Weaning – Introduction of solids and how to deal with food rejections
When introducing solids to your baby, you need to be patient and persistent. Patience is needed to deal with the mess and possible rejection and fussiness. Persistence is necessary because, when your baby rejects a particular kind of food, you have to continue offering him that same food until he accepts it.
Just like adults, most babies are resistant to change. For a baby who has been breastfed exclusively for 6 months, it might be hard for him to wrap his head around the need to eat solids. The transition from the sweetness of breast milk to the blandness of solid foods can be quite challenging for them. However, you should remain patient and resist the idea of adding sweeteners to your baby’s food.
Weaning foods vary from one culture to the other. However, the general principle is the same globally. A balanced diet is essential but fruits and vegetables are the key ingredients for a healthy diet. Don’t be tempted to give him sweets and pastries just because they are easily available. Give water instead of juice and soft drinks. Start with purees and gradually move on to solids. Model the healthy food habits that you want your baby to adopt. If they see you eating and enjoying vegetables every single day, they will love it too and grow up becoming adults who make healthy food choices.
When you introduce vegetables, start with non-sweet varieties such as steamed spinach. If your baby gets used to this, it becomes less likely that he will prefer sweets. Also, limit the addition of salt and strong spices. Go for freshness and avoid processed foods as they contain too much salt that is harmful to your baby’s kidneys. Sweet vegetables like peas, carrot and sweet potatoes can be introduced later on.
Avoid cow’s milk until your baby clocks one. Continue to use breast milk (or formula after 6 months). Cow’s milk contains too much protein which your baby will not be able to digest, and could potentially damage his kidneys.
If your baby rejects any food, DO NOT force-feed him. Force-feeding a fussy eater is a war that you can’t win. Your child might end up choking on the food or coming down with severe inflammation of the lungs – aspiration pneumonitis. When your baby rejects food, the first thing you should do is to identify the reason for the rejection:
•Could it be due to environmental factors such as extremes of temperature, noise, or other distractions?
•Could it be that he is not hungry at the moment?
•Could there be a neurological or mechanical problem preventing your baby from swallowing easily?
•Is he being fussy for other reasons such as a wet diaper or a need to sleep?
•Is there any emotional stress going on in the family such as marital discord, separation, relocation or financial constraints?
Once you have identified any of these issues, you need to try as much as possible to resolve them. Seek professional help earlier, not later.
The next step is to reconsider how you present the food itself. Let your child watch you as you prepare and serve the food. Talk to him and let him know what you’re doing and why. Next, set up the stage for the meal. Get baby-friendly cutlery, bibs, napkins and other mealtime baby accessories. Present the food in a colourful and playful way. Get him excited about mealtimes and stay consistent with your routine. Let your baby sit down comfortably on a high chair, a mat or your laps.
Lastly, give your child some freedom when it comes to food. Not all babies enjoy being spoon-fed. Let him dig in and eat with his hands. Messy? I know. But if that is the way he gets to eat adequately, let him be the boss of his own food! Adopt the “baby-led” approach, whereby you follow his cues on hunger and satiety. Don’t force him to eat when he is not ready. Stop feeding him when he shows signs of satiety. If he gets fussy, slow down and try again later. Research has shown that most children reject new food up to 5 times before they finally accept it.
So, dear parent, keep up the good job! Be patient and persistent. Choose healthy foods for your baby. Avoid sweets and salt. Get creative and model the healthy lifestyle you want for your baby.