When babies reach six months of age, breastfeeding only can’t satisfy all their nutrient needs. Nutritionists say at this age, a baby is in need of nutrients like Vitamin A and other minerals which cannot be obtained sufficiently from breast milk.
That’s why at this age, they advise mothers to introduce solid foods in order to get what they can’t find in their mothers’ breast milk.
Although, introducing solid food to a baby is a serious challenge to many mothers, some babies refuse foods precisely during the first attempt because many young mothers don’t know how to handle it.
Jeanne Uwineza, a mother of one, says her seven months old baby doesn’t want to eat anything, but prefers to breastfeed.
“I often prepare potatoes with vegetables then I blend them to make the food soft but still he can’t swallow two spoons. I am confused; I don’t know what to do to make my baby like the food. I’m afraid it could affect his growth,” she says.
Anastasie Mukakayumba, a nutritionist at Santé Plus at Ziniya in Kicukiro District, says parents must have information from trusted sources before they start feeding their babies.
She says it’s better that mothers do it themselves instead of giving that task to babysitters.
“It doesn’t mean babysitters are bad, but mothers are better placed to know how to behave with their babies in different circumstances,” says Mukakayumba.
Foods to start on
Gratien Dusengimana, a nutritionist from Nemba district hospital, says fluid porridge made of cereal flour is the best to start on.
“Fluid porridge has a lot of nutrients. Mixed sorghum and maize flour is also sufficient, but adding soya is recommended,” he says.
Mukakayumba says babies should begin with soft foods, preferably those that are like breast milk in state and taste.
“Soft and sweet fruit juice can have a taste closer to that of breast milk. And consequently, the way the baby receives this juice cannot be the same with how it will receive hard and salty foods,” adds Mukakayumba.
According to Olivier Hirwa, a nutritionist, a weaning dish should be made of staple foods which contain more carbohydrates, vegetables which are the main source of vitamins and minerals, plus foods from animals like meet and eggs.
At this point, he stresses that only white meats are ideal compared to the red and refined ones.
In place of meat, some parents with low means can use well-cooked beans or peas he adds. “All these foods should be well-cooked and then blend to have a well-prepared smash.”
Mukakayumba says when a baby starts eating, it’s the first time to experience different types of tastes, namely; salty, sweet, smelly, hard and soft, and all these have a part of brain which governs them.
She says sometimes babies reject some tastes categorically, and their first reaction is to spit it out even if it’s water. Some may accept to put foods in mouth but don’t chew or swallow as a trick to not eat more food.
“Some mothers, especially young ones, don’t know what to do in this case. When a baby spits the first spoon, don’t get surprised, it’s just a matter of time and habit. Today it can reject all food, but tomorrow they will swallow a little until they eat the whole plate,” says Mukakayumba.
She stresses that parents must be more patient when introducing food to their babies.
Dusengimana says he sometimes receives babies with anaemia and anorexia caused by food rejection.
“Anemia generally goes with anorexia, which is an eating disorder when babies reject food, completely,” he says.
Dos and don’ts
Mukakayumba says it requires sufficient time and sitting in a calm place without distractions in order to limit the challenges that come with introducing food to infants.
She advises mothers not to rely on misconceptions and information coming from unprofessional sources.
“For instance, many mothers feed their babies with cassava bread and mashed banana, which may result in indigestion.” says Mukakayumba.
It’s also not good to start on hard food or putting them on a nursing bottle if you have not used it before, she says, adding that at this age, babies can drink using a cup and spoon.
Dusengimana says every mom with a baby starting to eat ought to seek advice from health workers.
“On village level, there are three community health workers, one among them in charge of maternal and child care,” she says.
Besides, there are nutritionists at every health centre and district hospital ready to deliver help in terms of child nutrition.
Hirwa says food safety measures in the whole process from preparation to feeding should be observed. If it’s not the case, it should bring side effects to the baby digestion system.
“Using fresh foods from the garden rather than the conserved ones or those bought from the market is ideal,” he adds.
Mukakayumba says mothers should start getting information about child nutrition during their pregnancy in order to prepare what will be needed during weaning.
Hirwa says a baby aged between 6 and 9 months has to be fed four times a day, while those between 9 and 12 months should feed five times a day.
“Between 12 and 24 months, a baby should eat five times a day, and they can also share foods with adults; no need to prepare a specific menu.
“Parents should make sure their babies eat a complete meal with all nutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water,” he says.
Weight and height are the best indices to show that a baby’s nutrition is right or not.
“If the weight and height of a baby are stable or decrease, parents must worry about their baby’s nutrition,” says Dusengimana.