gluten — rye, barley, wheat-based foods as gluten can cause celiac disease

Tips for successful weaning

- Make sure the baby food is clean, cooked,covered and at the right temperature. Do not make it too hot

- Always sit near your baby while he or she is feeding so that your baby does not choke.

- Let your baby enjoy touching and holding the food

- Allow your baby to feed themselves, using their fingers, as soon as they show an interest

- Never force feed your baby. If your baby refuses to eat a particular type of food, consider backing off and offer it later on

- Make it a family affair as it can encourage your baby to eat with enthusiasm
Every baby is different, so do not compare one baby with another. Some babies can be really fussy in eating while others take to food like a duck takes to water. Do not get disappointed if your baby throws tantrums and refuses the food you offer. Mealtimes should not be an occasion for you and your baby to declare war on each other. It should be a happy occasion. Take it easy, be patient and go at your baby’s pace.  

(The contributor is a paediatrician at NationWide Primary Healthcare Services, Bangalore.)

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