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Weaning foods are important at this crucial transition phase for our babies as well as us mothers, as our little ones step into this whole new world of food.
Weaning is nothing but introducing of semi-solid foods and solid foods to babies; such foods are also called weaning foods, given while still breast feeding to gradually replace the mother’s milk with other foods.
This is the stage where their little bodies are growing faster and need all the nutrition to support their growth. While introducing weaning foods for the first time there are a lot of questions crossing our mind. We as parents are concerned about how our little ones will take the new food. How well is their body going to respond to these weaning foods or how much should we begin with – there are many questions like these that arise.
We need to make sure that whatever goes into our baby’s mouth is made with all love, effort and utmost cleanliness. Maintaining good hygiene is mandatory when it comes to preparing baby foods as there is a great risk of developing infections and allergies. All the vessels and utensils used for preparing food should be washed thoroughly before use. The milk or the water used to feed should be boiled and cooled.
This is the most confusing question for all mothers even if they are not first timers. Each baby is unique and each one’s needs are different. Some would show more flexibility for the new change whereas others would want to latch on to their mothers for long instead of the weaning foods.
Generally it is recommended to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months to avoid any adverse reactions to foods and allergies. After six months, milk alone does not provide adequate nutrients to the growing baby, particularly iron. As such it is wise to supplement the breastfeed with weaning foods at this stage to meet their growing needs.
If you have to start weaning foods earlier than six months, consult your paediatrician before starting to minimize the chances of developing any issues as their little tummies are still developing.
Babies as early as 4-5 months can begin with diluted vegetable and fruit purées and dal or rice water. It is best to give only clear liquids at this stage. Six month olds can have both clear liquids and puréed foods.
Fruits: Non-acidic fruits like apple, pear and peach are the best weaning foods to begin with. Fiber in apples (pectin) helps in maintaining bowel movement. Babies as young as 4 months might have trouble digesting the fruit in its raw form. The best way to prepare juice for them is to thoroughly boil 2 cups of water and put out the flame. To this, add well shredded half an apple. Set aside for a few minutes. Now strain this mixture to extract the juice. Feed the baby with a clean spoon while it is lukewarm.
As babies turns six months old they can be given purée of these fruits. Steam cook the peeled and grated apples or pear in a pan for about 5 minutes and set aside to cool. When the heat subsides, mash it well in a sieve. Now serve the runny purée obtained to your baby with a clean spoon.
Vegetables: light and non-gassy vegetables like carrots, ridge gourd (torai), bottle gourd (lauki), pumpkin (kaddu) are good to use as weaning foods.
Follow the same process of boiling well-peeled and washed vegetables in a pan. Once cooked thoroughly, set aside to cool. Extract the clear liquid from the cooked vegetables and feed your baby. If the baby responds well to the taste and shows interest in the food, graduate to the puréed form.
Whatever the food, stick to about 2-3 tbsps. Stuffing the baby in this experimental stage is not a good idea and might upset her digestion.
Rice and dal water:
Dal water is the most ideal and nourishing weaning food to start with. It’s consistency is quite similar to that of the breast milk. Moong dal or masoor dal are good choices to begin as they are supposed to be lighter on stomach.
Cook 1 tbsp of soaked and washed dal in half a cup of water. Allow the dal to cook thoroughly. Put out the flame and let the dal settle down. Sieve the water separately in a clean bowl and feed your baby.
As the baby grows a little older, this dal and rice water can be made into a thicker paste.
But again there are diverse opinions on which dal to use. In India weaning foods introduced see a great change region-wise. Women down south and in most parts of west hardly use moong for the daily cooking, whereas women in the north mostly prefer moong dal to toor dal as they feel it is lighter on the stomach.
If you are buying baby cereal, there are a range of weaning foods available. Choose Iron fortified rice cereals as they are ideal for the beginners. Always remember to check the labels and pick the ones with no added sugar or salt.
Salt should be avoided completely as an infant’s kidneys are not well developed to cope with it.
Note: when introducing weaning foods, we need to be consistent with the food texture and time until their little tummies adjust to this new wonder inside them. Consistency therefore is the key here as it helps us determine how well our baby has received a food and to check if there are any adverse effects to certain weaning foods.
By now the little one would have adjusted well with the weaning foods and parents too have a good idea of what suits the baby and what is he/she averse to. Babies are growing very fast and need more food to keep up their energy levels. The weaning foods that we introduce at this stage will be very vital for their growth in the formative years. The diet now progresses to a semi solid one from the runny purées.
Make sure that the weaning foods given at this stage cover all the nutrition such as starch, protein (helps in muscle building and growth), iron (to cope with the expanding blood cells) and minimal amounts of fat and calcium as well.
Purées of green vegetables like peas, cabbage, spinach, broccoli can be given from after six months. It’s good to start with mashed food with lumps included to help them adapt to adult food gradually.
A wide variety of starchy foods, millets and rice are good to begin. Serve at least two servings of starch foods a day.
Citrus fruits like oranges and sweet lime (mosambi) in diluted juice form can be given at this age. But it is recommended to reserve juices exclusively to the meal times as it helps in absorbing iron and reduces damage to their growing teeth.
Finger foods such as cooked French beans, carrot sticks, diced cheese, thin slices of banana and soft pear can be encouraged to stimulate chewing.
In addition to the daily dose of 500 – 600ml of breast milk or formula feed, boiled and cooled water should also be given when they are thirsty. This is advisable to avoid constipation.
Dairy products such as cottage cheese (paneer), fresh curds set at home can also be introduced as part of weaning foods. These are rich in fat and serve as the most needed energy source at this growing stage. We need to pay utmost care to the freshness of the dairy products before giving it to the baby as these can easily cause stomach infections. I prefer not to introduce any dairy other than ghee to my children until they are older than a year.
This again is a matter of choice. Each mother tries to incorporate foods according to traditions in her family, her convenience and her baby’s need. What is considered good and safe to one may not be acceptable to the other.
Babies at this stage are very much ready to fit into our family meals. We can pretty much feed them all the adult meals as long as they are cooked at home with all hygiene.
At this stage a baby should be having at least 3 – 4 servings of starch rich foods, such as khichdi, rice, dal, dalia, or potatoes, a day.
One serving of meat, fish, well-cooked eggs, or if you are vegetarian two of pulses any dal, peas and beans or freshly grinded nut butters.
One to two servings of cottage cheese (paneer) or yoghurt along with their regular dose of 500 – 600ml of breastmilk or formula milk.
Note: when weaning, certain foods such as salt, honey, sugar, artificial sweeteners, ready food, caffeinated drinks, low fat foods and cow or goat milk as a main drink should be avoided.
Weaning is a gradual process so look for cues from your baby and go with your gut feeling.
You are the best judge when it comes to your baby!
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