Transitional feeding for young children – Let’s get started!

After 6 months of age, feeding on breastmilk alone cannot meet the nutritional requirements of young children. At around 6 months, babies will be physiologically and developmentally ready to take in solid food. Parents should introduce complementary foods to babies at this time. This can help the infants gradually transit from a milk only diet to eating an adult diet by 24 months old.

“Breastfeeding should be continued when solid foods are introduced”

Developmental readiness for complementary food

Children vary in their oromotor development but most infants are ready to accept food from spoon by 6 months. It is marked by fading of the tongue extrusion reflex (pushing food out of the mouth). They can also raise their tongue to move pureed food to the back of the mouth and swallow. When they see a spoon approaching, they will open their mouth in anticipation of taking a bite. When they are hungry, they will open their mouth and lean forward, indicating a desire for food.

Let’s have a look at the video on baby’s readiness to accept solid food here!

Meeting the nutrients need

During the period of transitional feeding, children are at risk of undernutrition due to inappropriate food choices. Offering foods rich in energy, protein and micronutrients, particularly iron, zinc, calcium, iodine, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate, are essential. (see hyperlink booklet page 6-8) In contrary to the common myth held by some parents that fat and oil should be restricted in the weaning foods, it actually improves the energy density of the weaning foods and helps children meeting the energy requirement given a small gastric capacity. Choosing a cooking oil rich in n-3 PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) provides an additional source of DHA for the development of the neurological system.

Though many commercially manufactured infant foods are enriched with micronutrients, longitudinal study showed that those babies consumed family foods in weaning have less eating problems in childhood. Apart from meeting nutrients requirement, exposure to a variety of foods is essential to facilitate babies accepting new foods and establishing a dietary habit of eating variety of foods. Preparing weaning foods of appropriate texture by modifying the family foods are thus recommended.

How to prepare solid food for babies?

Apart from knowledge on nutrients and foods choices, parents or caregivers also need practical information on food preparation. You can view videos on how to prepare solid food for babies and changes in diet for 6 to 12 month old babies.

Feeding the children responsively

Optimal feeding for young children depends not only on what is fed but also on how, when, where and by whom the child is fed. A comfortable and distraction free feeding environment is essential. It also requires parents and caregivers to interact with their children in a positive way, understanding and react appropriately to their signs or behaviour during feeding.

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Types of food that babies should avoid:

  • Glucose water: It supplies only calories, there is no actual nutritional value;
  • Fruit juice: If babies get used to the sweet taste of fruit juice, it is hard for them to accept water. If needed, give diluted fruit juice and limit this to less than 120ml a day;
  • Flavourings: Too much salt may overload babies’ kidneys. Also, babies may not easily accept bland-tasting food if they get used to salty tastes;
  • Food that may lead to choking: This include food such as seeds, peanuts, fish and meat with bones, and fruit with seeds;
  • Uncooked food;
  • Large predator fish: May have higher mercury content, such as swordfish, tuna etc.