As per the WHO directive a child needs to be on “exclusively breast milk” for the first six months of life. It is important not only because the nutrients in breast milk are as per the child’s requirement but also because it imparts immunity for life and helps to form a bond between the mother and the child. However, after the age of six months breast milk alone is not adequate to meet the nutritional requirements of the growing baby. So, weaning or supplementing the breast milk with other foods is required. Weaning is the period during which the child changes from complete dependence on breast milk to complete independence from it.
The process of weaning should start at the age of 6 months and should be completed by the age of 2 years. This means that weaning is a gradual process during which various food items or complimentary foods are introduced to the child, in order to achieve the goals of optimum nutrition.
Why at 6 months and not early? Most parents ask this question, this is because the internal systems of the child are developed to an extent where he/she is ready to accept solid food. The gums and the digestive system are ready by 6 months to receive and use the external food. The baby is able to sit straight and able to hold his head.
The order in which foods should be introduced are
- Juices- at 4 to 6 months
- Vegetables – at 6 months
- Fruits– at 6 months
- Cereals– at 6 months
- Pulses/legumes- by 8 months
- Fish – by 8 months
- Milk and Products – after age 1 year
- Eggs – after 18 months
- Meats – after 18 months
It is important that by the age of 2 years, the child is able to eat most foods that the family is consuming.
Some foods that should be introduced are:
- Orange/sweet lime juice (as the child needs vitamin C which the breast milk lacks)
- Mashed potatoes
- Mashed Banana/ mango
- Apple stew and Pureed
- Well-cooked and pureed carrots, sweet potato, green bottle gourd
- Overboiled soft mashed/pureed rice
- Overboiled soft mashed dals (without husk)
- Broken wheat/semolina cooked and completely mashed
10 Simple Guidelines
- Make pureed food for the child by mixing with expelled breast milk or cream. Unsalted white butter can also be used.
- Cream and butter must form a part of child’s diet as they provide saturated fats which are very important for brain development especially till the age of 5 years.
- Do not use sugar or salt in the diet of infants till the age of minimum 18months as the taste buds are not developed till then.
- This will also make it easier for the child to accept the supplemental food as it is bland
- Again, the use of salt should be avoided to prevent renal overload, as the infant’s kidneys are small and not able to handle too much.
- Introduce one thing at a time and give it for a minimum of 5 days for the child to be able to accept it completely.
- Prepare fresh foods for the child as much as possible and maintain proper hygiene, as packaged and processed foods have preservatives and also one is not sure of the quality and type of ingredients used.
- Always wash hands and utensils along with the ingredients being used for cooking, keep all food covered and use it fresh and not after refrigeration
- By the age of 1year milk and milk products can be introduced. Researches have shown that cow’s milk should not be given till the age of 1 year,
- Eggs, poultry and meats should be introduced only after the age of 18 months. It reduces the chances of the infant developing allergies. Fish, however can be introduced early.
Introducing correct foods at the correct age, would ensure proper growth and development and also boost immune system and avoid food related allergies.