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Sonali Shivlani answers all your baby-related concerns
There’s no doubt that breast milk is the best and the most nutritionallywholesome food for a child up to six months of age. However, it is very exciting for new parents to want to start their little ones on solid foods. First, it is all about the new experience, about watching your child as she explores new tastes and textures. Second, you can finally start having some time to yourself without being on constant call to feed your baby. However exciting or relieving it may be, it still makes sense to go about weaning in a systematic manner. This can help your little one adapt to the process easily, as well as help to prevent any allergies and untoward reactions.
The first step
The most important thing is to watch out for signs that your child is ready to start solids. This means that the baby can now sit up, with or without support. The baby should be showing an interest in the food – drooling, reaching for the food and overall watching you and others eat. Your child’s weight gain will also be a good indicator to watch out for. Closer to six months the weight gain starts to taper off and when you see a plateau, and all the other signs are also favourable, you are good to start. Despite the advice you may have recieved from well-meaning family menbers, about how dal and rice water is a good food to start off with, it is just not the right food for a baby. It does not compare to breast milk in calorie or nutrition and hence cannot serve as a replacement or alternative to a breast milk feed. Instead, opt for pureed foods in the form of cereals, pulses, vegetables and fruit. This does not mean that you can give anything and everything to the baby. Start with one food group at a time. Generally, one fruit or vegetable is the safest bet. Feed your baby a small amount and watch for reactions over three to five days. Don’t be in a hurry to try all varieties in the first week itself. Keep in mind that breast milk still accounts for fifty percent of your childs nutritional needs, even at nine months of age.
What to expect
Parents often meet resistance when they introduce solid foods. This is normal. The baby is used to a particular method of feeding and if you suddenly create this huge upheaval, you cannot expect that it will be welcomed with aplomb. Expect fussy behaviour, refusal to open the mouth or even spitting up. Despit this reception, please do not force feed your child. I have had mothers relate their experiences of needing two people to hold the child in place while they put food in their child’s mouth. This kind of forcefeeding is not helpful, and in fact, can lead to food aversion that can follow even into adulthood. Moreover, refrain from resorting to the use of technology during mealtimes. We have all seen how that energetic toddler who refuses to sit still, especially during meal time, is suddenly quiet and gobbling up all his food the moment he has his mommy’s phone to play with. Although this may be a temporary solution, it is surely not a sustainable one. We want our kids to learn the pleasure of eating and actually enjoy their food. They should recognise hunger and satiety which is not possible if their brain is actually occupied with watching something on the TV, tablet or phone. We also have to keep in mind that children have their own tastes, however bizarre it may seem to us. I’ve had one mom share her disbelief that her child’s favourite food was watermelon mixed with rice. Honestly, I don’t find anything wrong with it. Both the foods are healthy and if the child content with his food choice, why not let him eat it? As parents, we forget that our children are also individuals with tastes and preferences and we should allow them to explore and develop their own unique identity. This does not mean that we don’t keep trying new flavours and textures with them. It just means that we’re not disappointed if they show a preference for an odd combination. I once had a father protest a weaning plan I gave him which included papaya in the chart. Why? Because he believed that his daughter wouldn’t like the fruit because he didn’t like it. Regardless, I sent him home with my recommendations and simply asked him to refrain from making any faces or sounds when feeding her papaya. When we met again, he was astonished by how much his daughter had taken to the fruit. This is just another example why we need to let our kids be the unique individuals that they are. Weaning is a fun and exciting time. If handled correctly, it can actually create the love for food and healthy eating habits for life. If you have any concerns related to pregnancy, birth and the post-delivery period, Sonali Shivlani will answer all your questions through her column. Do send in your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
M&B’s panellist Sonali Shivlani is an Internationally Certified Pregnancy Consultant and a child nutrition counsellor. She is the executive director of CAPPA India, and also trains aspiring birth professionals to achieve certification in pregnancy, birth and lactation counselling.