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Start at 6. All about weaning

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6th year
By Isatou Nyang,
6th year medical student

Seeing the topic of this article you might be wondering what I truly mean. Some would have understood but if you did not then there is no need to fret because I will take you through the journey of weaning.

What is weaning?

Weaning, also referred to as complementary feeding, is the period when you introduce your baby to solid foods and liquids along with breast milk around 6 months of age as breast milk alone is no longer sufficient to meet the nutritional requirements of the growing baby. Having adequate food in the right way and right time is the fundamental right of every child as this will help in their development.

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From this point, I believe most of you can relate as you have weaned your children before or planning to wean your kids as first-time parents. At the end of the article, you will know if you were doing it right or not. If you were not, then you will now be well equipped with the knowledge on how to wean your children.

When do you wean your child?

The age recommended to wean your children and introduce them to complementary feeding is at 6 months (180 days) and this should continue up to 23 months. The quality of children’s diets is more important before age 2 than at any other time in life. As they have small stomachs which can only take small amounts of food in short intervals leaving them vulnerable will cause faltering in their growth and development.

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What should children eat?

Now you must be wondering the type of food your children should eat, how should they eat it and the intervals. At 6 months children should be introduced to age-appropriate, nutritious, and safe meals alongside continuous breastfeeding.

Young children should consume a variety of foods which include grains (coos), legumes, diary (milk, yogurt), flesh foods (fish, meat, poultry), eggs, fruits, and vegetables. These foods are more likely to meet both their macro and micronutrient requirements. Catering for all these will be difficult due to accessibility and affordability. It is difficult to get some nutritious foods due to long distance markets and seasonality. Animal source foods can be very costly for many families as there has been a surge in the price of goods but prepare meals using the locally available food items that are not costly, easy to digest and with the right consistency.

When is your child ready to be weaned?

·           Holding head upright

·           Persistent hunger even after feeding

·           Development of hand eye coordination

·           Shows interest when others are eating

·           Is not gaining weight adequately

Stages of weaning

·           Stage 1: Prepare pure and other soft foods for your kids as these are easily digestible and they will be able to tolerate it. Mash all the food they must take especially fruits and vegetables which will enable them to swallow easily and avoid chocking.

·           Stage 2: in this stage mashed foods with lumps can be introduced.

·           Stage 3: some family meals can be given which they can easily gulp and tolerate.

With the stages just mentioned, I am certain some of you will question what you are reading or gasp because you have not followed these stages. In some of our Gambian homes with grannies around most infants are started on rice immediately they are weaned and correcting them of this practice will be an unending debate.

Qualities of complementary foods

·           Weaning foods should be liquid first, semi solid, and solid food to be introduced gradually.

·           Easy to prepare at home with available food items.

·           Clean fresh and hygienic.

·           Easily digestible and acceptable for the child.

·           Contains all nutrients necessary for the infant.

Quantity and frequency of weaning foods

·           6 – 8 months: start with liquid foods (2-3 spoons per feed) which can be given 2 to 3 times per day.

·           9 – 11 months: finely chopped or mashed foods can be started and given 3 to 4 times per day.

·           12 – 23 months: solid family foods chopped or mashed can be introduces and given 3 to 4 times per day.

Preparation of food for weaning

·           Wash hands.

·           Keep food in clean utensils.

·           Cook food thoroughly.

·           Use safe water.

·           Give freshly prepared food.

·           Keep the cooked food covered.

4 pillars of complementary feeding

·           Given at the right time.

·           Adequate right amount.

·           Appropriate in taste, texture, flavor, and food groups.

·           Safe hygienic cooking.

Foods to avoid for baby

·           Whole nuts should be avoided as they cause choking hazards.

·           Honey may contain bacteria that can lead to infant poisoning.

·           Foods such as sweetened beverages, candy, and other junk foods.

·           Avoid adding too much sugar to food and beverages prepared at home.

·           Do not give unpasteurized milk.

I am sure most of us are already guilty because we have given infants these unhealthy food products before or still doing it. Well now is the time to STOP!

These food products have less nutritious value, and they are associated with an increased risk of obesity and dental caries.

Should you continue breastfeeding?

This question will be going through the minds of most of the mothers and the answer is YES. Breast milk is a very important source of energy and nutrients like vitamin A and C into 2nd year of life and helps in preventing some infections. So why make your baby lose out on this very nutritious meal?

Problems during weaning

·           If on starting weaning, and breast feeding suddenly stopped, it can psychologically affect the child.

·           Weaning food if not prepared hygienically or not digested properly can cause diarrhea.

·           Children may develop indigestion, abdominal pain, or rashes if they are allergic to certain foods.

·           If the food is not nutrient rich, the child may develop malnutrition.

With all that has been mentioned, weaning should not be a new term to you again and I very much hope you will follow these produces when weaning your children. The importance of good nutrition in early child life cannot be over emphasized as children who are fed well enough are more likely to survive, grow, develop, and learn. They are better to thrive, even when faced with diseases. Give your children the right foods today and watch them grow into healthy adults.

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