Weaning is that period when a child stops breastfeeding. According to medics, weaning is the gradual replacement of breastfeeding with other foods or simply the first time a baby takes food from a source other than their mother’s breast.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months as well as weaning the baby after two years.
Why exclusively breastfeed for 6 months
Venuste Muhamyankaka, the president of Rwanda Nutritionist Society, says a mother should avoid introducing any kind of foods to a baby’s diet within the first six months.
He adds that even in cases where the mother has less breast milk, it can be boosted, meaning there should be no room for any mother to introduce any other food to a child other than breast milk in that period.
Muhamyankaka says it is important to breastfeed the baby up to two years because within this period, there is a lot of body growth that can only be fully facilitated by the nutrients found in breast milk.
He says breast milk contains essential amino acids that help in cell differentiation which is very important for a baby’s growth within this two-year period.
“Besides the benefits of breast milk to the baby, the period of breastfeeding is psychologically necessary for bondage between a baby and their mother. That is why it is advisable for breastfeeding mothers to carry their babies in a position where they can be able to make eye contact with their babies while feeding them,” says Muhamyankaka.
For working mothers who use breast pumps, cleanliness is key and the milk should be warmed first to body temperature before it is given to the child according to Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist at Amazon Centre in Remera, Kigali.
“Pumping of breast milk is okay and also recommended by World Health Organization (WHO), but mothers should endeavour to ensure that the pump itself and whatever they use to feed their babies is very clean,” he says.
The only downside to pumped breast milk is that babies miss out on building that special bond with their mothers while breastfeeding, according Kamanzi.
Side effects of weaning before 2 years
Kamanzi says because there is nothing that can complement the nutrients found in breast milk, breastfeeding should be done as required.
He says that if this is not done will lead to a number of complications during a child’s growth including diseases like ulcers which might be experienced at an older age.
“Ulcers in this case come about when a child is given solid food at an early stage because breastfeeding has been stopped. What happens here is that the gastro-intestinal track of the baby finds it difficult to digest these foods since it is able to only digest the nutrients in the breast milk which are rather easily digestible, hence the ulcers,” Kamanzi explains.
He also notes that a child who has been put off breastfeeding before two years may experience disorders such as leukemia, also known as a blood cancer. He says a child may succumb to this disorder even while still a toddler or when much older.
“Celiac is also one of the disorders likely to develop in a child due to stopping breastfeeding early and introducing cereals especially wheat products. What people do not understand is that wheat contains gluten. This gluten can lead to a celiac disease which is also a cancer,” he explains.
Kamanzi says this is why most formulas sold for baby’s consumption are always written on gluten-free. He also discourages mothers from frequently feeding their babies on biscuits and milk, saying that as much as children enjoy eating such stuff, it will have a long term effect on their health.
The medic notes that children with celiac disease are often with less appetite, have less weight and some can be anaemic due to gluten.
Foods that can be introduced to a child’s diet during weaning
Dr Eric Musengimana, a nutritionist at Diet Therapy Company in Remera, Kigali, says any child aged over two is able to share any family food at the table.
However, he clarifies that this food must be a balanced diet to facilitate proper growth.
“Despite being able to feed on most of the foods like any other family member, these foods must not miss proteins such as fish, meat, liver, eggs, peas or beans. Vegetables such as pumpkins and fruits should also not miss in the child’s daily diet,” says Musengimana.