At the pediatric OPD, we are flooded with questions regarding complementary feeding. Mothers and caregivers are always anxious about every new milestone their babies are about to achieve. Complementary feeding, commonly known as weaning is one such significant milestone, wherein the baby transits from breast milk to family food.
1. The best time to introduce food to the baby is when it turns six months old if the baby is exclusively breastfeed and is growing well. However, if the baby is predominantly on formula feed or is not growing well on the breastfeed, it is recommended to start anytime between 4 to 6 months of age.
2. Ensure that the child can sit in an upright position, with or without support before you start with the complementary feeding.
3. Despite getting varied advice from family and relatives regarding starting the baby's food intake by introducing dal water or rice water, we suggest you start with dals or khichdi as the former is entirely devoid of nutrition.
4. Ideally, babies should consume a combination of cereals and proteins. Few good weaning options are – rice, kheer, dal rice, dal daliya, ragi porridge, vegetable khichdi, idli, egg, roti mashed in dal.
5. The consistency of the food offered should vary from well mashed, finely chopped, to coarse and bigger bites over the course of complementary feeding. The texture of the diet should not be too thick or too thin.
6. Responsive Feeding Practices should be followed. It suggests that we should follow the hunger cues of the baby. The baby should be fed when it is hungry, and the feeding should be stopped when it shows signs of being full. This enables the baby to establish a healthy relationship with food and also nurtures the bond between the baby and caregiver. Under no circumstances, forced feeding and feeding with distraction should be practiced.
7. Any new food should be offered for 4-5 days continuously for the child to develop taste. A child can take up to 10 -15 exposure to accept a particular food. The aim is to start with 2-3 tsp and gradually build up to 8 – 10 tsp by the end of one week.
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8. Ideally, a time gap of 4 hours should be maintained so that the baby can easily relish the food offered.
9. Water can be introduced along with food. 4-5 tsp of water can be offered post every solid meal.
10. Any food item that is too hard to be mashed with gums or to be dissolved in the mouth like whole peas, whole nuts, popcorn should be avoided as they are possible choking hazards. Children under the age of 3 are at the risk of choking, so the caregiver needs to be careful.
11. It is advised to avoid salt, sugar, honey and cow's milk till the baby turns one year. However, toned milk can be used in small quantities to make porridge.
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The main aim of complementary feeding is not to wean off the baby from breast but to introduce complementary foods alongside to maintain the nutritional adequacy of the growing infant which breast milk alone won’t be able to match up to after 6 months. Try to be as patient as you can because it’s a whole new world for your little one and they are trying to adapt as fast and as much as possible.
Good luck and help your baby develop a healthy and happy relationship with food! ☺