– according to the World Health Organization (WHO), an infant should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months, and breastfeeding should ideally continue for the first 2 years;
– the transition from exclusive breastfeeding to a diversified diet usually occurs between 4-6 months and 18-24 months;
– but depending on the baby’s growth rate, the introduction of complementary foods may be necessary earlier;
– under 4 months, babies generally do not need complementary foods.
Note: the child is very vulnerable between 6 and 18-24 months, which is one of the reasons malnutrition can appear at this time. The WHO estimates that 2 out of 5 children are stunted in low-income countries.
A baby who is ready to try new foods has the following abilities:
– his saliva production becomes sufficient;
– Enzymes to digest food are present;
– Teeth begin to appear;
– His energy and nutrient needs are increasing.
Complementary foods: how do I go about it?
The introduction of new foods should complement breastfeeding and should be appropriate:
– complementary foods should be given in the right quantity and frequency, i.e., in response to the child’s appetite or satiety (pay attention to signs of satiety);
– with a consistency and texture adapted to the child’s age (new textures can be tried from 6-8 months, i.e., about 2 months after the start of diversification);
– they must be safe, i.e., given with clean utensils and in healthy conditions
– varied to cover the nutritional needs of the child at this time.
According to the WHO, there are no specific foods to start with. Still, they should meet the baby’s nutritional needs during the transition period from exclusive breastfeeding to a varied diet: cereals, meat, alternatives (fish, eggs, legumes, tofu, etc.), vegetables, and fruits.
Good to know: it is essential to give foods rich in iron, which decreases breast milk when the baby is around 6 months old.
It is advisable to introduce only one food at a time, at an interval of 3 to 7 days, to give the child time to get used to the new food and to monitor if he/she develops an allergic reaction:
– offer solid foods by the spoonful (experts advise proposing a new food up to 10 times: “a baby may need time to appreciate it”, but not to force a child to eat);
– start with smooth pureed foods, and move on to other textures gradually;
– avoid adding salt, sugar, fat, or spices to the foods offered (however, the introduction of sweet products should be done as late as possible and in a limited way).
To prevent food allergies, the most appropriate age for introducing foods known to be allergenic (such as eggs and peanuts) is between 4 and 6 months, at the beginning of food diversification.
Examples: introduce small amounts of well-cooked eggs into the diet while prohibiting raw or undercooked eggs. In populations with a high prevalence of peanut allergy, introduce peanuts in an age-appropriate form.