Everything you need to know about introducing your child to complementary foods
As a mother, your baby’s nutrition and health are of paramount importance to you, for sure. And yes, it is true that breast milk is all that a baby needs until he or she is 6 months of age. After that though, you need to make his or her diet more wholesome by including other foods. So, are you ready to introduce your child to complementary foods? If the answer is yes, then understanding more about this transition can be a good start.
Why is it necessary to introduce complementary foods?
Introducing complementary foods is the process by which a baby starts eating adult foods and relies less and less on breast milk. When a baby reaches 6 months of age, breast milk alone cannot meet his or her nutritional requirements. Other nutrients, along with additional calories, are required to complement breastfeeding, until the baby is ready to eat only adult foods.
This is a time of dietary transition. On the one hand, it’s a time when the baby is growing very quickly and requires the right nutrition. And on the other hand, it’s also that stage when the baby starts moving around a lot more and gets exposed to germs and infections, which means that he or she should get immunity-boosting nutrition. That’s why it’s very important to be careful about complementary feeding.
What is the right time to start complementary feeding?
Most babies are ready for solid foods at around 6 months of age. You can always start complementary feeding a little earlier, but don’t wait for too long after 6 months, because it increases your baby’s risk of iron-deficiency. Look out for these signs that will tell you that your baby is ready for solid foods:
- They can sit up without support and have good control over their neck muscles.
- They open their mouth when you take the food towards them.
- They hold food in the mouth instead of throwing it out.
- They let you know if they don’t need food by turning their head away.
- They show interest when other family members are eating.
How is your baby’s food different from the usual family food?
Home-cooked, nutrient-dense foods that the whole family eats are the best for your baby. However, you need to make sure that the food is bland, and without added salt, sugar or spices. This is a must especially in the beginning. If you are using commercial baby foods, read the labels and ensure that there is no added salt or sugar.
Tips to introduce complementary foods
Many mothers often wonder how to introduce complementary foods into their baby’s diet. Here’s how you can do it:
- Babies are not used to chewing their food into tiny pieces before swallowing. So, make sure you stay with your baby when they’re eating to make sure they don’t choke.
- Be patient with the process. This is the first time your baby is learning to eat different foods, and all the different tastes and textures can become overwhelming. There’s a chance they may initially spit out the food. Don’t get disheartened and try again.
- Completely avoid all distractions like TVs, phones, and tablets, while the baby is eating. If the baby considers mealtimes to be special and important, you will be able to promote healthy eating habits easily.
- Once your baby starts having solid foods, they will need to start drinking water. You can offer drinking water to your baby from a cup or beaker. Once the child becomes 1 year of age, you can introduce cow’s milk into the diet. Avoid giving juice to your baby as it will decrease their appetite for other foods, and can also cause diarrhoea and early childhood tooth decay.
- Avoid foods that are low in nutrition and high in fats and sugar, as these can end up encouraging unhealthy food habits.
- Start introducing common allergenic foods like peanut products and eggs when you introduce solid foods. Introduce these foods one at a time, and wait a few days before introducing the next one. If the baby can tolerate it the first time, continue offering it a few times a week, and monitor closely. If there are signs of an allergic reaction, contact your doctor immediately.
- Don’t coax your child into eating more if they’re not hungry. Offer a teaspoon of food and then let the baby’s hunger cues guide you. Keep feeding if she is excited and opening her mouth to eat. If she closes her mouth and turns her head away, just stop. This will make your child much less likely to overeat when they’re older.
- Start with foods that contain iron, which babies need for their development. These can include well-cooked daals, chana (chickpeas), and beans, as well as poultry, egg yolk, and meat. Iron-fortified infant cereals like rice and barley can also be an option.
How you handle your baby’s complementary feeding can potentially determine their eating habits in the future. So, keep the above tips in mind and understand that not all kids are same. So, consulting a doctor can give you a better idea of what to do if a problem arises.