Weaning is the process of food consumption by the baby from the source other than breast milk. It is a way of complementing the breastfeeding with the other food sources as a nutrition supplement for the development of the baby. A majority of the doctors recommend exclusive breastfeeding until the baby is six months old. The period extending up to one year proves more beneficial for the nutrition fulfilment to the baby. World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for two years after the birth of the baby. In a majority of the cases surveyed so far, weaning starts along with the breastfeeding.
The readiness among the babies for the weaning varies from one year to four years of age. An infant starts to eat a variety of foods. It begins with licking the food followed by gradual eating. The babies begin self-feeding at the age of 6 months which is a sign of their personal development. Their internal system matures at the same age making them ready for the weaning.
Here, we have few factors that determine the importance of the weaning.
- Oral motor skill development: An infant follows the pattern of suck-swallow-breathe since its birthday until the beginning of the weaning. In suck-swallow-breathe sequence, the oral motor functioning involves taking in the milk, swallowing it and breathing. With the weaning, the infant starts to learn other oral motor patterns that include tongue lateralization and elevation and chewing. Through oral motor development, the baby learns managing bolus formation and swallowing time. Thus, weaning helps the infant in developing oral motor skills.
- Maturation of digestive system: Many studies found that the maturation of the digestive system in an infant begins at the age of 4-6 months. This makes the internal system of an infant compatible with the solids. With the process of weaning, the infant’s digestive system develops and becomes compatible with digesting solid foods along with breast milk.
- Self-feeding: Weaning helps an infant with the initiation of self-feeding. An infant starts to explore food items, their textures, and tastes. Self-feeding allows an infant to make a personal choice in the food which proves as a beginning of its personal development. It encourages child’s motor development including eye-hand coordination and chewing.
- Beginning of crawling: The beginning of crawling is a boon offered by weaning. Weaning develops chewing ability and generates a likeliness toward a specific flavour among infants. Several research concluded that gaining of such an ability motivates an infant to crawl toward delicious food. Thus, weaning helps in the initiation of extended movement in an infant.
- Olfactory system improvement: Weaning activates an olfactory system in the baby. As weaning places the focus of the baby on the smell of the food along with colour, texture, and taste, the olfactory system starts to integrate with other senses and form a sense of flavour. This allows a child to develop smell identification and accept or reject a specific food item.
- Makes independent: Many reports show that weaning makes a child independent. At times, a child rejects the food offered to it but eats the same food by itself. Such instances prove that a child is willing to use its recent developed motor skills by choosing food according to its taste and self-feeding. Also, World Health Organization advice parents to encourage their baby to take advantage of its development stages.
- Social attachment: Feeding a baby becomes a family and social activity at every home. It keeps a happy and belonging environment at home. The baby starts to learn eating skills by watching and imitating family members and relatives and focuses on eating the same food as everyone else. In this way, weaning provides an opportunity to all the family members to have fun together while feeding the baby.
Weaning includes few guidelines that a parent must follow while considering the addition of solids to the baby’s diet. At the beginning of weaning, a parent must make her child sit upright in a highly supportive chair during all the meals. This will help the child in effective swallowing and choking reduction. Also, a correct sitting will support efficient oral motor coordination.
A general problem a parent face includes disinterest of a child in food. In such cases, a parent can develop an eating interest in a child by taking meals in front of the child. Such an action will motivate the child to consume the same food. Now, we can say that weaning is an important part of infant-hood, as it is the beginning of the overall development of the baby including its physical and mental development.