For the first four to six months of life, breast milk is adequate and provides the entire nourishment infants need. By the age of six months breast milk alone becomes inadequate to meet the nutritional needs of a rapidly growing infant and hence weaning foods or complementary foods are needed in addition to breast milk.
Today, with the breakup of the joint family and the emergence of nuclear families, most young mothers lack the support and advice from experienced elderly women regarding weaning and often end up feeding their babies with the wrong types of foods. Through this series of articles, I intend to clear the uncertainties and apprehensions of new mothers regarding weaning, by providing step by step tips and guidelines about the weaning process.
Weaning is the process of sequential addition of semi-solid and solid foods to complement (not replace) breast milk, until the infant is able to eat the normal family diet and gradually free the infant from the habit of sucking at the breast. In other words, it is a preparatory phase for the infant as he learns how to eat solid foods. The word weaning is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word which means to accustom to a new habit.
The ideal time to begin weaning is around four to six months of age because by this time an infant’s digestive system is mature enough to handle solid foods. If an infant is weaned earlier than four months there can be the development of diarrhoea and if delayed then the infant risks becoming malnourished, which has other consequences like delayed growth and delayed developmental milestones.
Weaning is a period of experiments both for the mother and baby and is a matter of trial and error to find out what is best for your baby. When it comes to weaning every baby is different as some readily accept weaning foods while others may be fussy for a while before they adapt, hence a mother needs to have a lot of patience during weaning.
When beginning weaning, do so gradually and lovingly. Introduce the food during the daytime, when the baby is fresh and hungry. Start by giving liquids as the baby is used to it in the form of breast milk and let the baby guide you about the quantity, he/she is ready for.
Good weaning foods should be nutrient dense, soft and easy to eat, cooked, stored and served in a hygienic manner. Weaning foods are of two types – Homemade, instant or commercial weaning foods (CWF).
Homemade weaning foods are those that are prepared from ingredients that are easily available at home. These are preferable as they are economical and culturally more acceptable. The texture and consistency of homemade weaning foods can be varied so a baby can enjoy different types of feed. The only problem with homemade weaning foods is that a proper selection of foods is necessary so that the feed not only provides energy but also protein, vitamins and minerals.
In India Commercial Weaning Foods are available as ready to use powders which are prepared from natural ingredients like cereals, millets, pulses, nuts and oilseeds, milk, vegetable and fruits that are processed either singly or in a variety of combinations and contain added sugar. CWFs have a low moisture content which increases their shelf life and contain added vitamins and minerals. These foods are convenient to use as they only need to be reconstituted with warm water or milk or fruit juice at the time of feeding to obtain a thick paste with a smooth consistency. While there is no harm in feeding a baby commercial weaning food, make sure that along with these, the baby is eating homemade weaning foods too. This is because once a baby gets used to their smooth consistency, they may not accept homemade weaning foods.
To be continued. . .
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 20 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on email@example.com)