The term 'to wean' comes from an ancient phrase that means 'to accustom to'. So weaning refers to the period during which an infant gradually becomes accustomed to food other than milk (breast or formula). Up until 6 months of age, breast or formula milk alone is nutritionally adequate. Thereafter, it is important to start introducing weaning foods after 6 months of age to meet the changing nutritional needs of the growing infant, particularly of iron. Nevertheless, the best cue to determine readiness should come from the baby. The following are some signs of developmental readiness that you should look out for:
Infants who exhibit poor growth or iron deficiency anaemia may be weaned earlier, as advised by their doctor or dietitian. However, the introduction of weaning foods should not be earlier than 4 months of age. The renal and gastrointestinal functions are generally mature to metabolise nutrients from food by 4 months of age. On the other hand, weaning should not be delayed beyond 6 months of age, as it can increase the risk of feeding difficulties later on and the baby may not be able to get adequate nutrition from milk alone.
Iron-fortified plain rice cereal is recommended as the first weaning food. This can be mixed with breast milk or formula milk to the required consistency. There is no particular order for food introduction. Foods to be introduced should be dependent on the baby’s nutritional needs. Attention should be paid to the texture and consistency of the foods offered. It is also important to introduce one new food at a time, waiting 3 – 4 days between new foods to observe for any adverse reactions.
The first food should be a smooth puree and of a bland taste. The consistency should be slightly thicker than milk. If the food holds its shape on the spoon, it is considered too thick for the baby. Start with one feed a day and gradually increase the quantity, and it is important to follow the baby’s pace. The baby's milk feed can be offered first to satisfy hunger. The initial aim is to get the baby accustomed to spoon-feeding. Milk should still remain the main source of nourishment.
As the baby gets older, he will be ready for foods with soft lumps and thick consistency. The baby may be having 2 or 3 meals. Begin to introduce foods with textures, i.e. lumpy foods that require some chewing, after around 8 months of age, as this is an important developmental stage for the baby to improve oral skills and muscles. Begin giving finger foods to facilitate chewing and self-feeding skills as well.
Foods offered to the baby should not be blended anymore. Roughly chopped or minced foods can now be given. Family foods, without salt, seasoning and sugar, can also be offered, which increases the variety of foods the baby is exposed to. After a year of age, it is encouraged to have the baby join in the family meals, and there is no need to cook separate foods for the baby.
Trying to wean a baby can be challenging and stressful for the parents. Some parents sail through this stage, while others find themselves fraught with difficulties. This is an important stage of emotional and behavioural development for the baby and much patience is required. Here are some tips to consider for easy weaning:
To prevent choking:
For good hygiene in food preparation:
Weaning is an important stage in a baby’s development. Every baby is different, so do not compare one baby with another. Mealtimes should be enjoyable for both parents and the baby. Being relaxed and patient can help to make mealtimes less stressful for both the parents and the baby