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Weaning your baby the right way
Kanchan Maslekar
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March 12, 2007

There comes a time in every new mother's life when she is required to 'wean' her baby.

Weaning is a process through which a baby's dependence on mother's milk is slowly reduced. The baby is introduced to new food like juices, pureed food and, eventually, solid food.

The process can, at times, be quite traumatic, with the baby refusing to try new food or crying until she is breastfed.

Here is an guide to help make mealtimes enjoyable for both the mother and the baby.

What is weaning?

Weaning means introducing food other than mother's milk to the baby's diet. Over time, this food is steadily increased; the baby's dependence on breast milk is reduced till the baby is off breast milk completely. 

When can you start

Most paediatricians advise breastfeeding the baby for the first four months before introducing 'external' food. Remember, however, that there is no 'perfect' time to wean your baby. It could begin at anywhere from four to six months.

Dr Parvati Halbe, a practising Pune-based paediatrician, says it also depends on the mother. "If she wants to get back to work or has 'insufficient' milk or problems feeding the baby, she can then (in consultation with the doctor) initiate the weaning process as early as three months."

Need to wean

As the baby grows, she does not get all the nutrients she needs -- like iron, protein, calcium -- from mother's milk alone. Besides, as the baby grows, her sense of taste develops and she will be more inclined towards new foods, tastes and textures.

"Most babies will be able to tolerate semi-solid foods when they are around six months old, so it is a good time to start weaning them," says Dr Halbe.

Getting started

"The purpose of weaning is not only to introduce the baby to regular food, but also to help her develop a wide range of tastes," says Dr Halbe.

As your baby is only used to the bland taste of milk, it is advisable to start weaning her with foods that have a bland taste. "Start with one variety of baby food in very limited quantity," suggests Dr Halbe.

"Introduce only one new food each week. By trying a new food for a few days, you will know if your child is tolerating it well, or if it does not suit her. The baby's intake and her stool will also give you a fair indication of how well she is tolerating that particular food," she says.

Once the baby gets used to the food, switch over to a different one. "It is good to vary the diet with different foods to develop the baby's palette," adds Dr Halbe. 

You can gradually increase the portions as you go along.

Baby food

As far as possible, start weaning the baby with home cooked food. Start off with liquids like water in which moong dal has been boiled. Then move on to mashed rice, moong dal, fruit juices and pureed vegetables in very small quantities (a few teaspoons).

Soups of green leafy vegetables or mashed potatoes can be given when the baby is six months old, says Dr Halbe.

Care while weaning

Dealing with tantrums

~ Don't pressurise your baby to eat. Forcible feeding will make her develop an unhappy association with mealtimes.

~ Don't show dislike to any of the food you give to the baby; she is sure to pick it up

~ If your baby shows dislike for a particular food, stop giving it; reintroduce the food again after a couple of weeks.

~ Give the child a lot of variety in terms of the food you are offering her. Talk about the food and how tasty it is when you're feeding the baby.

~ Let the baby see other children of her age eating food.

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