Why is weaning important and what food to start with?

In ancient writings, the word “wean” meant “to ripen” — like a fruit nourished to readiness, it’s time to leave the vine (The Baby Book by William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN, p. 187). In this blog, we talk about understanding why and when your baby needs to wean off breast milk and be introduced to solid foods. And when that time is around the corner, which foods are suitable for your baby.

Introducing your baby to food is a big milestone! The babies first feed, Annaprashan, is a popular Hindu custom that celebrates the transition from breast milk to solid foods. The rituals around this custom signify the importance of the weaning process. Let’s understand it too.

Your baby’s nutritional requirement till she’s 6 months is met adequately with breast milk. But as she grows, her requirements as well as appetite will increase. By 6 months, your baby’s body stores of iron are depleted, and mother’s milk may not be able to fulfil this increased requirement. The same falls true for other essential vitamins like Vitamin K, Vitamin D and minerals like zinc. At this time, it’s important to start the weaning process. This process does not mean stopping breast milk and introducing solid foods. It takes place gradually where the baby’s diet includes new foods along with breast milk – the two must work as complementary meals.

It’s advised to introduce solid foods not before 6 months as your baby’s stomach is not well developed to handle solid foods. As she grows, she’ll have better head and neck control, suckling pattern, munching movement and tongue movement. Skills that an infant needs to master actions like chewing and swallowing are developed during the weaning phase.

As parents, we excitedly wait for our young one to reach new milestones. With weaning, the baby starts becoming independent and interested in the world around them. 

Now that we understand why weaning is important, it is also important to understand what foods to start with. Since the little one can only consume up to a cup of food at a time, it is vital that we make it nutrient and energy-rich as well as soft and easy to swallow.

  • Start with a staple cereal like rice, ragi, maize, millets and prepare a thick, soft and creamy porridge. Traditional recipes like satva and kanji work well.  These staples can also be used to prepare ARF (Amylase-rich food) to boost the nutrient content of the dish.
  • Legumes like moong are also another power-packed weaning option. Soaked, boiled and mashed, they are filling as well as a good source of proteins. To start, mix a small quantity of lentil to porridge or khichdi. Gradually, other cooked and mashed beans and peas can also be introduced in small quantities.
  • Mashed potatoes and carrots with a soft puree consistency are packed with essential micronutrients and make great weaning food.
  • Washed and blanched green leafy vegetables made into a soup or mixed with cereals or legumes (like palak khichdi) helps meet your baby’s requirements of iron and Vitamin A.  
  • Fruits are packed with vitamins and natural sugars, giving it a sweet taste that babies sure do enjoy. Homemade fruit puree or juice could be a great option for your little one. Here’s a helpful tip: Stewed apples and peaches are often a favourite with babies.
  • Oils and fats like ghee help to make the meals energy-rich, soft and easier to swallow.
  • It’s always advisable to wait till the infant is 8 months before introducing any herbs and spices in their meals. You can consider using a few mild spices like hing, ajwain, sauf, ginger, etc. that have been used traditionally for their therapeutic properties. Turmeric and garlic can too be introduced – they’re great for their antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. When your baby is able to tolerate these mild spices well, at around 18 months, we can also introduce small amounts of hot spices like mirchi and pepper.
  • Never add salt and sugar to your baby’s food. Salt tends to put an extra load on the kidneys, and sugar can lead to tooth decay. 

Note: Ensure that you thoroughly clean all the fruits and vegetables before using them to prepare your baby’s food. You can also clean it by soaking it in salt water or vinegar water for about 15-20 minutes.

Eating is a whole new skill that the baby needs to develop. It’s always important to remember that every child is different, some accept new tastes and texture sooner than others. All you need to do is keep trying to understand your baby, and be your baby’s cheerleader!

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