Congratulations, you have hit the first mommy milestone if you are thinking of weaning your baby off breastmilk or formula and introducing her to solids. As exciting as this phase is, it is also filled with trepidation, a whole lot of second guessing and definitely some real hurdles. This new phase of parenting requires hands-on careful meal planning since the source of main nutrition now shifts from milk to solid foods. Even your baby’s nutrition needs change, with more emphasis now being on protein intake. But let’s get to that later, and start with the basics.
Your baby’s age, sleeping pattern, feeding pattern and body mass are the best indicators of the need to introduce solids and start weaning.
If your baby is less than 6 months old and seems happy and content, she definitely does not require solids. It is best to wait for her to show signs of hunger before you do so. If she is sleeping well, about 8 to 10 hours at night without needing nutrition, is she is well placed in terms of growth and if she is feeding well during the day, weaning is not required just yet either.
If your baby no longer feeds or sleeps well and suddenly becomes wakeful at night and only settles down after a feeding, it may be an indicator that solids are required. This is also so if your baby is more than 16 weeks of age and weighs in or slightly over the 7 kgs region. This general indication can and should be corroborated by your doctor.
Another way to gauge whether your baby now needs solids is to check her growth chart. If you start noticing a dip in her growth curve when she is over 16 weeks of age and only feeding on breastmilk or formula, it indicates the need to introduce solids.
If your baby starts showing the signs of readiness to start solid foods, you can consider introducing them. These signs include sticking her tongue out often accompanied with excessive drooling, making attempts to grab at your food, being able to sit upright with no side support and a strong neck.
Preferably rice or maize, start your baby’s solid food journey by sticking with a single grain cereal. Take 1 heaped spoonful (tsp) of dry cereal in a bowl. Mix it with expressed breast milk (EBM), formula or cooled boiled water to make a sloppy, lump-free mixture. Offer this to your baby between 4 and 5 pm. Make sure that you make a fresh mixture just before you intend to give it.
You can gradually increase the amount as well as thicken the consistency as the baby grows older and makes more demands. Depending on how old your baby is when this is started, this may be all the baby needs right now. If the baby is just about 6 months, you can continue this same baby cereal recipe for about 2 weeks before you make a switch.
When your baby becomes hungry for breakfast, that is, she displays signs of hunger between the early morning feed and the mid morning feed, you need to feed her. At about 8 am introduce a breakfast of the same amount of cereal as the evening feed. If your baby is older than 6 months, begin this step 2 after starting the evening cereal, regardless of whether your baby appears hungry or not. Continue this feeding schedule for a week.
After sticking with the AM-PM cereal schedule for about two weeks, your baby is ready to try her veggies. Start with green, bitter vegetables. Boil and puree the veggies such as green beans, broccoli, spinach, baby marrow, etc and substitute the afternoon cereal with them. Feed the same quality as the cereal and introduce one vegetable at a time, continuing the vegetable for two to three days. This will allow your baby to get used to each individual vegetable, its taste and texture. Only after your baby has become accustomed to these bitter vegetables, should you introduce the sweeter vegetables, namely sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, butternut, etc.
When you baby becomes hungry at lunch time, i.e she does not last from mid-morning to mid-afternoon and starts to demand more milk at about noon, it is time to feed her a lunchtime meal. You will have to start this before the the one week of only breakfast and supper meals is up. If the baby is older than 6 months, you can start this step even if your baby is not giving hunger signals. Lunch can include purees of fresh raw fruits such as mangoes, melons, pears, papayas, bananas, etc. or steamed fruit such as apples. Give the same quantity as your breakfast and supper. If your baby is showing midday hunger signs but is not older than 6 months, you can introduce the same fruits either mixed with cereal or milk. In this case you can even give these fruit purees as an extra at supper time.
You can give 1 tbsp of plain, white yogurt to your baby as part of any one meal of the day. It can be mixed with cereal, porridge, fruits or veggies.
Meats, chicken, fish and cheese should only be introduced if your baby is slightly older, about 8 months or so. Your doctor can guide you regarding this next step in your child’s nutrition. Fully cooked, scrambled eggs should be introduced to your baby’s diet well before her 9-months measles vaccine. Keep the portion sizes small.
As your baby moves from milk to solid foods, her requirement for proteins also grows. Most of this protein must now comes from the solid foods that she eats. Protein builds healthy bones and tissues and is absolutely vital for overall growth and development. The best way to understand your baby’s protein needs is by keeping this simple formula in mind: your baby needs 1g (1 serving) of protein per 1 kg of her body weight. Or easier still, her protein intake portion should be the size of her palm. For example, for an average 6 month old, who weighs between 6 to 9 kg, minimum 6-10 servings of protein are essential, divided into 3 meals. 1 serving is equal to 1 heaped teaspoon. Once your baby takes to solids, it is easy to incorporate 2 to 4 servings per meal.
Vegetable protein sources that can be given to your baby are: avocados, cashews, macadamia nuts, almonds, lentils, soya beans, tofu, sugar beans, mung dal, white kidney beans, peanuts, chickpeas, butter beans and cates. Even seeds such as sesame, linseed, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are good sources. These can all be pureed and added to cereals.
Animal protein sources that can be incorporated in your baby’s diets are plain white yogurt, cottage cheese, butter, egg (yolk to start and white from 10 to 12 months), tuna, free range chicken, lean lamb, etc.
The best way to ensure that your baby takes to solids faster and easier to ensure that you feed her when she is in a good mood. If she has been crying a while for her milk feed, this may not be the best time to offer.
It is more important for your baby to get adequate sleep than for her to eat solids so make sure you factor in her sleep schedule when you plan to offer.
Use a small baby spoon that fits easily in her mouth. A small egg cup should do for mixing your first cereals as it is the perfect size for the quantity. It is not necessary to sterilise these utensils but they do need to be washed in hot, soapy water.
Your baby may pull faces and appear to hate solids at first. This is natural considering she was used to sucking milk before. If you keep your smile and persevere, it will be easier for both of you.
Pre-mixed, ready-made or bottled baby food is fine to use as a convenience options but should not be the regular go-to baby food. There is no substitute for fresh fruits and vegetables.
You need not cook your vegetables to death! Light steaming help keeps the texture, taste and nutrition value more or less intact.
Introduce a single new food at a time and give it at least three times in a row before moving on to another.
Don’t let feeding time become a chore or worse, a tussle. If your baby refuses to eat, maybe she is not in the mood. Don’t force feed, give a break and try again later.
6:00 a.m Milk - breastfed or bottle fed
8:00 a.m Breakfast cereal
10:00 a.m Milk - breastfed or bottle fed (if the baby is older than 6 months, this feed may be dropped if she does not ask for it;
(if baby is less than 6 months, it is better to reduce the breakfast quantity while maintaining this feed schedule)
12:00 p.m Lunch meal
02:00 p.m Milk - breastfed or bottle fed
04:00 p.m Dinner meal
06:00 p.m Milk - breastfed or bottle fed
07:00 p.m Bedtime, at least 8-10 hours of sleep
Disclaimer: This article on weaning strategies contains advice on how to introduce solids but in no way suggests that you should stop giving breastmilk or formula milk to your baby. These solids are meant to supplement the baby’s milk feed and not replace it. The article also does not wish to supersede your doctor’s advice either. Your doctor’s advice must always come first.