Motherhood is nothing short of a roller coaster ride. Right from the time of conception, mothers go through ups and downs in all aspects of life. During pregnancy, the joy of feeling those tiny feet kick inside the womb is coupled with the agony of swollen feet. At birth, post-partum blues accompany the mother’s euphoria of finally being able to see her baby. As the months pass and the weaning stage approaches, conflicting emotions surface again. The mother, who was till then the baby’s exclusive source of nourishment, has the exciting prospect of introducing her baby to a variety of new foods.
Weaning is a part of motherhood just as much as breastfeeding is. Moms, especially first-time moms, have many doubts and questions about this phase and the plethora of conflicting off-the-cuff information about the subject that is freely available doesn’t help. In this article, I give you some definitive guidelines to ease you and your baby past this important milestone.
Getting the time right
One of the most common and most important questions regarding weaning is this – When do I start solids for my baby? The question is simple enough, but the answer is complex!
First of all, let’s take a look at why this question is important. Why is the timing crucial for starting a baby on solids?
Prominent health organisations like the WHO (World Health Organization), IAP (Indian Academy of Paediatrics) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommend exclusive breastfeeding till the baby is six months of age, and say solids should be started only after that. There are many reasons for this advice:
By the time a baby is six months old, she should have achieved the physical milestones that are required for eating solid foods, like losing the tongue-thrust reflex and having a stable neck.
If solids are introduced before the baby completes six months:
- It may lead to solids completely replacing breast milk, depriving the baby of the nutrients present in breast milk that he requires.
- She could develop complaints of constipation, flatulence and vomiting, as her digestive system may lack the enzymes required to digest solid foods.
- He may fall ill, as babies aged less than six months are low in immunity, and any compromise in hygiene and sterilisation of the utensils used to feed the baby could lead to infections.
- The baby’s risk of obesity will increase.
On the other hand, delaying the introduction of solids in a baby’s diet can:
- Cause nutritional deficiencies, especially of iron.
- Create resistance in the baby to try solid food, as she would have become accustomed to breast milk or formula milk.
- Increase the chances of food allergies – it is better to introduce foods that are common allergens early.
Having said that, remember, every baby is unique, and each one achieves milestones at his own pace.
So, how does a mother decide it’s the right time to start weaning?
The best person to answer the question is the baby!
Yes, by closely monitoring their baby’s development and hunger cues, mothers can make out if they are ready to start solids or not.
Here are five sure-fire signs that your baby is ready to start eating solid foods. Look out for them once she completes four months:
Signs that your Baby is Ready for Solids
1. Your baby’s neck and head are stable
One of the most important parameters that should be met before a baby can be fed solids is stability of the neck and head. The baby should be able to hold his head upright without wobbling, and should have good control of his neck muscles.
2. Your baby can sit upright when supported
It is essential to check if your baby can sit straight when adequately supported. When sitting upright, your baby is less likely to choke. A baby should never be fed in a lying down or leaning back position. A high chair is the best way to feed a baby, not just because it’s better anatomically, but also because it promotes healthy eating habits.
3. The tongue-thrust reflex is gone
The tongue-thrust or extrusion reflex is found in newborns – it prompts them to push out their tongues when their lips are touched. This reflex is essential for the initiation of breastfeeding and for the baby to learn to latch on. It wears off by the time the baby is about six months old. Only after it disappears can a baby take feeds from a spoon without spitting the food out or vomiting.
4. She has good hand-eye-mouth coordination
For successful introduction of solids into the diet, it is necessary to note whether your baby has developed good hand-eye-mouth coordination. This means that your baby should be able to see the food or spoon, hold it and take it to her mouth without too much trouble. If she’s been able to do this well for a while, she might be ready to be weaned.
5. He shows interest in the food on your plate
When your baby is ready for weaning, he’ll start showing a lot of interest in what you’re eating and may even try to grab some food and put it into his mouth. He may watch you eat, and his tongue may move in and out as he sees you. If he shows such signs and has achieved the requisite physical readiness, he might be ready to start solids.
It is important to note that all these signs are significant and that parents shouldn’t rush through the weaning process before the baby is ready for the milestone. For instance, it isn’t a good idea to add cereal to bottles and feed a baby who can’t sit straight or eat from a spoon either – it’ll cause more harm than good.
Now, your baby may display some signs other than those mentioned so far, and you may wonder if they signal weaning readiness. Some of them may and some may not.
In a nutshell, pick up the signs your baby exhibits to decide when to introduce solids. If you’re doubtful about whether your baby is ready for solid food, wait till she is six months old to start. Be sure to consult the paediatrician before you starting your baby on solid feeds, particularly if you plan to do so before she completes six months of age.
Starting solids is a major milestone for both the baby and the mother. Introduce this big step forward in diet at the optimum time, so that both you and your baby can truly enjoy this exciting stage!
Dr HemaPriya Natesan, a medical practitioner with a degree in Industrial Health, is Founder and Chief Editor at MyLittleMoppet, CEO of Little Moppet Foods and the mother of two little moppets.