May 22, 2021

Weaning or, Complementary feeding: what parents should know

What is Complementary feeding or weaning & when to start complementary feeding?

Weaning or Complementary feeding is the introduction of semisolid food, usually started in babies beyond 5-6 months of age. Beyond 6 months of age, the mother’s milk is not sufficient to meet the nutritional requirement of the baby. The aim is to introduce a soft digestible diet containing adequate calories, proteins, and micronutrients that is free of contamination. Also at this period, infants enjoy ‘mouthing and gumming’, and also new tastes. Teeth eruption follows baby can do chewing and grinding movements. The growth of a child may slow down if complementary foods are not introduced at this age or if they are provided improperly.

What can be included in complementary feeding?

The first food of the infant after breast milk should be the family’s staple cereal. The first cereal can be rice (which is gluten-free and easily digestible), mixed with mashed potatoes or dal and vegetables. Other options are porridge made with suji (semolina), broken wheat (Dalia), atta (wheat flour) ground rice, ragi, millet, etc, by using a little water or milk, if available.


In case a family can not prepare the porridge for the infant separately, pieces of chapatti could be soaked in half a cup of milk or dal and some vegetables to make a quick and nutritious meal for the baby. This mixed food could be mashed well and fed to the baby after adding a little oil or ghee. Fruits like banana, papaya, chikoo, mango, etc. could be given at this age in a mashed form or can be boiled and added to the food mixture.

How to make food calorie-dense?

Adding a little sugar or jaggery and ghee, butter or oil is important as it increases the energy value of the food. The stomach capacity of a baby is small so we should try to give a small amount of energy-dense feeds. Dilute weaning food can lead to growth faltering and malnutrition.

What are Protective foods?

Protective foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals are essential for good immunity and prevention of deficiencies. They include fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and dairy products like milk, curd, lassi. They are also important to help in the healthy growth of infants. To build a strong immunity we should give children a mixture of various protective foods like green leafy vegetables, carrots, pumpkin, and seasonal fruits like papaya, mango, chikoo, banana, which are important to ensure good vitamin A and iron status of the child.

What to do if the baby spits out food every time?

Remember that baby is learning to swallow slightly denser food and in the process may spit it out which is natural. So start slow by giving one spoon at a time and once the baby learns to swallow comfortably then gradually increase. Using a tiny spoon and holding it between the lips so that the baby opens the mouth and can suck it off can be rewarding.

How to go about starting the complementary feeding?

Food should be thin, to begin with, graduating to semi-solid. Make sure all food is given in the form of a smooth puree. Use a shallow spoon to feed the baby so that he/she can use a sucking action to some extent. Start with one new food at a time, two to three teaspoons to begin with. Variation can be brought in food after a week or two. If the baby dislikes a particular food, avoid it for 10 to 15 days. Then reintroduce it by mixing it in something else so that he develops the taste for it e.g. egg can be mixed with vegetables. Homemade food should be chosen because it allows the family diet to be assimilated, making the baby comfortable with the region's traditional foods. It should be prepared nicely and served in a clean dish.

How long to continue Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding remains a critical source of nutrients for the young infant and child even though other complementary food is available. Infants should be fed breast milk until two years of age along with complementary food. It is important as the first 2 years is a period of rapid brain growth and breast milk contains micronutrients essential for brain growth and development. It provides about one half of an infant’s energy needs up to the age of one year, and up to one-third during the second year of life.

What precautions need to be taken during Complementary feeding?

A baby’s appetite varies at times. Babies eat less when they are sleepy, or not well. It is better not to force-feed your child but to watch for the signs of hunger. You cannot follow a rigid schedule, however, a healthy baby will regulate the feeling of hunger within a month on their own.

While changing over or supplementing, check the supply of milk to the child, proper monitoring of the weight and stool of the child should be done. In the event of weight loss of more than 7 to 10%, the parents should consult a physician. Regulate the liquid and solid food intake if the baby is having loose motion and take advice from a physician.

Avoid drinks like tea, coffee, and sugary carbonated beverages, and cow’s milk, etc, as they make the child full and reduce the intake of nutritious food.

  • Make sure to wash your hands before handling food.
  • Make sure the food is appropriately stored.
  • Avoid foods having shape or consistency that may cause choking, such as nuts, grapes, raw carrots.

What should be the amount & frequency of complementary food?

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