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Human milk is the ideal food for full-term infants. Adequate intake of human milk or commercial infant formula meets the nutritional requirements for infants in the first six months of life. However after that milk is insufficient for the growth of the infant and hence the child milk intake would need to be complimented with semi solid food.
Feeding development is a "learned progression of behaviors". Feeding practices during the first two years of life help to establish lifelong eating habits, so it is important to develop healthy eating habits.
Here are some of the key questions that should be kept in mind before starting solids for your baby.
When should I start feeding my baby solid foods?
It is suggested that babies should be exclusively breast fed for the first six months. However, if the child is already on formula by 4 months or if the child is not gaining weight between 4-6 months despite breast feeding, most doctors recommend that parents start feeding their baby solid foods between 4 to 6 months.
Early introduction of complimentary foods before four months may increase risk of atopic dermatitis and atopic sensitization in infants at risk for allergic disease.
Delay in starting beyond six months may result in insufficient calories and proteins for growth in infancy.
How can I tell if my baby is ready for solid foods?
Babies are usually ready to start eating solid foods when they:
● Can sit up with help
● Have good control of their head and neck
● Put toys or hands in their mouth
What are COMPLEMENTARY FOODS?
Complementary foods (sometimes inappropriately called "weaning foods") are solid foods and liquids other than human milk or infant formula that are eaten by infants as they make the transition from a liquid diet to a modified adult diet. By the end of the first year of life, most healthy infants obtain should approximately one-half of their energy needs from complementary foods.
How do I know if my baby has an allergy to a food?
Your baby might have an allergy to a food if he or she eats it and then has 1 or more of the following symptoms:
● Skin rash or raised, red patches of skin that are usually very itchy (called hives).
● Persistent Vomiting or diarrhea
● Cough or trouble breathing
● Pale skin
“See your doctor immediately if your child has any of these symptoms.”
However, one or two episodes of vomiting after starting solids may not necessarily mean intolerance.
What should I feed my baby?
One could start with any food which the family prefers. It could be Dal, Khichri, Cerelac, Suji, Farex etc. Single-grain infant cereals are good choices for the first supplemental food because they supply additional energy. Rice based foods are good initial choice as they are likely to be least allergenic but do introduce wheat soon within two weeks as delayed introduction beyond six months may not be desirable.
Cereal should be offered initially in small amounts (1-2 teaspoons) at the end of milk feeding. The amount of cereal should be gradually increased to approximately one-half cup per day. Use spoon for feeding.
Start with fruits and vegetables after one to two months of starting the cereals. Introduction of variety of fruits and vegetables between 6-8 months would result in child more likely to take these healthy foods later in childhood.
When you start feeding your baby solid foods, give your baby 1 new food every few days. That way, you can make sure that your baby doesn’t have an allergy to that food. After a few days, you can try another food. A baby might refuse the food initially but once offered again and again he would start liking it. It has been seen that it might need approximately 8-10 exposures for the same food for the baby to start liking it.
How frequently should I give solid food?
Between 4-6 months give 1-2 times, 6-8 months give 2-3 times, 8-10 months 3-4 times a day and by the time the child is one year old should be taking 4-5 times food and milk should reduce to 2-3 times a day.
Can I use readymade baby foods like Cerelac or Farex?
These are complete meals in themselves. Not necessary to give but are not bad. They come in handy when you are travelling. However, if you like to give only home prepared foods, you may skip them.
Can I make my own baby food?
Yes, but don’t add salt or sugar to it. Babies don’t need extra salt or sugar in their food. Salt is not good for infant kidneys and adding sugar may leading to sweet preferences very early in life and consequently babies tend to avoid non sweet food.
Which foods should be avoided?
Babies younger than 1 year old should not drink cow’s milk or eat honey. Cow’s milk contains more protein than what babies’ kidneys can handle and honey is likely to result in infant botulism – a rare kind of infant paralysis.
Also till six months, following foods should be avoided for a higher nitrate content in them - spinach, beets, green beans, and carrots.
Certain foods to be avoided in the first year include hard, round foods (eg, nuts, grapes, raw carrots, and round candies), which can lead to choking.
What should be consistency of the food being prepared?
Start with a pureed food in a consistency which is not completely watery. It should start trickling from the plate if placed only at approximately at 30 degrees.
Once thin purées are tolerated and the infant can sit independently and tries to grasp food with his or her hands, thicker purées and soft mashed foods can be introduced. By around eight months of age, infants have usually mastered thick purées and have developed sufficient tongue flexibility to chew and swallow food with more texture (ground food, mashed foods with small, soft lumps) in larger portions
Can I give my baby juice?
You can give your baby juice in a cup at about 6 months old. But do not give your child more than 4 ounces (120 ml) of juice a day. Drinking more than that can lead to diarrhea, cavities, and other problems. White grape juice is more likely to be tolerated than apple, prune or pear juice. Fruit juice should be used as part of a meal or a snack and not be sipped throughout the day.
Does the baby need any minerals and supplements?
The baby would need to be given vitamin D and iron on daily basis.
How should be the feeding environment?
The development of healthy eating habits requires a healthy feeding environment and a healthy feeding relationship. In a healthy feeding relationship, the infant initiates and guides feeding interactions, and the caregiver must:
● Respond early and appropriately to hunger and fullness cues
● Recognize the infant's developmental abilities and feeding skills
● Balance the infant's need for help with encouragement of self-feeding