Weaning a baby from breast milk to solids is a huge milestone. It is important to know all the facts about the process of weaning and the problems that you may encounter while weaning in order to ensure that both you and our baby enjoy weaning.
What is weaning?
For a baby – weaning is the process of gradually transitioning from breast milk to solid food. The most important thing to remember about the process of weaning is – that it is gradual and not abrupt. Weaning must not involve any drastic measure that suddenly conveys to the baby that there is no more breast milk.
What are the most important things to remember while weaning a baby?
The most important thing to remember about weaning is that it is a natural process.
Every newborn is programmed to suckle and drink breast milk. And every baby at a certain age is programmed to start eating solids.
A lot of parents are often worried about how their baby will eat solids. Or that their babies may never eat solids. But this is an unfounded fear.
Weaning to solids is a natural process and every baby when he/she is physically capable of grasping things and bringing them to his/her mouth will automatically self wean.
What is the best age to start weaning?
WHO recommends that weaning to solids be started only after 6 months of age. The keyword in the WHO recommendation here is “after”. Which means that they recommend that babies must be given only breast milk and nothing but breast milk for the first 6 months of their lives.
Weaning to solids can be started at any time after the baby is 6 months old.
Why should solids be started at 6 months?
WHO recommends that solids be started at 6 months because several studies have shown that by the age of 6 months – breast milk is no longer able to fulfill all the nutritional requirements of the baby.
When a baby is born – the baby typically has large reserves of iron and Vitamin C in the body. These reserves are sufficient for the baby for the first 6 months of life.
After that if the baby is kept only on breast milk – the baby starts developing Iron deficiency and Vitamin C deficiency.
How will I know that my baby is ready for weaning?
Since weaning is a natural process – nature ensures that a baby who needs to eat solid food and is ready to digest solid food – also has the ability to pick up the food and bring it to the mouth.
The signs that a baby is now ready to eat solid food are –
- He/she is able to hold the neck up straight. Or in other words has neck control
- He/she is able to sit with support for at least a few minutes at a time
- He /she is able to grasp objects and bring it to the mouth
- He/she shows a general interest in the food that others are eating
- He/she observes carefully when others pick up food, put it in their mouths and chew it.
How do I prepare my baby for weaning?
The easiest way to wean a baby is to get the baby curious about food and interested in food and the process of eating.
If you plan to start your child on solid food as soon as he/she completes 6 months of age – these are the things you must do from the time your baby is 4 months old.
- Bring your baby to the table when you eat your meals as a family
- As soon as your baby is able to sit up with support give her/him a spoon to play with.
- Allow your baby to put the spoon in the mouth and chew on it. This helps babies to get used to the sensation of having the spoon in the mouth. It also helps babies to get accustomed to the chewing action.
How to start weaning?
The first time a parent puts a solid food into a baby’s mouth may be a time of anxiety for the parent and confusion for the child.
To make the process of starting weaning easier follow these 6 steps
- Start weaning with a fruit like banana which is easily digestible
- Mash the banana thoroughly – or puree the banana
- Use a very small spoon to feed the baby. The spoon should be almost flat. It must not have a deep bowl or head. This makes it easier to deliver the food to the baby since the baby initially does not know how to take food out of a spoon.
- Take a very tiny amount of mashed banana on the spoon. The banana should just coat the surface of the spoon.
- With the spoon – take the tiny bit of mashed banana to the baby’s mouth and place it on the surface of the lips – just where the lips go into the mouth.
- Do not attempt to push the spoon and the banana into the mouth of the baby. Allow your baby to lick up the banana from the lips.
A gentle approach to the baby’s first encounter with solid food is very important. Your baby should not feel like he/she is being forced to try something new. He/she must feel free, empowered and independent.
Neha Goyal – Mommy blogger and founder of Being Happy Mom shares this very pertinent piece of advice for new moms who are struggling with weaning
“You must be persistent polite and calm when you wean your child to solids”
What food should be given while weaning?
The most important thing to remember while weaning is – that the process of weaning must gradually introduce the baby to the foods that are routinely eaten by your family.
One of the common mistakes made by parents is using weaning charts created by people who are from a different culture and from a different part of the world or the country. The recommendations made by these people and the foods specified in these food charts – typically pertain to their culture and their food habits – which may be very different from the food habits of your family.
By the time your baby is one year old – he/she should be able to eat what is regularly cooked for the rest of the family. This means that while weaning – foods that are eaten by you commonly at your meals – are the ones you should focus on introducing to your child while weaning.
In typical Indian households – the food that is cooked every day has rice as one component and dal as the other component. There are usually some common Indian vegetables – like pumpkin, bottle gourd (lauki), carrots and potatoes that are eaten every day. In addition – certain fruits like banana, apple, chikoo and mango are routinely eaten too.
In India – babies can therefore be weaned to the following food in the following order –
A mixture of rice and dal
A mixture of rice dal and pumpkin
Bottle gourd or lauki puree
A mixture of rice dal pumpkin and bottle gourd puree
A mixture of rice dal potato pumpkin and bottle gourd puree
A mixture of rice dal potato pumpkin and bottle gourd puree carrot puree
Grated and stewed apple
How should I introduce new foods to a baby while weaning?
When introducing new foods to a baby remember these 3 things to prevent any allergies or adverse reactions
- Introduce only one food at a time. In case your baby is allergic to a certain food – you will be able to identify the offending food immediately
- The first time you give a food – give a very tiny quantity
- Slowly build up the amount of food that you are giving your baby over the period of 4 days
How much food should I give my baby while weaning?
Follow the 4 day per food rule
Day 1 of new food – 1 teaspoon full at lunch time
Day 2 of new food – 1 tablespoon full at lunch time
Day 3 of new food – 1 tablespoon for breakfast and 1 tablespoon full for lunch
Day 4 of new food – 2 tablespoons full for breakfast and 2 tablespoons full for lunch
How long does it take to wean a baby?
Weaning typically takes 6 months
In the first 2 months – foods are gradually introduced
By the age of 8 months – the baby should be able to eat a combination of at least 3 to 4 foods in sufficient quantity to fill him/her up at mealtimes.
From 8 months to 12 years – more and more foods that are regularly eaten at home are introduced so that by the age of one year – no special food needs to be cooked for the baby and the baby can eat regular meals with the rest of the family.
Mommy blogger Anjana Bhartia who blogs at Mommy Republic has this cheerful piece of advice for weaning babies
“Just like we enjoy a variety of tastes – so do babies ! Do not be afraid to experiment with different flavors and combinations – you never know what’s going to work !”
Should breastfeeding continue while weaning – for how long?
Yes breastfeeding should most certainly continue while weaning to solids
There are two reasons for continuing breastfeeding while weaning
- At first the amount of nutrition that a baby gets from the solids he/she is eating is negligible. When solids are introduced they must be started for the baby in such small quantities that they cannot satisfy either the hunger or the nutritional needs of the baby. The baby is therefore very much dependent on breast milk for both its hunger and its nutrition.
- Breast milk is also necessary to protect the stomach as it takes in new food. Breast milk forms a coating on the surface of the stomach which prevents the solids from having any adverse effects on the gut lining. This keeps the baby safe from food allergies and reactions
The baby’s stomach needs some time to learn how to digest and utilize solid food. During the initial days – the entire solid food that goes in through the mouth comes out almost unchanged and undigested in the stool. This then also means that the baby’s body has not been able to extract any of the nutrients from the food. Depending solely on solid food for nutrition during this phase can cause nutritional deficiencies. To keep nutritional requirements satisfied – it is important to continue breastfeeding.
How long breastfeeding should be continued after weaning to solids?
It is ideal to continue breastfeeding at least until the baby is one year old – because it takes that long for the baby to be able to eat solids in enough quantity and variety to satisfy all nutritional needs.
However it is important to remember that exclusive breastfeeding – i.e breast milk and nothing else – not even water – is recommended by the WHO for the first 6 months of the baby’s life.
After the age of 6 months – once solids have been started – how long to continue breastfeeding is personal choice made by the mother and dependent on the baby.
How can breast milk be dried up after weaning to solids?
The amount of breast milk produced by a mother is completely dependent on how much milk the baby demands. There is a very finely tuned biological mechanism that regulates the amount of breast milk produced through the day based on the hunger of the baby.
As the baby starts taking more and more solid food – the mother’s body senses that the baby is less and less hungry because the intensity of suckling decreases. This tells the breasts to reduce the production of breast milk.
The only way to stop breast milk production is to stop suckling the baby.
Many mothers think that if they use a breast pump and pump out all the milk – the milk will dry up and finish – but this is a mistaken idea. The breasts do not have a pool of milk that will get over. Milk is produced based on demand. Pumping the breast conveys an artificial demand. The breasts get emptied of milk and immediately produce more milk. Continuing this practice is likely to never dry up breast milk.
What are the possible problems while weaning?
The two problems that parents must watch out for while weaning a baby to solids is
- Food allergies
The easiest and most effective ways to avoid food allergies is to offer foods one at a time and in small quantities. The quantities of food must be stepped up gradually as the baby’s stomach gets used to the food. Any two foods must be mixed and fed only after each one has been successfully introduced on its own.
The easiest way to ensure that a child does not choke on the food he/she is eating is – to constantly keep an eye on the baby while he/she is eating. Choking is distinct possibility before the age of three years and children must be closely monitored until then.
It is important to remember that choking is a silent phenomenon. The child will be unable to scream or cry out to as he/she chokes. It is therefore extremely important to constantly watch the child as he/she eats.
To avoid choking – it is wise not to offer hard fruits lie apple, carrot, pear and grape without grating them or stewing them to make them soft.
Whole nuts like peanuts must also be offered to children only after the age of three years.
What food should be avoided while weaning?
Weaning should be started with fruit puree and the foods that should be introduced next are rice and dal.
- It is best to avoid offering eggs and non vegetarian food until your baby is 9 months old.
- It is best to avoid giving milk (other than breast milk until your baby is one year old)
Weaning is a natural process that should bring in joy, new experiences and excitement into the lives of the parents and the baby. Approach weaning with enthusiasm and excitement but be cautious and watchful throughout.
Happy weaning !