Babies

Weaning – An Introduction To Solid Food For Babies

As a new mother, we see rapid growth in our babies. One moment they are lying wrapped up in a Swaddlers next they are sitting up and trying to string sounds. They grow so fast and learn so many new things in a very short span. To keep up with their healthy growth and development, a baby needs good nutrition. As an infant a mother’s milk is all the nutrition they need, but as their growth continues they need other food as well. Keeping this need in mind, doctors, caretakers, and mothers often introduce solid food to their child at a certain age and it’s known as weaning.

Weaning – it is the process by which babies who were fully reliant on milk are introduced to solid foods. The transition from consuming exclusively liquid breast milk or formula to eating some solid foods can be made at around 6 months of age. Experts believe that around that age the milk is unable to provide nutrition like Zinc, Iron, vitamin B, and Vitamin D in some cases adequately so need supplements.

Always consult your baby’s pediatrician before introducing solids. But as a general rule of thumb, at the age of six months- after the baby ticks off these:

 6 characters a child must exhibit so we can try to wean the baby

  1. Waking up in the night (more than usual) wanting extra milk feeds during the day as well.
  2. Sitting up well, and double their birth weight or more.
  3. Good head control (this shows swallowing muscles are strong)
  4. Can fist their hands and  put it in their mouth signifying they Can pick up food and put it in their mouth
  5. Can hold food in their mouth and is willing to chew
  6. Is curious at your mealtimes and is eager to do the same.

How to wean a baby?

Weaning necessarily doesn’t include just solids. As a breastfeeding mother it could mean giving formula bottle milk (not whole cow milk though until the baby is 12).

A general way to start weaning is by replacing a particular feeding time with solid. Solid foods — cereals, fruits, veggies, and meats – can be given in any order to the child. Earlier meat was asked to be weaned later but studies show their rich iron content is good for the baby at that stage.

The best to start with single-ingredient foods. Cereals are the common first food that can be weaned. But while doing so always use a single ingredient one. For example -grain oatmeal, barley, or rice cereal instead of mixed. And it’s not a good idea to mix fruits, vegetables, and meats with other solid foods initially. And continue the food for 5 days to 1 week without introducing any other new items. This is done because of allergies a baby might or might not have, the single ingredient helps us identify the allergen easily.

Traditional vs Baby-Led Weaning

While no one method is the correct method they both have their merits and flaws. The eastern society usually leads the traditional way.

Traditional weaning means giving the child mashed or pureed fruits or vegetables and feeding them yourself.

While this way is less messy and has parental control, a new parent might not know if the baby is overfed.

This might even make the baby reluctant to try newer textures. And since it a different food altogether, prep time may be higher.

Whereas baby-led weaning is where babies feed themselves. The food is laid out in front of them and they eat at their own pace.

While this can get messy, a child is following his/her own instincts and can be independent feeder earlier.

Chances of getting overfed are also less since a child knows his hunger better than we know.

It increases concerns around gagging and choking. However, if offered appropriate foods, your baby’s risk of choking should not be higher than under a traditional approach.

There is no need to prepare different food for the child.

Things to consider while weaning

  • Timing is of importance, a fully fed child wouldn’t want to try other food so try when the child is amenable to eat. Follow up with milk.
  • Allow plenty of time, especially at first. Revisit if the child refuses.
  • Start with the mid-day feed. Babies are remarkable and can identify the scent of their mother’s milk nearby, so ask your partner or a relative to give your baby the bottle while you are in another room.
  • Do not worry about how much they eat. The most important thing is getting them used to new tastes and textures, and learning how to move solid foods around their mouths and how to swallow them.
  • Let your baby set the pace, let them show you when they’re hungry or full. Stop when your baby shows signs that they have had enough. This could be firmly closing their mouth or turning their head away. If you’re using a spoon, wait for your baby to open their mouth before you offer the food.
  • Let your babies become active participants. Be it touching and holding the food. Allow your baby to feed themselves, using their fingers, as soon as they show an interest.
  • Keep distractions to a minimum during mealtimes and avoid sitting your baby in front of the television, phone or tablet.
  • Babies imitate their parents so set an example. Let them see you enjoy a meal together.
  • Eating becomes a newly acquired skill. Some babies learn to accept new foods and textures more quickly than others. Shower your baby lots of encouragement and praise.
  • Do not add sugar or salt (including stock cubes and gravy) to your baby’s food or cooking water.
  • Babies should not eat salty foods as it’s not good for their kidneys, and sugar can cause tooth decay.

Weaning Gears

  • High chair or booster seats for baby to be sitting safely in an upright position (so they can swallow properly). Always use a securely fitted safety harness in a high chair. Never leave babies unattended on raised surfaces.
  • Plastic or pelican bibs. It’s going to be messy at first!
  • Soft weaning spoons like silicon ones are gentler on your baby’s gums.
  • Small bowls: You may find it useful to get a special weaning bowl with a suction base to keep the bowl in place.
  • Sippy Cup: Introduce a cup from around 6 months and offer sips of water with meals. Using an open cup or a free-flow cup without a valve will help your baby learn to sip and is better for their teeth.
  • A messy mat or newspaper sheets under the high chair to catch most of the mess.

What to feed your baby

Weaning - Solid Food for Babies

Cereals

As previously mentioned often the first solid food are Cereals. Wheat, Rice, oats etc. Introducing baby cereal can also help to prepare their palates for the change in texture as they grow up. A few of the trusted baby cereals are

  • Gerber Organic Single Grain Oatmeal Baby Cereal- single grain oatmeal cereal is plain oatmeal that is fortified with iron. Does not contain flavors or additives.
  • HappyBaby Oatmeal Baby Cereal- can be blended with water, breast milk or formula.
  • Nestle Cerelac Wheat with Milk Cereal- made of wheat flour, fat-free milk, sugar, and corn, canola, and palm oil among other ingredients.
  • Beech-Nut Stage 1 Organic Oatmeal Cereal – With just vitamin-rich, organic whole-grain oat flour, you can add this cereal to your baby’s meal.
  • Happy Baby Organic Probiotic Baby Cereal with Choline Oatmeal

If you do not want to introduce readymade cereals for your baby, you can always make them at home. Here’s how:

Ingredients – 

1/2 cup normal oats

  1. Place oats in a food processor, pulse for 15 to 30 seconds or until finely ground.
  2. Store the oat powder in a sealed container in the refrigerator or freezer or in a cool dark place for up to 3 months.
  3. Bring 1/2 cup of water to a boil and sprinkle in 2 tbsp of the ground oats and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon or nutmeg, if desired for flavor.
  4. Whisk continuously for 30 seconds and then occasionally for 3-5 minutes or until the mixture is thick and creamy. You can add breast milk to the mixture.

For rice cereals

Ingredients –

  1. 1/4 c. rice powder (brown rice ground in blender or food processor)
  2. 1 cup of water
  3. Breast milk

Directions –

  1. Bring liquid to boil in a saucepan. Add the rice powder while stirring constantly.
  2. Simmer for 10 minutes, whisking constantly, mix in formula or breast milk and fruits if desired
  3. Serve warm.

Fruits

Bananas – Bananas are parents and babies’ best friend because they are mild, washable, and easy to chew. They’re loaded with vitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium. They can be quickly mashed and served on their own or mixed with breast milk or formula. As the baby gets older, bananas can be mixed with other fruits or combined with brown rice or hot cereal.

Avocados– They are nutrient-rich and contain valuable nutrients including 8% of the recommended Daily Value (DV) for folate; 4% DV for fiber and potassium, 4% DV for vitamin E; and 2% DV for iron. A serving of avocado also contains 81 micrograms of the carotenoid lutein and 19 micrograms of beta-carotene. Per serving, avocados have 3.5 grams of unsaturated fats, which are known to be important for normal growth and development of the central nervous system and brain. Avocados are served fresh from their peels. There is no need to cook avocados for baby or adult.

Apples– Apple is bountiful in vitamin C and some fiber which helps babies absorb iron. Pureed or grated, they can be introduced at six months and mixed with iron-rich foods like cooked veggies, egg yolks, and brown rice.

Mangoes- to be introduced between six and eight months, mangoes are an excellent source of vitamins A, B6, and C, as well as potassium, copper, and fiber. They can simply be mashed with a fork and mixed with veggies, organic yogurt, or served on its own.

Orange Veggies

Orange vegetables are the Carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes pack nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin A, and potassium into every bite. These veggies are naturally sweet and hence easy to be liked by babies.

The root vegetable is rich in nitrates advises against giving carrots to babies younger than three months. Micronutrients such as flavonoids keep the heart and blood vessels healthy. They are also good for kidneys that purify blood to filter out toxins, consumption of carrots increases the number of lymphocytes and platelets – blood cells that aid in regulating immunity.

Boiled Carrots

Just cook raw carrots yourself. Wash and peel them, then boil in water until tender. Mash thoroughly with a fork or food mill. Add a little water to get the consistency right for your baby.

Roasted Carrots

Ingredients – 

  1. 1/2 cups carrots
  2. 1 cup of water

Directions –

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Cut carrots into 1-inch pieces. Optionally toss with about a tablespoon of olive oil.
  2. Roast carrots for 30 minutes until tender.
  3. Add carrots to a blender with 1 cup of water. Puree until smooth.

Sweet Potatoes

  1. Wash and Prep the Sweet Potato
  2. Rinse the sweet potato in cold water. Scrub the skin with a small vegetable brush to remove dirt. Rinse again, then peel with a veggie peeler. Dice into small chunks.
  3. Cook sweet potato chunks until tender (about 15 minutes). Drain sweet potatoes and rinse with cold water.
  4. Puree cooked sweet potato in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add water as needed to reach desired consistency. Once your baby is ready for finger foods, typically around 10 months, you can serve her sweet potato that’s been cooked and cut into tiny pieces.
  5. Cinnamon, raisins, applesauce, rice, etc can be added to it according to the baby’s palate.

Eggs

Eggs are packed with good nutrition for babies, including protein and vitamins D, A, E, and K. Smash cooked egg yolk into purees for younger babies. You can also offer your baby pieces of scrambled eggs.

And serve the whole egg, including the yolk, which contains fat a baby needs.

Yogurt

Creamy yogurt is rich in calcium and vitamin D, necessary for healthy bones and teeth.

Yogurt contains cultures that break down the lactose and protein, making it easier to digest. So it’s perfectly fine as a first food. Choose plain, unflavored, whole-milk yogurt. Babies need fat for brain development.

Food texture transitioning

To help your baby get used to different textures and tastes quickly, try moving on to mashed and finger foods (from purées or blended) as soon as they’re ready. This helps them learn how to chew, move solid food around their mouth, and swallow solid foods.

Foods to Avoid

Honey: Never give honey to infants under the age of 12 months due to the risk of botulism, a serious form of food poisoning.

Undercooked eggs: These may contain Salmonella bacteria, which can make your baby ill.

Unpasteurized dairy products: Pasteurization kills bacteria in dairy products that may cause infection.

Sugary, salty, or highly processed foods or drinks: These usually supply very few nutrients. Sugar can damage teeth, and babies’ kidneys cannot cope with too much salt.

Be wary of food allergies and choking. Be vigilant and have patience, this will help your child in the longer run.


References: Parents.com | NHS | Healthline.com

Hi, I'm Dr. Swati, a dentist by profession, closeted writer by passion. Mother to a 4-year-old daughter, I believe a raising a child is an arduous yet rewarding task, and one must avail themselves all the aide you get.

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