Weaning is the process by which a baby starts relying lesser on breast milk and is introduced slowly to eating family or adult foods. This process of introducing new food varies from culture to culture and is mainly regulated by the child’s individual needs. Babies in the weaning age group are growing and developing very fast, so great care has to be taken to see that they are getting enough of the right kind of food.
The change from breast- or bottle-feeding to solid meals during the process of weaning may have an impact on a child’s oral health. When teeth are first exposed to solid meals, they may come into contact with chemicals that might cause cavities, such as sugars and carbs. The risk of tooth decay might rise with frequent eating or extended exposure to sweet or sticky foods.
Weaning is the time when babies move out and become more independent from their mothers. They are exposed to germs in the environment as they are less dependent on breast milk and more on outside food. Because of this reason babies are very likely to get oral infections too. This is why food prepared for babies has to be made in a very hygienic way. A child of weaning age needs food that is soft and easy to chew, nutritious and full of energy.
The smaller the child, the more should be the feeding
Weaning initially, is very difficult for the babies. They often fall ill, get diarrhea or become physically weak. This hampers the growth and development of children. This shows up on the growth chart as poor weight gain, or in more serious cases, as weight loss.
Weaning tips for mothers
- A baby needs small amounts of food at first.
- Slowly increase the amount of food a baby is given, making sure that the intake matches the babies growing appetite.
- Feed often, and according to the baby’s ability to chew and digest.
- Prepare nutritious mixes, using foods of good quality. These protect babies from illness and help them gain weight in proportion to age.
- Feed foods that are high in energy and concentrated in nutrients.
- Make sure all foods and the utensils used to prepare them are clean.
- Breast-feed for as long as possible.
- Give the baby care and attention to stimulate mental as well as physical growth.
- Feed more during and after illness. Give more liquids, especially if the baby has diarrhoea
Mothers have to take utmost care while making weaning mix which should be in clean environment. When babies are 4-6 months old, their mouth starts to accept semiliquid food. Teeth start erupting and tongue doesn’t push food outside. Also stomach is ready to digest starch. By 9 months babies are able to put things in their mouth. This is the time you can introduce solid foods.
A complete guide to help wean your child
So there are 3 stages of weaning
Stage 1: 4 – 6 months
Stage 2: 6 – 9 months
Stage 3: 9 – 12 months
Infants aged below 6 months need to have their food strained. Those aged between 6 and 8 months need to have their food mashed. For infants aged 9-11 months, food should be chopped or pounded. From about one year, children can start eating pieces of food.
During initial stages that is 6 months of baby’s life, it’s better to start with soft diet only as it stimulates physiological swallowing. The tongue rests between the gums at this stage. Breast feeding at this stages helps to increase jaw length.
As child’s age is increasing and all his teeth have erupted. The diet now has to be changed as child can chew and shift from liquid to semi-solid foods. This also helps in improving the child’s muscular activity in and around the mouth and development of the gums, jaw bones and other structures in the mouth.
Primary teeth must ideally exhibit wear when permanent teeth start erupting. This wearing of teeth occurs because of contact between upper and lower teeth. This feature if not seen in children, is mainly because they were given a soft diet for a longer duration.
Therefore diet must be hardened and child should be trained to chew from both sides, to prevent any hindrance in jaw growth or crowding of teeth.
Also what type of food you give to your child is important it is best to use food which is
- Easily available
- Staple food
- Good for baby
- Not very expensive
How often should you wean your child and how much?
Although staple food is the base food along with it other foods are also quite important. Initially, breast milk usually suffices, but as the child grows other foods are required. These are animal source foods, green leafy vegetables, peas and beans, oils and fats and definitely fruits. The 1-1-4 rule is best to follow. One spoonful of animal source food or one spoonful of cooked peas or beans can be eaten with every 4 spoonful of thick cooked staple food. Along with this green leafy vegetables can also be added.
Planned or natural weaning?
Weaning may be either planned (mother-led) or natural (infant-led). Natural weaning starts when the child starts to accept different kinds of food along with breast milk as complementary feeding along with breast milk. With this type child usually completes his weaning by 2-4 years of age.
Whereas planned weaning occurs when a mother decides to wean without getting any clues from the infant whether the child is ready. There can be reasons for this like less amount of breast milk is produced, or a working mother, painful feedings, child’s new teeth erupting or next pregnancy.
Effects of Weaning on oral health
Weaning practice can have a major influence on both immediate and future dental health as a good dietary practice from birth has the potential to secure healthy teeth for life.
Infants should be weaned on foods and drinks free as far as possible of non-milk sugars. Also, there are concerns with few drinks given to infants with low PH which causes erosion of primary teeth, which has become common these days.
As the baby tastes different foods and chews on new textures they’re beginning to practice crucial oral motor skills necessary for future facial development, strong jaw muscles, and well-aligned teeth. Chewing and proper facial development go hand in hand. More and better chewing action stimulates the jaw bones to grow and become more strong. It also depends on the frequency of the chewing action by the child, especially infants and toddlers who have a naturally more limited diet until their primary teeth erupt. Many factors affect how your baby’s face will develop, including genetics and overall nutrition, but chewing is high on the list.
Kids who are given a more refined diet(processed foods) are at greater risk for oral health issues. These dental problems may not happen immediately but arise at a later stage in life where they have to rely on soft food because of missing teeth. As chewing is limited, jaw muscles become loose, tooth loss is there and crowding is very common.
This idea applies directly to child’s diet. Infants and toddlers who are able to chew on their food and work their muscles will be much more likely to achieve their highest genetic limit of jaw development. Healthy jaw development also encourages primary teeth to erupt properly aligned, thereby safeguarding your child’s future adult smile.
Little children, from the moment they are weaned, are making their way towards independence.
- Weaning does affect the infant oral health including the teeth and other tissues and structures in and around the mouth.
- Weaning can be either planned or natural but make sure it’s gradual.
- Weaning can be equally frustrating and difficult for the mother as well as the child.
- Weaning at the right age is very important. Better chewing action stimulates the growth and development of the teeth, jaws and other surrounding structures in the mouth.
- The baby’s facial structure and facial development also depends on weaning to some extent.