Last modified on October 2020
With inputs from Dr. Uma M - Consultant Family Physician, and Diabetologist
Weaning your baby – how important is it? Right from the moment you hold your newborn baby in your arms, your body adapts itself to provide nutritious breastmilk to support your child’s health. Breastfeeding your baby is crucial for the first few months of the baby’s development. In the long run, only breastmilk may not provide nutrition enough to sustain your child’s growth. So for how long should you keep breastfeeding your child? How can you tell if your baby is ready to transition into solid food? One needs to understand how to wean from breastfeeding. This article highlights the importance of weaning foods for indian babies and gives you practical tips to follow, making it easy on you as a parent to help your child grow in a healthy way.
“Breast milk is the first and most important source of nutrition for a baby. But once babies cross the 6-month mark, their nutritional needs start evolving and they need to be weaned to solid food. I usually tell mothers to gradually introduce new foods into a baby’s diet rather than completely overhauling their diet overnight. This can make them more open to trying new foods and also ensure they’re getting all the nutrition they need.”
– Dr Uma M, Consultant Family Physician and Diabetologist
Weaning is the process of introducing solid food into an infant’s diet during his/her first year of life. It is a gradual process during which the infant progresses from weaning breast milk or formula milk to a mixed diet of food with different tastes and textures. The importance of weaning foods is to let the baby explore the variations in a mixed diet and introduce them to chewing and swallowing by around the end of the first year
The World Health Organization(WHO) recommends that infants should be breastfed for six months and then gradually introduced to other food.
Why is it important to start weaning?
According to multiple pieces of research, a baby’s weight is doubled by the age of five months and tripled by about a year from his/her birth.
Thus, it is essential for your baby to have adequate food with rich nutritional values to foster this growth.
Even though breast milk meets most of the nutritional requirements of an infant, it might not be just enough to meet the needs of a growing baby. Therefore, to support the growth and development of the baby, introduction to different kinds of solid food for 6 month baby is essential. Weaning also becomes the first step towards a toddler diet.
Benefits of weaning
Weaning is an important part of a baby’s development stage. When the baby is introduced to new food, the digestive system of the child develops because of the varied food intake. The importance of weaning at the right age can’t be stressed enough as it helps in the overall development of the baby.
Most of us have noticed our little ones reaching out to food while in our arms. They start experimenting with the food they find within their reach. Though this might turn out to be a messy affair, it helps in promoting better hand-mouth coordination and has many sensory benefits. Hence, it is important to let your baby explore the textures and enjoy the burst of flavours.
During weaning, a baby is introduced to a whole new world of foods and this is the time when he/she starts developing likes and dislikes towards them. This, in turn, makes your baby more aware of his choices and his liking, which helps develop his personality.
The main purpose of weaning is to introduce babies to food apart from breast milk. By introducing your baby to a whole new range of food products, you are boosting their intake of wholesome nutrients that are needed for growth and development. With the reduced dependency on breast milk, babies can have their share of iron, vitamins, and minerals from different types of food.
Babies learn to coordinate their lips, tongue, and jaw movement, which contribute greatly towards speech development. They also learn to chew and swallow and overcome their gag reflexes. During infant weaning, babies build various important motor skills and developmental skills. Along with these, they learn hand-mouth and hand-eye coordination as they pick up food and start eating by themselves.
The importance of baby weaning or infant weaning lasts a lifetime as they not only help meet the nutritional needs of the baby but also help in developing important skills.
One of the major purpose of weaning is to introduce babies to food apart from breast milk. The importance of weaning ranges from building developmental skills to making the baby more independent. Parents need to understand the importance of weaning by understanding its lifelong benefits.
Q1. When is the right time to stop breastfeeding?
For those looking for how to wean from breastfeeding, there is no right or wrong time to stop breastfeeding. According to WHO, it is important to breastfeed until 6 months after birth. It is noteworthy that the why’s and hows of stopping breast milk is not set in stone and differed from one child to another.
Q2. What are the major advantages of weaning diet apart from building food habits?
Weaning helps in building motor skills and hand-eye and hand-mouth coordination. Biting and chewing also contribute to speech development.
Q3. Is weaning important?
Yes, weaning is extremely important and is one of the primary life skills, which helps to develop other skills in the child’s life. Apart from meeting the nutritional requirements of the baby, weaning helps in improving hand-eye coordination, hand-mouth coordination and helps in speech of the baby at a much younger age.
Q4. How is the baby’s personality developed during weaning?
The baby develops likes and dislikes towards newly introduced food while weaning, which in turn develops his/her personality. They also technically learn how to eat, which doubles up as table manners in the later years.
Q5. Can the infant be fed only breast milk till the age of 2 years?
No, giving only breast milk until the age of 2 won’t provide all the nutritional values to help with your child’s development. It is important to introduce solid food, like porridge, pureed vegetables and fruits, and baby biscuits, along with breast milk after the 6th month of the baby’s age.
Q6. What motor skills does the baby develop because of weaning?
Due to weaning, a child develops multiple motor skills like the movement of arms and legs, etc. It helps them develop hand-eye coordination, hand-mouth coordination, lip movements, and the habit of chewing and swallowing.
Q7. What is the WHO recommended age to start weaning?
WHO recommends to only breastfeed the child till the age of 6 months. Post the 6th month, external food can be introduced along with breast milk in the process of weaning. The intake of breast milk can gradually be reduced until the baby is completely dependent on solid food.
Q8. What does starting a baby on a solid chart mean?
It means starting to give an infant other types of food except for breast milk. This process is known as weaning. It is essentially done after the 6th month and is a gradual process to let the baby explore other tastes and textures of food and increase their nutritional intake as well.
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One of the frequently asked questions that new moms have is how to start weaning and when is the right time to start? Although the 6-month mark is a good time to introduce solid food, the time to start weaning is a personal decision. A lot of factors like the health of the baby or the mother’s time to return to work or just the mother’s feelings can influence her decision to start weaning.
A lot of experts suggest that breastfeeding should continue until it suits the mother and the baby. A lot of mothers prefer to breastfeed until the age of 1 and start weaning after that. Some mothers also breastfeed until the child’s age is 2.
There are two approaches to weaning, tradition or baby-led.
One needs to understand that there is no correct or right way of starting your baby on solid food. It is better to know the advantages and disadvantages of both along with the importance of weaning before arriving at a decision. Choose a way that best suits your child and you to start weaning. You can always mix up these two ways if you like.
In a traditional weaning process, the parents feed the baby and introduce him/her to different kinds of solid food. One should start with smooth pureed food and then move to mashed food and chopped food, followed by finger-sized food and then finally to small bites. When a mother chooses this approach, the time to start weaning depends on her. It also ensures that the baby learns to swallow before chewing as the baby is first introduced to pureed food.
Here are some pros and cons of traditional weaning
Baby-led weaning, as the name suggests, simply means encouraging the baby from the start to feed themselves, unlike traditional weaning where the parent has to feed the child with a spoon or a weaning bottle.
Baby-led weaning can only start after the child is 6 months old, when she/he is capable enough to reach and pick up the food items.
To introduce solid foods, one can start with finger-sized food and allow the child to explore the food at their own pace and time. However, giving appropriate food is necessary to avoid the risk of choking.
Here are some pros and cons of traditional weaning
Traditional weaning is dependent on the mother while baby-led weaning is more child-dependent. In the traditional weaning process, the weaning age depends on the mother while in baby-led weaning, it depends completely on the child. The choice between the two is ultimately a personal choice and there is no right or wrong.
Q1. What is the age to start baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning can be implemented once the baby can sit up without any support (i.e.) once his/her neck and back muscles are strong enough to help them sit up straight. Suitable food after 6 months for baby can be given during this period after consulting a pediatrician.
Q2. Which is better – traditional or baby-led weaning?
Both have their pros and cons. The decision to choose between the two depends on the mother and the development of the baby. If you want to start weaning early, it is better to opt for the traditional method since it is going to be initiated by you. On the other hand, if your child shows signs of eating by themselves by grabbing the food you eat, you can let them do so and initiate baby-led weaning.
Q3. What are some of the benefits of traditional weaning?
Through traditional weaning, the mother has complete control over her child’s weaning age, diet, and process. You can keep a close eye on the nutritional requirements of the baby and create a daily food chart to follow.
Q4. What are some benefits of baby-led weaning?
It gives more independence to the child and helps them explore different food types by themselves. It also is a great sensory enhancer and helps develop the personality of the child and teaches them to learn how to chew and eat by watching people at the table during meals.
Q5. What are some disadvantages of traditional weaning?
One of the major disadvantages of traditional weaning is overfeeding the baby. Since the weaning is not baby-led, the mother has to keep track of the portions to check if the baby is full. It is also a little time-consuming and the meals need to be prepared exclusively for the baby.
Q6. What if the child does not respond to weaning?
Be patient and consistent with your efforts. It is completely normal for your child to not respond well to weaning in the initial weeks or months. Make the process gradual by introducing one meal per day while the baby is still breastfeeding.
Q7. Can baby-led weaning lead to any health hazard?
One needs to be careful when the baby is weaning by itself as babies have the tendency of putting things in their mouth. The baby needs to be monitored closely since there is a potential risk of choking. Ensure the food is also mashed well so the baby can easily swallow it.
To know when to start weaning, consult top gynaecologists near you on the Mfine app
Kids have their own way of showing us that they are ready to wean. This is known as baby led weaning. Some kids nurse indefinitely while some show various signs that they are ready. Some of these signs are:
Approaches to Baby led Weaning
It is important that the mother and the baby are physically and mentally adjusted to the new phase and the change that comes with weaning. Hence, weaning should be done gradually over a period of time.
There are multiple ways one can approach weaning, one of them is to drop one breastfeeding session a week and replace that feeding session with external foods (i.e) mashed food or soft foods, depending up on your weaning approach.
The decision of which session to drop depends on the mother’s convenience. For working mothers, stopping the midday session is most convenient. Some mothers let their child decide when they want to wean. However, it is important to remember that babies who take two to three meals of solid food often tend to rely less on breast milk. At the same time, if the child is breastfeeding less, it is important to make sure that he/she consumes enough nutrients.
There isn’t one right or wrong way to approach weaning but mothers can make a breastfeeding weaning schedule to make the transition easier.
Do’s and Don’ts:
Every child is unique and different and so is his/her weaning process. Make sure that you look at the do’s and don’ts before starting.
Look out for signs that your baby is ready for weaning from their sitting positions to the way they interact with your breasts. Approach weaning with one session a week and then gradually increase to make the child familiar with the process. While approaching weaning, keep the importance of weaning in your mind and try different approaches to get started.
Q1. If a child is a fussy eater, is it okay to force feed?
No, please do not force feed your child. Trust your baby’s instinct to decide if he/she is full or not. This will help them develop a healthy relationship with food and take off unnecessary pressure around meal times.
Q2. What if my child does not eat solid food for 2 – 3 days?
The most common reason for babies to refuse food would be an illness or an upcoming illness or teething. For teething, switch to cold foods like yogurt or cold cucumber and watermelons. This will soothe the gums and eliminate any pain. For illness, kindly consult a top pediatrician or child specialist.
Q3. What are things to not do when weaning a baby?
Do not force the child, do not rush, and do not switch to other animal-based milk till 1 year of age. Also, do not introduce your baby to a variety of foods on the first go. Take it slow and be patient.
Q4. Can small pieces of vegetables be given to a child while introducing weaning?
Giving age appropriate food is extremely vital in the process of weaning. Make sure the vegetables are cut to finger length strips and are extremely soft to chew. The finger length strips make it easy for babies to hold and chew on. It is also important to learn the difference between gagging and choking. While choking needs immediate assistance, gagging is a baby’s natural reflex to swallowing. Staying calm and demonstrating how to chew and swallow will help the baby overcome his/her gag reflex.
Consult a top gynaecologist on the Mfine app to know when your child is ready to start weaning
Weaning is a gradual process. A baby goes through different stages of weaning during their first two years. There isn’t a rule book that one has to follow to feed solids to their child. While you can refer this baby food chart to know more, one needs to remember that a balanced meal consists of one portion of vegetables or fruits, one portion of protein (i.e) meat, eggs, lentils or seafood, and one portion of high-calorie foods (i.e) cheese, nut butter, butter, and wholemeal foods. Here are some common recipes of baby weaning food to get you started:
Carrot puree is one of the most common and go-to purees for the first meals. This can be included in a 6 month child food diet.
Deseed and deskin the apple and puree it. This is one of the simplest single fruit purees and is a suitable food for a 6 month child.
Apple and banana puree
Mix apples and bananas together in the proportion that best suits you and your child. It is simple and delicious and can be given to babies from 6 months.
Sweet potato puree
Boiled and pureed sweet potato is one of the best sources of vitamin C, which is suitable for babies from 6 months.
Pear and Rice puree
Pear is a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants. Mix this puree with cooked and ground rice to make a delicious meal for babies. This can be included in the diet of a 6 month old baby.
Pear and sweet potato puree
A combination of both is a great source of vitamin C. This puree is slightly textured and suitable for babies from 6 months onwards.
Sweet potato and lentils puree
A great source of protein and fibre. This puree has a little texture and is suitable for babies from 6 months onwards.
Avocado and banana puree
Avocado is one of the best foods for healthy fats. These two fruits create a great combination and are highly packed with nutrients. You can also replace bananas with fresh mint or pears. Suitable for babies from 6 months.
Oats mixed with pureed fruit
Mix cooked oats with any pureed fruit to make a full balanced meal. This can be given to babies from 6-8 months onwards.
– Use weaning bottles that come with a spoon at the tip for an easier transition.
– Feed in smaller quantities.
– Make really smooth paste at the start of the process.
– Do not stuff the mouth of the child.
– Be patient and see whether the child is accepting the food.
Pureed fruits and vegetables are the most common food to start weaning. However, ensure that you do not stuff your child. The baby’s first foods chart can include pureed fruits and vegetables along with some breast milk.
Q1. What is the right time to switch to solid food completely?
Although external foods can be offered from 6 months of age, it is important to continue breastfeeding while gradually increasing the intake of solid foods. The complete transition from breastmilk to solid foods can be made after one year of age.
Q2. What is the one tip to keep in mind while weaning a child?
While weaning a child, consistency, patience and extra bonding and love to make up for the lost breastfeeding session will help your baby cope with the transition. This is the most important tip while transitioning from breastfeeding to solid food for a 6 month baby.
Q3. What baby food schedule for a 6 month old baby should be followed?
Breast milk along with pureed food or soft foods can be in the list of food items for 6 months baby.
Q4. What are the advantages of weaning diet?
Weaning diet helps in gradually progressing from liquid food (breast milk) to solids. Also, it adds to the nutritional requirement of a developing infant. Consult a pediatrician to get a personalized weaning diet chart for your child.
Q5. What is the best breastfeeding weaning schedule?
The schedule depends on the mother. One can start by switching the afternoon meal with solids. According to research, most mothers let go of the night feeding time at the last.
Q6. What vegetables for babies of 6 months can be given?
Vegetables like carrots and sweet potato can be given in a smooth paste form for the traditional weaning approach. Or you could offer steamed vegetables that are soft to touch for a baby-led weaning approach. Understand the importance of baby weaning foods and try to create a baby weaning chart if possible.
Consult a top gynaecologist on the Mfine app to know more about weaning foods to start off with
For new mothers, it is essential to know the list of items to avoid when the baby is weaning. Here is a list of baby weaning foods one needs to avoid.
Having salt in your baby’s meal can be dangerous for his/her kidneys. Try to completely avoid salt in your child’s meal up to the age of 1. If you are feeding your child the same meal as your family, try to take out some amount for the baby before adding salt in the meal. Having salt in your baby’s meal can be dangerous for his/her kidneys. Try to completely avoid salt in your child’s meal up to the age of 1. If you are feeding your child the same meal as your family, try to take out some amount for the baby before adding salt in the meal.
Offering sugar to babies may seem like a harmless thing to do but sugar greatly contributes to heart diseases, obesity, and high blood pressure at the later stage of the baby’s life. Babies should not be given any sugar at least till 2 years of age. This includes chocolates, candy, fizzy drinks, sugary drinks and any sugar substitute like maple syrup or honey. Sugar can also lead to tooth decay and may cause an unhealthy weight gain in children. You can, however, give diluted fresh fruit juice (without sugar) with one part fruit juice and two parts water (1:2 ratio).
From the popular opinion, honey actually contains bacteria that can cause botulism in infants and should be avoided until 1 year of age.
Eggs are a great source of protein and should absolutely be added to your baby’s meal. However, undercooked eggs carry salmonella and should be avoided at all costs. Offer mashed hard boiled eggs to the baby to eliminate the risk of salmonella.
Grapes, raisins, and peas
Small foods like grapes, raisins, and peas can pose a choking hazard to babies. It is extremely important to cut or mash these foods before offering to a baby.
Along with the list of food that needs to be avoided one can follow the below timeline for introducing the food to the infant.
4 to 6 months: Cereals (single grain)
The baby reaches its lowest level of iron since birth at around 9 months. Hence, including fortified cereals in meals serves as a good source of iron. Adding a spoonful of single-grain cereal with breast milk at the start of weaning could be extremely beneficial. Single grain cereals can be part of a 5-month baby diet or even a 4-month baby diet depending on the infant’s weaning diet.
4 to 8 months: Pureed food (vegetables, fruits, and meat)
Pureed food is one of the best ways to start weaning, especially when one prefers traditional weaning over child-led weaning. It also broadens the taste palate of the child and gives him exposure to whole different kinds of nutrients. The good thing about a smooth pureed food is that it could be included in a 5-month baby food chart and even sometimes in a 4-month baby food chart.
6 to 8 months: Baby finger foods with a single ingredient
The next stage after puree is starting with finger food. It is also a really good way of experimenting with self-feeding for babies. Make sure that you do not offer hard, raw food as it might cause a choking hazard. Boiled vegetables and fruits cut into small finger-sized pieces which could be mashed using hands can be given to babies in this age group. Baby finger foods for 6 months weaning infants can include some boiled vegetables or fruits at the start.
9 to 12 months: Mashed, ground, or chopped foods
As the baby transitions from pureed food, incorporate finger food with different textures like yoghurt, banana, cottage cheese, mashed sweet potato and scrambled eggs.
Keep the meals simple and make sure that it is ground into a smooth paste. Make sure to be mindful of choking hazards and cut them into age-appropriate sizes before offering. Understand the importance of baby weaning foods and try to create a baby weaning chart if possible.
Q1. What can a baby eat at 6 months?
The baby can start eating pureed fruits and vegetables or soft to touch steamed foods. You may start from pureed food, move to mashed and then to finger food and small pieces when the baby is around 9-12 months old.
Q2. What are the foods to avoid in a baby’s weaning diet chart?
Sugar, salt, honey, undercooked eggs and uncut foods that are choking hazards are some foods that need to be avoided or be mindful about.
Q3. Can we add salt into a child’s food?
No, salt can damage the kidney of a baby and should be avoided till 1 year of age.
Q4. What is the ideal weaning period?
There isn’t an ideal period, but babies can wean until the age of 2.
Q5. What is the food chart for a 7-month baby?
The food chart for a 7-month baby can contain a variety of soft fruits and vegetables, mashed hard boiled eggs or fully cooked scrambled eggs, cheese, oats and minced meats.
Q6. Can a 6 month baby food chart include fruits, vegetables, and grains?
Yes, pureed form of vegetables, fruits, and single grain cereal can be included in a 6 month baby food chart.
Q7. Is finger food the right 5 month baby food?
It is better to wait for the child to show readiness to start external foods. Being able to sit up for long periods of time without any support is a good sign to offer external foods. This usually happens after 6 months of age. Soft to touch steamed vegetables and fruits may be offered during this time.
Know more about what foods to include and exclude, from top gynaecologists on Mfine!
Here are a few tips mothers and fathers can follow to successfully wean babies and introduce them to solid foods:
Be patient with your child while experimenting
Give your child space and time. Be persistent and consistent and lastly, be patient.
Q1. What are some tips about babies who fidget with food?
Let the baby enjoy the food, let him/her play with food (figuratively) by touching and holding it. It is a great sensory experience and helps develop a healthy relationship with food.
Q2. What distractions should I avoid while weaning?
Make sure your television or stereo is not on when you are feeding your child. Keep the distractions to the minimum.
Q3. What is the importance of weaning food?
Weaning food is essential to give necessary nutrients to the baby that is not sufficient in breastmilk. It is also essential since it gets the child accustomed to solid food.
Q4. What are the principles of weaning?
The principles of weaning are to be consistent, flexible, keep calm, show tolerance, and offer a variety of food.
Q5. Can cow’s milk be part of 4-month baby food?
No other milk apart from breast milk should be fed to a 4-month baby. Animal-based milk can be introduced only after 1 year of age.
The process of weaning does not have any health hazard but the food that is fed during the process of weaning might lead to some. Some of the common health hazards include allergies and choking.
Babies over the age of six months are most likely to have an allergic reaction to the food they consume during weaning. If the child has a family with a history of food allergies or conditions like eczema, asthma, hay fever, etc., it increases the risk and the chance of having an allergic reaction to food. So it is better to be cautious when you are introducing new food to your child.
The food that can potentially cause some kind of allergic reaction is listed below.
Choking can be really dangerous. It is absolutely necessary to keep an eye on children around food that could cause choking hazards. Anything that is bite-size can be a choking hazard and absolutely needs to be cut into smaller pieces or mashed before serving.
Here is a list of food that could cause choking hazards in kids.
Check your family history for allergies before feeding anything new to your child. Avoid food that can possibly cause any health hazard, especially in the early times. It is extremely crucial for parents to understand the importance of weaning and right weaning food to avoid any health hazards.
Consult a top gynaecologist on the Mfine app for expert weaning tips
Q1. What allergies could a child have while weaning?
A child could have a variety of food allergies. Some common food allergies are peanuts, eggs, diary and gluten.
Q2. How likely is it that a child will get a food allergy?
Babies usually do not get allergies to food. If there are preconditions in the family or the family has a history of food allergies, then the chances are more likely. According to a study, early introduction of weaning foods may prevent the chances of food allergies greatly.
Q3. Can babies be allergic to nuts?
Yes, there is a chance that there might be some allergic reaction. It is best to avoid using nuts in weaning food and introduce it in your child’s diet when your child can communicate back to you.
Q4. Can we introduce fish during the weaning period?
Fish can be introduced into the diet chart for 6 month baby, without any spice or salt.