Weaning (Complementary feeding) may be defined as “gradual introduction of semi-solids and solids in baby’s diet apart from breast milk, to meet their growing demands, usually at 4-6 months.”
Note that weaning is a complementary process and not the discontinuation of Breast feeding, which should continue as long as possible.
Aims: BM is all that a baby needs till first 4-6 months of life. At this age, weaning is necessary as —
a) Breast milk output reaches a plateau (600-700 ml/ day) by this age,
b) Growing baby’s dietary requirements exceed the supply from mother’s milk,
c) Baby’s stomach is ready to receive and digest food, other than the breast milk.
Weaning process: Weaning should be a gradual and pleasant experience to the baby. Some important principles during weaning are —
• Start with one food item at a time and continue it for a week or so, till the baby gets used to it before adding next item. Multiple food items should not be started at same time.
• Increase the quantity, consistency and frequency of each feed gradually, till desired intake is achieved.
• Feed with a spoon and never use the bottle. Older children should be encouraged to feed from separate plate, to assess the exact intake.
• Weaning must be complete by 1 year of age, when baby should be qualitatively eating the regular family diet, albeit in quantities of —1/2 of the mother’s diet. Breast feeding should continue as long as possible, as a source of supplementary nutrition.
Early weaning before 4 months is harmful due to reduction in BM intake and higher risk of infections & allergies from weaning foods.
Ideal weaning foods should be —
a) Age-appropriate. As the mastication process in relatively immature in young infants, weaning should begin with thinner feeds like soups & juices, followed by mashed foods and lastly, the chewable foods. In early infancy, gut mucosa is relatively immature and permeable to undigested proteins, which may induce allergic mechanisms. Hence, eggs should not be introduced in diet before 6 months.
b) Home-made, less expensive and easily digestible. Commercial foods are better to be avoided as these are expensive and may contain harmful additives or high salt content.
c) Culturally and culinary acceptable: Non-Vegetarian foods are richer in proteins, though vegetarian foods are equally good, if used in combination of cereals and pulses. Caloric content may be further enhanced by adding oil, ghee, sugar, jiggery etc. Liking of baby is equally important as some babies prefer spicy food, while others like sweets.
d) Freshly and hygienically prepared.
Late weaning beyond 6 months affects optimal growth of the baby as well as may creates difficulties in subsequent weaning due to development of breast-affinity in baby.