It’s usually recommended that once a child reaches the age of six months that weaning be started. This is because, while being the best food for the first 6 months of the infant’s life, breast milk alone cannot meet the added nutrient requirements needed for good growth and development.
If the child is not fed well during this period, there’s the likelihood that they may become malnourished, either due to being given very little food or just too much.
On the other hand, introducing food before the six month, increases a child chances of developing allergies. It’s therefore very important that children not only begin weaning at the right age but also with appropriate foods and quantities.
Difference Between Complementary Feeding and Weaning?
There is actually no difference between the two. Weaning is simply sometimes referred to as complementary feeding to avoid passing the wrong message.
This is because the foods to be introduced are not there to replace breast milk rather it’s to complement it. As a matter of fact most children should continue breastfeeding for two years or even more if possible.
Previously people took weaning for “stop breastfeeding” or “switch to family foods only”. For that reason, it’s often recommended nowadays to refer to weaning to as complementary feeding to avoid the confusion that comes with that word.
Foods to Start Complementary Feeding With
Children usually respond differently when complementary feeding is introduced. The introduction of new foods should therefore be done slowly by slowly until the child fully adapts.
The first foods you start weaning your child with should be soft and can be in solid or liquid form for easier chewing and swallowing.
Porridge is one of the best foods to begin with. It’s should be thick and more importantly shouldn’t be made from more than two different types of cereals.
Porridges with multiple cereals are not good for the child as they are difficult to digest and absorb some nutrients, especially in this stage where the digestive system is still developing and adapting to this new foods.
Instead of using multiple cereals (maize, millet, sorghum etc.), it’s better to enrich the porridge with other foods because the porridge alone is mainly starch. Remember the child’s stomach is quite small and so they need foods that are both energy and nutrient rich in small quantities.
Starch and water will therefore take most of this space if such porridges are not enriched with other foods. We don’t want that do we?
To enrich the porridge you can add groundnuts (peanut) paste/flour, margarine, oil or butter/ghee. You can also use legume flours (soya bean, cowpea, pigeon pea etc.) to enrich the porridge or even make their own porridges, but should you use these flours, make sure to properly prepare them due to the presence of anti-nutrients.
You can also feed the child with porridge made from germinated or fermented cereal flours. These porridges have the added benefits in that iron is better absorbed from them and also fermented porridge is much easier to digest compared to plan porridge.
They’re also much safer since germs will not grow easily in fermented porridge. You can find out more on how to prepare these types of porridge here.
2. Mashed Foods
Other than porridge, you can give food such as mashed bananas, potatoes or pumpkin, vegetables and fruits.
Note however when introducing any food, introduce one at a time. This makes it easier to identify which food may be harmful or allergic to the child. It’s especially important to be keen on this when introducing some foods like cow milk, soya beans, nuts, fish, citrus fruits and some cereals.
Food for Babies between Various Months
At 7 to 8 months, the child is in a good position to eat well as the digestive system is fully developed. You can introduce other carbohydrates (e.g. rice and other source of starches), pulses and tender meat proteins like fish, skinless poultry and lean red meat.
At 9 to 11 months, eggs can be introduced (at most three per week). If a baby is not breastfeeding, you can give an additional cup of milk however don’t make it the main food for the child. From 10 months onwards the child can be given or have their food prepared likes that of adults.
At the age of 12 months, it’s should be appropriate to introduce the family food. The child should be given five meals per day including healthy snacks like fruits.
Beyond this, remember always to feed your child with a variety of nutrient rich foods to ensure they get sufficient nutrients needed for proper the growth and development.
Summary for Meal Quantity
Age of the child
The quantity of the food to be given at each meal
Kcal required per day
Start with small amount e.g. 1 table spoon and increase them gradually. To half cup that of 250ml
2-3 meals per day + 1 or 2 snacks
The amount that is equivalent to half of 250ml cup
3-4 meals per day
+ 2 snacks in between the meals
Three quarter of 250 ml cup
3-4 meals per day+ 2 snacks in between the food
Some other things to note
- The child should also drink clean boiled water.
- Don’t force the child to drink or eat the food. Wait for the next time and try to feed him or her.
- If your child is feeding using fingers don’t stop him/her and instead encourage him/her. This shows that your child is growing up.
- It’s good to choose foods that have no added sugar or salt.
- Instead of giving your child soft drinks or sugary tea, give clean water instead.
- The child is supposed to eat three meals per day and two snacks in between the meals.
Foods To Reduce Intake
- Sugar – Like adults, it’s good to reduce the amount of sugar consumed. This is because it can cause dental diseases and contribute to obesity.
- Salt – reduce salt intake since a child’s kidney at age of 12 months and below cannot able to cope with salt.
- Coffee or Tea – Both of this contain caffeine which reduces the absorption of iron and other nutrients in the body.
- Milk – It’s good you give your child milk (cow, goat or sheep etc.) but don’t make it the main food. Remember however that mother’s milk is the best and you can always breast feed for 2 years and beyond
Remember to Attend All Clinics
Always make sure to attend the mother and child health clinic as advised by your health practitioner (usually every month). These visits are essential as they ensure in addition to immunization that your child’s growth and development is routinely monitored and recorded.
Your child’s weight & height is reflective of their health and nutrition and if they’re not within the average range for their age (underweight, overweight, obese or stunted) you’ll should be advised appropriately or be referred to a nutritionist.
Your child also needs to be supplemented with Vitamin A after every six months until they’re five years old. They also get dewormed during this visits. So please don’t underestimate the value of this visits even if your child looks “okay”.