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New food for the baby

Breastfeeds need to be continued while solids are being introduced

Dr Gita Mathai   |   Published 06.10.21, 12:30 AM

Infants start life on a diet of milk. This is usually breast milk. It is sterile and can be produced on demand, and its composition is ideally suited to the baby’s needs calorie-wise, ease of digestion and in providing passive immunity. Breastfed infants get a “power boost” in life. They bond with the mother and suffer less from common childhood ailments. The number of episodes of sneezing, wheezing, respiratory tract and ear infections are fewer. The mother too is less likely to gain weight. It also protects her against breast cancer.

Milk provides 60-70 calories per 100 millilitre (ml). Eventually, this is not enough for the growth and healthy weight gain of the baby. Also, physiologically, breast milk starts to decrease in quantity after about six months (180 days). At this time, starting supplementary cow’s milk or formula feeds is not the answer. The infant should be weaned onto solids for the required calories and to prepare them for later life. Breastfeeds need to be continued while solids are being introduced. The World Health Organization recommends continuing breastfeeds till the age of two years. This may not always be practical, especially for working mothers and if the child has a mouth full of teeth.

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Until the advent of prepackaged, commercially available weaning foods, Indians used traditional, easily available cereals such as ragi, rice and wheat. These were washed, dried and powdered in a mixie, either together or individually.

They can be stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator. Cook a tablespoon or two of this mixture in water. Then add cow’s milk to it and boil again. It should be semi-solid — like the dough used to make dosa. Salt need not be added. A little sugar can be added. Remember, babies do not like food that is too sweet. Place it on the tongue, not near the lips.

Initially, one breastfeed can be substituted with a solid feed. After two weeks, the same mixture can be offered twice a day. After the age of seven months, idli can be offered soaked in a spiceless dal mixture. Next, mashed bananas, pureed apples or boiled potatoes can be given.

New food should be introduced only every two weeks. After nine months, khichri with potatoes and carrots can be served. Minced fish, chicken or meat can also be added. The rice can be prepared in “bone soup”.

By the first year, the child should be eating the same diet as the rest of the family, albeit with perhaps the spices reduced. By the age of two years, he or she should get three meals a day and a snack or fruit at 10am and 5pm. Snacks should be fruits or home-cooked vada, bonda, kesari and so on, definitely not instant noodles or biscuits. After the age of one year, a child will need only 400ml of milk a day.

All this may seem like a lot of time-consuming effort and many busy mothers are tempted and enticed by advertisements for fancy weaning foods — rice, dal, wheat, apple, milk biscuits and so on. Some foods contain milk powder as well, so “you only need to add water”.

Very high temperatures are applied to sterilise these prepackaged foods. This destroys the vitamins and micronutrients in them. Then, to compensate, these nutrients have to be added artificially, along with flavouring agents and preservatives to keep the powders viable and tasty until the expiry date.

The infant’s immature kidneys sometimes cannot process and cope with the added chemical and electrolyte load.

Weaning and feeding a baby requires time, patience and effort. Eventually, as the child grows into a healthy adult, it would be worth it all.

The writer is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore and the author of Staying Healthy in Modern India. If you have any questions on health issues, please write to yourhealthgm@yahoo.co.in



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