It is probably like a million times that you have been told by health care professionals that exclusive breast feeding until six months is absolutely essential. You have probably been very religiously doing so even in the middle of the night. If you chose not to or you were not able to do so, you were possibly reminding yourself to sterilise the bottle and keep the water ready. Either way, you are on your feet. Suddenly there comes a day when your baby, who in all these days has been glaring at your plate, pounces on your plate and grabs a handful. Yippee! He is ready for solids! Well, that’s how simple baby led weaning is and from my personal experience I would vouch for it. For one thing, this way you are not in a rush to introduce solids and run the risk of food allergies. Moreover, the jury on when is the right time to wean your baby on solids is almost always out in the open. So why not just leave it to nature and let your baby decide when he wants to eat and not just drink. Just remember, like adults, each baby is different and develop according to their own timetable and not yours. It is much easier to feed the baby food when he is ready and it is less stressful for you. It is said that unless the ‘tongue thrust reflex’ goes i.e. reflex that makes them push everything out of their mouth, they may not be ready for solids. Also, generally they are ready when they can sit up unsupported.
My son started showing interest in food when he was about five months and when he was two weeks short of six months, I started offering him solids or semi solids to be more precise. The health visitors said the target should be to enable him have family meals by his first birthday. Being target oriented was quite helpful in planning my strategy. I am going to share some of my wisdom and experience with you.
As a first time mother I wanted to be perfect in what I did for him. I used to refer so many different websites and books on weaning, what to give and what not to give. If you were to go by most of them, there was no way I could even think of achieving my target. Based on all that here are the key things I did or think or feel and may help you…
1. Try to stick to the four day rule especially if there is history of food allergy in your family. What this means is, if you introduce potato to your baby, do so for four continuous days and do not give any other new food in the same time. This will help you observe any allergies as sometimes it takes a couple of days for the allergy to show up. If you give too many new things, it makes it hard to find the allergen.
2. Do not be overly concerned by how much your baby is eating. It is said that the nutrient requirements for the first year of life is from milk and food is more inculcation of habit. Remember, try not to reduce the quantity of milk to make your baby eat more at least until one year old
3. There are always days when they will just refuse to eat and there are also days when they will gobble anything
4. As your child grows, he develops the ability to chew food better. This means you should vary the texture of food. Start with purees then move to mashed and then to chunks. Call me lazy but I did not puree any vegetables except peas and beans. All the rest I would boil/steam and make a pulp by mashing with a spoon. I use to mash every mouthful of banana in my hand and feed him.
5. Introduce spices slowly. Most spices, especially the ones used in Indian cuisine, are beneficial to the body. Cumin for example, helps relieve congestion and also aids in digestion.
6. Unlike adults, fat is good for babies especially for their rapid brain development. Use ghee, butter, oil in moderation. Give full fat yogurt, cheese etc.
7. Usually after the 26 weeks mark, you are given green signal to give almost any food like fruits, veggies, meat (we are vegetarians though). Of course it is up to you to keep allergies in mind.
8. Start with one meal a day at a time when he is not very tired or sleepy or cranky. Do not rush and do not get distracted. Try explaining what he is eating, what the benefits are, how it was prepared. This way, both of you are focused on the food. You eat a spoonful in front of him and say things like ‘yum yum’. Gradually increase the meal to two and then to three.
9. Variety adds spice to life, even your little one’s life. Try to add as much variety of flavours, veggies, fruits etc.
10. Some say that as babies naturally have a sweet tooth because we are born with more taste buds for sweets, it may be a good idea to introduce vegetables first else they may never like them. I did not face this problem and was almost alternating new veggies and fruits. For the same reason I never added any sugar in his diet. However I add a dash of salt. They say their kidneys are not fully developed and hence avoid salt and sugar. There is no point in adding no salt and handing a bag of chips when he is a toddler as that will only make him want chips more and harm the body. I want him to develop liking for balanced diet.
11. Try not to give a lot of jar food. Processed food is not good for adults, leave alone for babies. It also becomes hard to wean them off from those foods and eat homemade food. I used to buy few jars for travel and emergency. Also, I used to try vegetable or fruit for the first time from a jar, look for allergies and then prepare them at home.
12. Your baby is your best guide. Do not panic and do not get frustrated, they will easily pick that
13. You cannot expect your baby/toddler to snack on a fruit when you are snacking on crisps. Lead by example.
As I said, I have shared most of my lessons learned here and hopefully this will be a good starting point for you. It is a long journey, not always a fun ride, but eventually you will get there. Remember, your goal is to give a good healthy start for your child. His quality of life, health and longevity is quite heavily dependent on how well you set his eating habits. Childhood obesity is on the rise everywhere and there is also said to be increasing rates of juvenile diabetes. You can help your child, so let’s do it.