From the moment a child is born into a family, utmost importance is given to ensure the new member gets the very best of nutrition. Breast milk is the best nutrition for your infant in the first 6 months of life. However, as months pass by a mother’s feed alone proves to be insufficient to meet the growing requirements of the baby. It is at this time that complementary feeds are introduced.
What Is Complementary Feeding?
Complementary feeding is defined as the process of introducing solid feeds to the infant after the age of 6 months, along with continued breastfeeding.
When To Start Complementary Feeding?
The ideal age recommended by doctors worldwide is 6 months and above. It is good to note that complementary feeding has to run as a parallel to breastfeeding.
This is also the period when many children, especially in third world countries, end up being malnourished. Hence, it is important to understand what types of food must be introduced to ensure the optimal growth of your infant.
In almost all cases complementary feed is introduced after 6 months of age, it is important to keep the following in mind. Complementary feeding should be:
- Adequate (given in proper amounts proportional to the age)
- Frequent (given in a timely manner)
- Consistent (maintain regularity)
- Variety (have a mixture of healthy foods)
Since complementary food is prepared by hand, care should be taken that the food is prepared in a safe manner (using clean water, clean utensils, sterilized bottles) to prevent food from getting contaminated.
It is a good practice to keep a set of utensils, cleaning scrub, and soap separate to be used for the baby.
How Much To Feed
It is important to keep in mind that since the digestive system of a baby is immature, only age-appropriate food has to be introduced and that too in small portions. Food that is easily digestible by the baby is recommended with the spice level kept to zero.
World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants start receiving complementary foods in addition to breast milk from 6 months of age, starting with 2-3 times a day at 6-8 months and increasing it to 3-4 times a day at the age of 9-11 months. After 12 months in addition to complimentary food a mild snack (1-2 biscuits) can be introduced 1-2 times a day.
What To Feed: (6-12 Months)
The appropriate form of complementary feeding depends not only on the availability of a variety of foods but also on the practices involved. Feeding infants require active care and much patience where the caretaker is sensitive to the clues for hunger and encourages the child to eat.
There are many natural foods easily available in the market that can be incorporated as infant food (6 – 12 months). Homemade ragi porridge, rice gruel, khichdi, steamed apple, steamed banana, steamed carrots are all highly nutritious and good for infants. Fresh fruit juice of half an orange diluted in boiled water, pomegranate juice, or half a cup of boiled water boiled with a couple of raisins or tulsi leaves all make a good choice for fluids.
One can also prepare a mixture of powdered rice and dals that can be pressure cooked for lunch or dinner. A pinch of salt to it and a drop of ghee would make it a tasty meal. It is good not to try more than one or two varieties of complementary foods per day. Finely puréed cooked chicken or meat can be given or added.
There are also easy to prepare formula food readily available in the market for different stages for development.
Since some babies can be allergic to certain foods, it is advised to try eggs only after 9-12 months of age.
What To Feed: (12-24 Months)
Most infants develop a couple of teeth by the time they turn one and love to bite on things that are chewable. Chapati would make a good meal during his phase. Small portions of chapati, idli, dosa, biscuit, boiled eggs, finely diced chicken or meat pieces, ripe banana and mashed rice with dal, papaya, all make for an appetizing diet. Food can be increased based on the consumption of the child and milk must never be forgotten. Some parents also make porridge of ground dry fruits for a snack.
It is important to encourage and entertain the child into eating healthy foods right from a very early age. Living in a country where there are ample natural foods available, it is good to make an effort into incorporating more home-made wholesome foods and to keep factory manufactured complementary food to a minimum. Remember, a wholesome diet makes a healthy baby.