By Sujatha Rajagopal
When it’s time for more than milk…
Starting on solids is a major milestone for your baby. This is the period when he will begin getting used to food other than breast milk or formula. Not only will he be introduced to new food textures, consistencies and tastes, his mouth and tongue too will begin learning to adjust to the various chewing, pushing and swallowing movements he has never had to perform before.
The whole process can seem rather messy and tricky but weaning is actually quite simple, as long as you allow yourself to take things a step at a time and let your baby proceed at his own pace. Think of it as a gradual replacement of his nutrients and calories from milk to nutrients and calories from other types of food. What should be remembered is that weaning provides you with an excellent opportunity to establish healthy eating habits in your child from a young age. Introducing interesting and nutritious food like fruits, vegetables and whole grains will now contribute greatly toward his long-term health.
When to start
There really is no ideal age to begin weaning. This depends very much on baby’s developmental readiness, such as whether he is able to sit with support and hold up his head, and whether he remains hungry even after he has had his usual share of milk. It also depends on your preference, as some mothers will want to breastfeed their babies longer than others. Babies also do not need solid food before the age of six months as breast milk or formula satisfies them very well and gives them all the nutrients they need. Moreover, your baby will be unable to digest solid food before he is four months old. If you are in doubt about your child’s readiness for solids, consult your doctor.
Most parents begin introducing solid food from a spoon when baby is about six months old. It is important to be both patient and cautious — your child may not take to solids with enthusiasm, or he might be over-enthusiastic and possibly choke! Every feeding should therefore, be carefully supervised.
How to start
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- It is recommended to start with a bland cereal, such as ones made from rice, as babies tolerate these best.
- Mix or dilute the cereal mixture according to package instructions. Use breast milk or formula, not cow’s milk.
- Always ensure that the food is not too hot by tasting a small portion yourself.
- You might want to let him play with a baby spoon, supervised of course, a few days before you begin weaning. A long-handled spoon is usually easier for you to manoeuvre.
- Buckle baby into a highchair. If necessary, prop him up with pillows.
- Sit in front of him and allow him to touch the food if he wants to. Speak to him softly, being careful not to get him too excited.
- Wait for him to open his mouth to accept each spoonful. Wait for his cues and if he is not interested, don’t force him.
- In the beginning, offer no more than a few tablespoons of cereal in between milk feeds. At this stage, you are only introducing a new way of feeding, not a milk replacement. The following is a good guide for baby’s first week:
|Week One||Solid Feeds||Milk Feeds|
|Day One||One tablespoon mixed cereal, once a day.||Baby’s usual breast milk or formula feeds, five to eight times a day.|
|Day Two||Two tablespoons mixed cereal, once a day.|
|Day Three||Three tablespoons mixed cereal, once a day.|
|Days Four To Six||Four tablespoons mixed cereal, once a day.|
- Give baby time to adjust. He will be using tongue movements that are different from breast or bottle feeding, so let him proceed at his own pace.
- If he is averse to certain foods, introduce them again a few weeks later as his taste may change.
- Baby will close his mouth and turn his head away when he has had enough. NEVER force him to eat more than he is able to.
- Use a bib to keep the mess down. Plastic wipe-down bibs make clean-ups easier. Never leave baby unattended when he has a bib on.
- NEVER give solids from a bottle. Baby might swallow too much at once and choke.
- NEVER add salt, sugar, spices or other seasoning to baby’s food.
- Once baby is more confident, you may start introducing pureed fruits and vegetables.
- Always cook hard fruits and vegetables first so that they are soft enough to be pureed. You can also add some full-fat yogurt to pureed fruit for added nutrients and taste.
- Feed him whenever he wants to eat, but gradually work towards establishing regular mealtimes.
- You can always use pre-prepared baby food jars from supermarkets, but you can help baby eat healthier if you make his food yourself.
- Cut down on preparation time by freezing small amounts of pureed food in ice cube trays or small, freezer-safe plastic containers. Always reheat food and cool it a little before feeding baby.
- If you’re going out, you can always pack a banana for baby. It’s easy to prepare. Simply mash with a fork till there are no lumps. Yoghurt is a good choice too.
The following chart is a useful guide to the type of food you can feed baby at different stages.
|Six Months||Seven Months|
|After baby takes to his first experience of weaning, you can begin introducing cooked and thinly pureed vegetables like carrots, potatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, pumpkin and peas. Yummy fruits to include are apple, pear, banana and mango. You should still be giving him five to eight milk feeds.||Baby should now be getting more variety in his diet. You can start introducing pureed meat and pulses and also make food consistency a little lumpier. Between seven and eight months, you may start introducing finger food like rice biscuits. Your baby may begin wanting less milk now that he has some solids in his diet.|
|Nine Months||12 Months|
|Baby should be having three solid meals a day, including a variety of sweet and savoury foods. Baby will also be able to handle more finger food like breadsticks and fruit now. He will enjoy seedless grapes (halve if necessary to avoid choking), apricot, kiwi, melon and plum as well as custard, grated cheese and pasta. He may be able to manage half to one full jar of baby food by now. Ensure that you include iron-rich food like meat and fortified cereals to replenish nutrients. You may also now mash and mince food instead of pureeing them. From about 10 months, you can start chopping food instead of mashing. Be sure to offer him some water or well-diluted fruit juice at mealtimes from a lidded cup. At this time, you should be giving him about four to six milk feeds a day.||If you haven’t already, it is a good time to start encouraging self-feeding. At this age, three to four milk feeds should suffice as baby will be getting a large share of nutrients from solids. From 12 months, your child will be able to eat the same food as the rest of the family but chopped for manageability. Serve water or diluted fruit juice in his cup with meals. Apart from three solid meals, he will need two or three small snacks to give him energy. Give him healthy snacks like toast, yoghurt, plain biscuits and fruit but avoid sweet and salty titbits like cookies or chips. Aim for a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. In addition to his formula or breast milk, you can now start giving baby full cream milk, switching to low-fat milk when he is about two years old.|
Ensuring good nutrition
One of the biggest challenges with weaning is ensuring that your child is getting a good balance of different nutrients. You can’t go wrong if your child is eating plenty of fruits (the more colourful the better), vegetables (especially green leafy ones), whole grains and pulses for vitamins and minerals, bread, rice and potatoes for carbohydrates as well as dairy products, lean meats and fish for protein.
Make sure too that baby is getting lots of iron to promote healthy growth and mental development, zinc to bolster the immune system, calcium for healthy teeth and bones and vitamin C to form tissue and red blood cells and aid iron absorption. Babies also need fibre (but not too much) and fat for growth. To ensure that he is getting all of these, it is best to use fresh ingredients when preparing meals, but don’t stress yourself out if this is not always possible.
Experts also generally advise vitamin drops for breast-fed babies from about six months of age and formula-fed babies from 12 months of age. Talk to a doctor or nutritionist if you are concerned that your baby is not getting the nutrition he needs.
Coping with food allergies
Food allergies are not common but your child may have a risk, especially if it runs in the family. Cow’s milk is one example of food that can cause allergies. That’s why it is usually better to introduce cow’s milk only after a child is a year old. Other culprits include shellfish, nuts and eggs.
It is best to introduce new food one at a time. Remember that it may take at least three to five days of eating the same food to determine whether your child is allergic to it. You will know that your baby is having a reaction if he develops a rash,or starts having diarrhoea or vomiting. If you think your child is having a reaction, stop feeding him that food and bring him to a doctor immediately.
Simple recipes for you to try
Weaning is an exciting period of discovery for both you and baby, so do make the most of this new experience by providing baby with delicious and healthy alternatives. Preparing baby food needn’t be a chore or a riddle. All it takes is a little pre-planning and even the simplest choices can be made extremely appetizing. You can also find a host of weaning recipes on the Internet. The following recipes should get you started easily. Good luck!
|Apple and rice puree||Carrot and potato puree|
|Ingredients:· 1 medium apple· 1 tbsp flaky rice cereal· Water to coverPeel, core and roughly chop apple. Add flaky rice and cover with sufficient water. Gently simmer for 10 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent rice from sticking to pot. When cooked, blend till smooth. Serve when cooled. Freeze unused amount for later.||Ingredients:· 1 medium carrot· 1 medium potato· Water to coverPeel carrot and potato and roughly chop. Cover with water and gently simmer for 15 minutes or till cooked. Drain half of carrot-potato stock, reserving for later use to dilute puree if necessary. Blend remainder to a soft, smooth consistency. Serve when cooled. Freeze unused amount for later.|
Recipes adapted from http://www.babyworld.co.uk/information/books_food/recipe_archive.asp