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Transitioning from milk to meals

Transitioning from milk to meals

A step-by-step guide on how and when to introduce solid foods into an infant’s diet
food and nutrition, weaning, baby food, vitamins for babies
Representational image | Canva

As soon as the first cry of the infant hits, a whole new journey begins for the parents. From getting new clothes, and changing diapers to feeding the baby every two hours, the chores are never-ending.

As the infants grow, understanding and attending to their changing needs becomes a significant part. One of the most critical phases is the shift from breastfeeding to solid foods.

Dr Rajinder Kumar, MD in paediatrician and lecturer at the Government Medical College, Jammu, says breast-feeding provides adequate nutrition for a child in the first six months. As the first step, he advises mothers to look out for deficiencies in themselves to avoid passing on the same to their children.

Infants, while weaning, are prone to nutrient deficiencies without a balanced ad varied diet, adds Madhu Kiran Kota, nutritionist from Hyderabad.

Cautionary tales

Dr Kumar says that the right time to start weaning is when the infant is six months old. “However, during the transition, 3 to 4 servings of food should be complemented by 6 to 8 rounds of mother’s feed daily,” he adds.

Dr Kumar shares his experience of coming across a year-old child weighing about 14kg (average weight of a one-year-old baby is 7.3 to 8.5kg). He says that this was due to formula feeding without the right knowledge of food combinations.

Kota advises consulting a paediatrician before choosing formula milk if needed. “A paediatrician can give individualised recommendations depending on the requirements and health history of the baby,” she adds.

Kota also warns against abruptly stopping breastfeeding. It may lead to digestive issues, such as constipation, and disruptions in sleep patterns, she says. “Breastfeeding beyond the recommended age can affect the hormone levels and fertility of the mother,” she adds.

However, starting solids too early can increase the risk of choking and the child can develop a natural aversion to solid foods.

Read more on how to avoid child obesity here

Introducing solid foods

Weaning is the process of introducing solids into the regular diet of infants while transitioning from breastfeeding, explains Kota. She suggests offering small food at first and gradually increasing as the baby gets more comfortable with solid foods.

“Weaning gradually over several weeks or months is recommended to give both the mother and the baby time to adjust,” she adds.

While starting weaning, a six-month-old must start with a liquid diet like fruit juices, daal water, rice kanji and clear soups. Kota recommends semi-solids like mashed banana, thick ragi porridge, pureed boiled vegetables, sattu with milk, and vegetable sticks like carrot and cucumber as teethers.

Dr Kumar suggests choosing home-made semi-solid foods such as a porridge of rice and daal, oats, suji halwa and daliya for 8 to 10-year-olds. He suggests introducing natural sugars from fruits after six months of breastfeeding. If the child is underweight, healthy fats from ghee and butter are also recommended.

Children of 10 to 12 months can be introduced to foods like soft-cooked carrots, a few fruits such as bananas, papayas and oranges, cooked meat, fish (boneless) and hardboiled eggs. Chapatis or dosas can also help children learn to feed themselves.

Read more about health drinks for children here

Experts approved

When transitioning from breast milk or formula feed to solid foods, some of the nutrients to be mindful of are iron, zinc, vitamin D, B12 and calcium.  A few additional nutritional tips and suggestions from the experts to consider are:

  • Good sources of vitamin A include pureed yellow and orange vegetables, like carrots and sweet potatoes.
  •  Foods rich in folate are pureed beans and lentils, that are essential for producing red blood cells and supporting brain development.
  • Vitamin D and calcium-rich foods like fortified child cereals, dairy products, egg yolks, fatty fish and leafy green vegetables are essential for supporting bone and muscle health.
  • Sources of protein and iron are pureed meat and vegetables to support building and repairing of tissues.
  • Foods rich in zinc include meat, poultry, dairy products, sap, and lentils for a child’s growth and development.
  • Good sources of vitamin B12 for infants include dairy products, meat, and eggs.

Kota says one should consult with a paediatrician or a registered dietitian if one has doubts about one’s diet and nutrition of the child.

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