Complimentary feeding; what you need to know

It’s essential for babies at the age of six months to at least five years to be complimented with healthy foods. Health experts say it is best for their development in general.

They say children need proper feeding because this is when growth is rapid, muscles are developed, mental progress is taking place and cell division is swift; therefore, proper complimentary feeding is required to support all this and at the same time, avoid growth retardation and boost cognitive development.


Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist at Amazon Clinic in Remera, says sometimes caregivers have limited knowledge on how to feed children.

He says complimentary feeding at an early stage is critical because it’s also when the appetite of the child is stimulated.

This, in other words, will help build an appetite even when they are older.

He says that sometimes, children at this age become picky with food, making it hard for caregivers to give them what is essential.

It’s recommended by World Health Organization (WHO) that from birth to six months, the child be exclusively breastfed.

“At six months, they are supposed to be given food because there is rapid growth taking place; the child is growing physically and mentally and requires energy. Therefore, they need food to provide that energy since breast milk alone at that stage cannot sustain them.


Joseph Uwiragiye, head of nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), says because the digestive system of the baby is not yet fully developed, it is important to start with soft foods.

He says there are some foods that need to be avoided at this stage.

He says vegetables are important, like spinach and carrots, among others. However, Uwiragiye says, food should be given to the baby consistently.

He adds that it is important to monitor the food that causes discomfort or allergy, and what the baby likes most.

For instance, he says, if you give a baby spinach and there is no problem, you can introduce another vegetable, and if there is still no problem, mixing and mashing them is also okay.

The same should be done with other types of food.

“It’s common for children to be allergic to some foods, and this is seen in a rash or complication whenever they are given that specific food,” he says.

He advises that if one finds out a baby is intolerant to some food, the solution is to exclude that food from their diet.

Erick Musengimana, a nutritionist, says in case of this, looking for other options that can provide the same nutritional value is important.

When it comes to protein, he says peas, soya, fish, and eggs, among others, can be given.

Some children are intolerant to protein-rich foods, therefore, being watchful is important.

When it comes to complimentary feeding, Musengimana says, parents should not forget to give their infants porridge.

Normally, he says, it’s recommended to mix sorghum flour, maize and roasted soya.

The reason why roasted soya is recommended is because when it is not roasted, it contains amino acid which the baby will not be able to digest and can lead to ingestion problems.

When preparing it, Musengimana says, make sure the porridge is thick-ish. The baby should be fed using a spoon; they shouldn’t drink but eat the porridge.


Uwiragiye says that normally, mothers tend to first introduce fruits to their babies; this is not ideal, and if possible should be stopped.

He explains that when such foods are introduced first, there is a high possibility that the baby will refuse to eat other foods, like vegetables, or solid foods.

This, he says, is because most of the fruits, such as bananas and mangoes, are sweet and so the baby will end up getting used to sweet food.

He says that this is the reason why today, a good number of mothers go to see nutritionists seeking help on how to handle babies when it comes to eating; and their biggest problem is that the children don’t have an appetite or refuse to eat certain foods.

He says all this is a result of giving a child sweet foods like fruits and juices first.

“Mothers should be cautious and avoid doing this,” he says.

Kamanzi says the idea is to first introduce foods that are not sweet, after a period of two months, fruits can be added because the baby will be used to other foods.

He says eight months is a good time to introduce fruits. However, fruits such as avocado can be given to the baby before because they are not sweet like other fruits.

He says the habit of blending or mixing more than two fruits should be avoided.

He explains that this is because many fruits have acids, so if they are mixed, the acidic content increases, and the baby may develop gastric problems.

One fruit is okay but it can be changed daily. Also, Kamanzi says, adding food to a baby’s diet does not mean the end of breastfeeding. The mother should continue breastfeeding the baby, at least for two years.


Uwiragiye says intolerance is not the same as a baby refusing certain food. To refuse food means the baby does not want the food, but intolerance is where they develop complications.

“Intolerance is characterised by diarrhoea, vomiting, rash (allergies), among others,” he says.

However, he notes that when the baby is given micronutrient powder (supplementing the diet), it can also cause diarrhoea, but it’s not a result of intolerance, thus parents should be aware.

If the baby is intolerant to some food, continuing to give them the same food will lead to development of ulcers and other disorders as they get older, Uwiragiye says.


Rene Tabaro, a nutritionist at Oshen-King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, says when a baby has just been introduced to solid foods; they normally don’t eat much because their gut is still small.

In this case, he says, one should feed a child about three to four spoons then after four hours, they should feed them again.

“It’s not advisable to give a baby a lot of food, rather, reducing the quantity and increasing the frequency is important, and this can go up to four times a day,” he says.

He notes that as the gut expands, one can as well start increasing the quantity.

After introducing all types of food, Tabaro says rice should come last because it’s a cereal and it’s not easy for the gut of the baby to digest it.

“Mothers normally make the mistake of first introducing the baby to rice thinking it’s the softest food for the child. This is not advisable because rice has some complex starch which is hard for the baby to digest,” he says.

Another important aspect when it comes to feeding babies, Tabaro says, is there is no need to switch off the TV or radio, what matters is getting the baby’s attention and there are various ways to do that.

He says one can eat with the baby or sing to them, among other things, to get their attention.