Breast milk is probably the best nutrition for your baby for up to six months. After that, you will have to introduce solid food and gradually wean the baby from the breast. You will have to buy certain things like the proper food, a highchair, a bib and a blender. You can either start feeding your baby with spoon or let him/her feed by himself/herself, though that may become quite messy. You will need to prepare the proper food and in very small quantities. Milk still remains the main food. One new food should be introduced at a time so that you will be able to identify if your baby is allergic to anything.
The term weaning implies the introduction of solid food in your baby’s diet. This is going to take a lot of patience and adjustment – both on your part and that of your baby’s.
When to start weaning a baby ?
If you are available and are producing enough milk, your child should be breastfed for the first six months. If you have to work or go away for any reason, it is best to express your breast milk and feed by the bottle. Otherwise you can also feed formula to your baby.
In any case, experts recommend that you start weaning your child from the age of six months. Here are a few important points to remember:
- Till a baby is six months old, the digestive system and the kidneys are not developed adequately to deal with solid foods. So, weaning too early can lead to food allergies and digestive problems later in life.
- In Western and Westernized countries, babies are often weaned early and solid foods are introduced as early as four months. There are a number of reasons for these. They are:
- Baby solid foods in supermarkets are labeled ‘suitable for four months’.
- There is a myth that starting solid foods will help your baby to sleep through the night. This is completely false.
- Increased hunger, increased wakefulness etc are often seen to be signs that the baby is ready to be weaned.
- Increase in hunger or weight has nothing to do with weaning though it is often regarded as a sign for it.
- According to one study, babies continue to breastfeed for an average age of 2 years in developing countries while suckling up to three years of age is not uncommon. However, even if they do continue to suckle, solid foods should be introduced by the age of six months.
Preparing to wean your baby
Once your baby can sit up without support and can grab objects (like a spoon), it is the best time to start weaning. You will need some paraphernalia to start the process. These are:
- A highchair where you can securely place the baby.
- Long sleeved bibs (several) to protect the clothes.
- A soft spoon to feed your baby with. Choose colorful ones as babies love to wave them about.
- A plastic bowl or plate that must be break-proof.
- A handheld blender to puree the food for your baby, though you can mash it with a fork also.
- Buy the right kind of food. Decide what you are going to feed your baby and shop accordingly.
Spoon fed weaning versus baby led weaning
When you spoon mushy foods into your baby’s mouth, this process is known as spoon fed weaning. The points to note are:
- It is less messy. You start with purees, then offer mashed food and gradually introduce lumpier foods.
- It is simple and you can be satisfied that your baby are enough.
- If you are weaning before your baby is six months old, this is the only way to go as babies cannot grab objects yet.
You can also try the baby led weaning. You put baby sized food chunks in front of him/her and he/she feeds by him/herself.
- The process will be messy. You should get a protective mat for the floor. There is no need to buy a spoon though.
- Your baby chooses what to eat and discovers flavors.
- Some babies object to spoons, but eat better by themselves.
The first foods
When you are weaning the baby, it is necessary to provide the proper foods. So, keep the following in mind:
- Start with milkshakes and yoghurt.
- Cut vegetables like carrots, potato, cauliflower etc into thin strips and cook them. Use very little or no salt. Ripe but firm fruits like melon, banana, pear etc also make excellent first foods.
- After a few weeks, when the baby is used to the feel of the solid food, introduce other fruits and veggies, lentil, fish, rice, pasta, porridge and eggs.
- Avoid salt, sugar, honey, nuts or low calorie foods during the first year.