The second half of the first year of life is essential in regards nutrition. Where milk is the exclusive food source in the first 6 months, infants are now prepared to indulge in a more substantial source of calories onwards. Weaning is a major transition period, for the development of the tummy as well as the balance of friendly bacteria. As you introduce new foods, new types of bacteria will also be introduced, changing the whole balance of the tummy.
The main rule is VARIETY. A diet that contains a wide variety of foods will not only provide nutrition, but also encourages a healthy, diverse balance of friendly bacteria. Proper weaning practices also help reduce the risk for allergies. As the tummy develops, it needs to learn the difference between safe and beneficial components, and those that are harmful.
Another important benefit of successful weaning is the infant’s general attitude toward food and eating. We often hear about parents complaining about their children being “picky eaters” after their first birthday or older but the truth is most of them turned this way because of late weaning and improper feeding practices.
Outlined below is a general guide for the introduction of solid foods.
FIRST STAGE: ONE FOOD AT A TIME
Start weaning only after 6 months of life, and never leave your baby alone when feeding. Try not to feed your baby when he is too tired or full. Babies thrive on routines so feed them in a place that makes them feel comfortable. Initial hesitation is expected and some babies may try to “test” their food with their fingers or by sticking their tongues out. Some may even play with their food. Encourage this as this gives them the confidence to trust their food and the act of feeding. Most caregivers erroneously think that this hesitation mean that the infant rejects the food but in fact, studies show that it takes 10 tries (even 20-25 tries, in some studies!) for the baby to like a new flavor. So keep trying until you succeed. The addition of clean drinking water, at least an ounce per feed, is encouraged at this stage.
SECOND STAGE: VARY WITH NEW VEGETABLES, FRUITS, AND DIFFERENT TEXTURES
Once the baby feels comfortable with single vegetable purees, you can introduce fruits as well progressing to a new food every 3 days. This should keep him excited to try new tastes and also give you an idea of any food allergies or intolerance. Introducing as many tastes and textures as possible will establish a healthy appetite for later life. Give smaller meals more than once a day and steam rather than boil to retain more minerals. Make all food soft and easily digestible. Offer new foods alongside favorite foods. Cook everything thoroughly making sure to let food cool down before serving. Finally, make sure to discard leftovers as contamination with saliva encourages growth of harmful microorganisms.
THIRD STAGE: INTRODUCING MEAL TIMES AND ESTABLISHING 3 MEALS A DAY
In this final stage, he should be ready to eat more and experiment more. Keep feeding him milk in the morning but just enough to not spoil his breakfast. Make lunchtime the main mealtime for protein-based foods and experimentation, as he may be more likely to be tired in the evening. Meats and eggs may be gradually introduced every 3 days beginning at 8 months, avoiding soft-boiled or runny yolks until 12 months old. Do not worry if he eats small amounts at the beginning and make sure to keep offering him foods from the previous stage, even the ones he didn’t like, because his preference will definitely vary daily. Encourage discovery by making food that is easy to hold like toasts and banana, or easy to scoop with a spoon like cereals. Make feeding relaxing and fun and try to eat together as a family as often as possible. Avoid processed foods, caffeine, sugary or salty foods, and beware of seasonings, sauces, or stock cubes, most of which are high in salt and sugar.
With these general guidelines, your baby will hopefully transition to a happy appreciation of a healthy and well balanced intake of solid foods. By his first birthday, he should be eating most of the things your family is eating keeping milk intake between 16 to 24 ounces per day for his calcium needs.
To reinforce proper feeding habits going forward, you should set a good example for your baby by eating healthy meals as well. Hopefully, proper feeding habits initiated during infancy will impact positively to a long, robust, and productive adult life.