Weaning is the process by which a baby gradually gets used to eating adult food or the food that the family generally eats, and relies less on breast milk. The World Health Organization defines ‘weaning’ as a gradual process of getting the baby accustomed to food other than the mother’s milk. This process starts around the age of 4-6 months as the mother’s milk alone is not sufficient to sustain a baby’s growth beyond 6 months. It should be supplemented by food rich in proteins and other nutrients, called as supplementary foods.
Why weaning is Important by 6 months?
Mother’s milk is universally regarded as an ideal food for infants or children below 1 year of age.
- Weaning before 4 months: NO
Weaning is not advisable when a child is 4 months old because;
- Milk meets all nutrient requirements
- Immature Gastro-Intestinal Tract.
- Poor neuromuscular co-ordination
- Weaning by 6 months: YES
A child should be weaned off breast milk by the age of 6 months because;
- Increasing energy & nutrient needs
- Decreased body stores: Zinc and Iron
- Aids chewing & speech development
- Food refusal less likely
A baby grows very quickly during the first year, in fact quicker than any other time in his/her life. This rapid period of growth means that babies need a lot of energy and nutrients to ensure their healthy growth.
Initially, babies need only breast milk or a suitable formula milk, but as they grow older, they require other sources of nutrition to aid in their growth and development. Complementary feeding commonly called weaning is the introduction of solid foods into the diet of a baby drinking breast milk or formula milk. It is a gradual process, although a child of 1 year of age will generally have started eating chopped, mashed food.
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended until six months of age, after which solid food can be introduced to the child. Some parents may wish to introduce solid food even earlier, which can be done provided the child is at least four months old which is the earliest age that this should be started. In case of pre-term babies, they need to be introduced to solid food according to their individual needs. It is always best to consult the child’s pediatrician and a dietician before beginning solid foods.
Complementary feeding helps children receive all the necessary nutrients. Biting and chewing of the food helps in developing the muscles needed for speech development. By the time a child turns 6 months old, their body begins to run out of some stored nutrients like iron. Therefore, it is important to ensure that when cow’s milk is introduced as the main drink at one year of age, babies should be eating a varied diet.
Solid foods are often introduced to babies in stages. The ages are approximate and will depend on when complementary feeding is first started because every baby is different and will develop at his/her own pace. However, it is important to offer the baby different tastes and textures of different food throughout their first year. Fruits, vegetables and baby rice are recommended as appropriate first foods.
Drinks for the baby:
Babies who are fed breast milk do not require additional drinks, although, babies fed formula milk may need extra water that is boiled and cooled. Babies should not be given juices, as juices with natural sugars can cause tooth decay and babies start teething after 6 months of age.
Foods to eat:
Once a child is 6 months of age, they can be fed finely ground nuts. However children under 5 years of age must not be fed nuts as a whole because of the risk of choking and inhalation of the nuts.
It is always best for children to be introduced to the food that the family eats. Children who only eat commercial (packaged) baby foods, may not adapt to the taste of family foods if they aren’t accustomed to it. However, during the initial stages some commercial baby foods can be incorporated into the diet as parents find them convenient.
Foods to avoid:
In addition to these, up to seven months, a baby should eat less than 1g of salt per day. Breastmilk and formula milk contain the right amount of salt. Between seven months to one year, 1g of salt per day is the maximum a baby can consume. Salt should not be added to foods, and salty foods, such as bacon, cheese and certain processed foods, should be limited.
Gluten must also be avoided in an infant’s diet. A child upon completion of 4-12 months can be given gluten. Sweet products like sugar and honey must also be avoided. No additional sugar must be added to a baby’s food or drinks. Children under 1 year of age must not be fed honey as it contains bacteria that could lead to infant botulism, a condition caused when a baby ingests a bacteria that can produce toxins.