Know when to start the weaning process and things to do and to avoid

Up until the six-month mark, the baby should be breastfed only. This means no food, no juices or teas. If the baby breastfeeds freely, they’ll get all the nutrients necessary for that age, including water, to stay hydrated. Children who drink formula are also getting the proper nutrients at this age – except for water. Some pediatricians recommend giving some to the child between one bottle and the next.

As the child makes it to the first half of their first year of life, they’re already prepared to start eating and will need a lot of extra energy. 

Why not give them food before six months?

  • Prematurely stopping the breastfeeding process reduces the child’s immune protection. Breastfeeding protects against asthma, for example.
  • The digestive system is entirely formed by the six-month mark.
  • Chewing is already better developed, as well as the swallowing movement. There is less of a risk for the child to choke.
  • The baby won’t spit up the food as much since their tongue protrusion is almost non-existent at six months – the involuntary movement makes the child continuously stick out their tongue out (and whatever is in their mouth).
  • During this phase, the baby can already bring food to their own mouths with their hands and sit upright.

Can you start by giving juice?

When it comes to juice, the American Pediatric Society suggests parents only offer it after the child turns one. Even then, they should limit the consumption to 120 ml per day until the child turns three. The reason behind that is because a single cup of juice needs more fruit to be made, which ends up overloading the child with fructose, the sugar from the fruit.

Why are blended baby food and liquified soup not recommended?

Blended and liquified baby food and soup, the kind that you make using a blender, don’t allow the child to distinguish between different flavors and stimulate their ability to chew. It’s important to let the child try vegetables individually to assimilate the taste and the textures in various foods – this reduces the chances of the child rejecting other foods later on.

With that in mind, food shouldn’t be put through a blender or a processor, nor should it be strained. Ideally, you should mash it with a fork so the child will still be able to taste the texture. The younger the child, the more you should mash the food without breaking it apart completely.

Of course, you can still offer soup, but it shouldn’t be the only way to present food to the child. The baby needs to venture into the world of different flavors and textures.

Many families have started adopting the baby-led weaning method. The child is stimulated to eat the food on their own, in small pieces, and using their own hands. Other families mix and match, giving the child mashed up baby food and gradually inserting different foods chopped up into pieces.

How to start the weaning process?

After the child reaches the six-month mark, you can start by introducing new foods. Preferably, a different food every two days to see how their bodies respond. 

Young babies generally like foods that taste sweet. For that reason, some pediatricians recommend starting with mashed up fruits in the morning or the afternoon, which could be pears, cooked apples, mangoes, avocados, papayas, etc. But you could also serve them oranges or clementines, which are easy to pull apart and eat. Bananas can trigger allergies in children. It’s good to stay alert!

Keeping an eye on allergies

Except for kiwis and strawberries, which should only be offered after the child turns one, there are no other set rules for fruits. Melons and peaches tend to be ones that reportedly trigger allergies. However, some children show signs of allergies to apples, oranges, mangoes, pineapples, and cherries.

The most important thing is to keep an eye out for any reactions: if the child shows signs of redness on their skin, itchiness in the throat, swelling of the lips, colics, gases, vomiting, diarrhea, or difficulty breathing, it could mean they’re allergic to something they ate.

When to give the child salty foods

There’s more than one way to introduce salty foods, so talk to your pediatrician about what they would recommend. But, a widely recommended formula for weaning says:

  • The first week: introduce mashed up fruit by the morning
  • The second week: add one fruit in the afternoon
  • The third week: Introduce the salty foods during lunch, but keep fruits as snacks. You can start by offering: pumpkin, carrots, mandioc, chayote, potato, sweet potato, spinach – all of them cooked and mashed up with a fork.
  • The fourth week: Introduce the foods during dinner
  • The following month: In this phase, you can already put together combinations on the child’s plate to balance out the meal. You can add legumes, proteins, carbohydrates, and vegetables (or add at least two varieties for each meal). That way, at the eight-month mark, the baby will already have four daily meals and, in consequence, a more well-balanced diet.

Tips and restrictions:

  • Any food introduced should be soft, preferably cooked
  • To help with the digestive process, you can add a bit of olive oil to the meals.
  • When cooking meat, you should either make ground beef or serve them a bigger piece of meat they can suck on.
  • Don’t forget that, at this point, the child needs water.
  • Eggs should only be offered later on due to the high allergy risk. Most pediatricians recommend introducing it only after the child turns one. Still, with the risk of contracting yellow fever and a mandatory vaccination by the nine-month mark, some doctors ask that eggs be introduced a couple of days before getting the vaccine. You should give the child a hard-boiled egg and only offer them ¼ of the yolk – increase the amount as you go.
  • It’s best to introduce legumes (beans, peas, lentils…) by the time the child turns 10 months old, but with caution, it’s possible to start a bit earlier than that.
  • Leave fish for when they turn 9 months old.

When can they eat what the family’s eating?

Currently, a significant number of pediatricians say the baby should eat the same foods as the rest of the family. Which, let’s be real, makes the whole cooking process a lot easier if you don’t have to make two different meals. 

You can offer the child a puree or another legume or vegetable that complements the menu for the day. Foods need to be mashed (or softer), and the amount of salt should be significantly less than what is used to prepare everything else.

Other doctors recommend that this process should only happen around the one-year mark, specifically to avoid exposing the child to salt too early, which could overload the baby’s kidneys. But, it’s pointless to spare your child from consuming salt if, when they start eating family meals, everything will be salty. It’s a healthier habit everyone needs to adopt. Try using other, different spices that can make the food taste better: onions, parsley, garlic, green onions, parsley, cilantro…

Should I keep breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is recommended up until the child turns two, according to the American Pediatric Society. Until their first year of life, the child is still learning how to eat, and milk is super important. Afterward, it takes on the role of a supplement to the child’s diet. That being said, kids should be either breastfed or given formula. Cow’s milk should only be introduced after they turn one.

Spoiler: A phase of many unwanted comments

Prepare yourself for unwanted comments and unfounded advice. Some will tell you the neighbor’s son ate bean stew at four months of age and is still alive and healthy. Others will want you to do what they did with their children, offering juice, oatmeal… It’s important to stay calm and keep in mind that recommendations change with time, as new studies and evidence come in. This means that what your parents or grandparents did with you might not be the best course of action today. In these cases, it’s best to stick to the facts. Explain to them that you understand they only want what’s best for your child, but the best thing for you is to go with what the pediatrician recommends.

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