The importance of weaning! - The nutritionist says
Updated: Sep 14
Potete leggere questo articolo in Italiano qui.
Has your baby entered the sixth month of life? Then it's time to start the weaning!
Sometimes I hear mothers saying that they keep on with exclusive breastfeeding beyond this term, but it is good to know that the addition of food is necessary to provide the child with the correct supply of macro and micronutrients which, with milk only, would be no longer in the correct ratios for this stage of growth. The most important elements are iron, proteins, zinc as well as energy, carbohydrates and dietary fibre.
In this delicate phase I recommend a dynamic and flexible approach, in line with the specific nutritional needs of the child. The introduction of food may not look like a "pharmacological prescription" of foods and doses, but has to respect the habits of the family, within the limits of scientific acceptability and the child’s signs of hunger and satiety. It is important for the child to try different flavours and not to indulging in a simple preference for sweet or savoury: the child may experiment with different tastes and become familiar with them. Exactly like adults, he will have a preference for some foods and flavours but this may not affect his diet which, otherwise, risks to be unbalanced both energetically and in terms of micronutrients.
The need for iron has greatly increased at this stage (as I said, the supply of milk is no longer enough and weaning becomes essential after the baby’s 6th month!) and to ensure this it is good to offer the baby food that contains a good amount of bioavailable iron (i.e. absorbable) such as meat and fish, in association with fruits and vegetables that contain vitamin C (is good to know that vitamin C increases the bioavailability of iron). This micronutrient is essential for growth and psychomotor development.
Remember that the fibres "shield" absorption by the intestine, so it is a good practice to separate meals consisting mainly of foods of animal origin from those consisting of vegetables (such as legumes).
It is also good not to add sugar to your child's meals and not to salt his dishes (salting the cooking water is enough); the risk of obesity at 6-years old increases significantly in children who consumed sugary drinks in their first year of life. Furthermore, the perception of "adequately sweet" and "adequately salty" is formed at this stage and this will be the level of perception the child will have throughout his life.
In recent years, baby-led weaning (BLW) became an increasingly popular practice. An article published in the "Revista Paulista de Pediatria" (a magazine that publishes important articles, case reports and clinical reviews related to the health and disease of infants, children and adolescents) of the Sociedade de Pediatria de Sao Paulo states that "baby-led weaning positively favours family-shared meals, the baby’s satiety, and maternal control regarding the anxiety about the amount of food consumed; promotes more exposure to a greater variety of foods; creates a higher interaction with the food, allowing the exploration of different textures; and starts food introduction at the appropriate age".
Parents who intend to adopt this approach should follow a healthy and balanced diet. There are also some important factors to be considered that make the child's diet peculiar, such as the iron intake that may be adequate and the content of salt, which may be limited (we adults often add unnecessary salt to dishes).
There are also risks, such as suffocation due to big or hard bites and poor energy intake: as I said, the weaning stage may not be dictated only by "food-dose" rules, but you may still comply with the LARN, namely the tables drawn up by the Italian Society of Human Nutrition (SINU) which define the specific needs (in terms of energy and macro and micro nutrients) for each age group.
Parents are supposed to educate the child to eat healthily and responsibly. Always keep in mind that the baby does not have a developed intestine yet and may therefore have simple, lightly seasoned and well-cooked dishes.
Which milk to associate with your baby's weaning stage? The choice is between breast milk and formula milk. Cow's milk is to be avoided until the end of the baby’s 1st year of life (and in any case, should be limited up to 3 years) because it has low levels of iron, contains inhibitors of iron absorption and it can also cause intestinal bleeding.
What about allergies? The latest scientific evidence shows that it is not necessary nor recommended to delay the introduction of potentially allergenic foods. Fish and egg, which in the past were administered at a later stage, may be offered when the baby is still breastfed: this will have a preventive role for the development of allergies and a positive effect from a nutritional point of view. The early introduction of gluten, however, does not seem to have a protective effect from the celiac disease, where, instead, genetic factors prevail.
In this delicate weaning process you may rely on the advice of the Paediatrician (or GP) or a Nutritionist who will be able to give you all the right indications to ensure your baby has a correct, healthy and balanced diet.
Article written by Priscilla Gerosa
Nutritionist, Lecco, Italy