Weaning children: when, how to start, methods

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Weaning children

In this article

  • why do you need to wean?
  • weaning, weaning or complementary feeding
  • weaning, when to start
  • the signs that the baby is ready
  • weaning at 4 months?
  • start of weaning: something changes if breastfeeding is breastfeeding or artificial
  • weaning: how do you start?
  • traditional weaning with baby food
  • traditional weaning, the meal plan
  • self-commitment
  • hands or spoon?
  • meat, fish, cheese: proteins
  • weaning and allergies
  • which milk after weaning
  • homogenized or cooked fresh?
  • vegetarian weaning
  • the rules for not getting stressed during weaning
  • if the child refuses to eat
  • weaning and suffocation risk
  • foods to avoid

Because at a certain point you have to introduce solid foods

It is a fundamental moment of growth: at a certain point, other foods begin to be placed side by side with milk and there is a very specific reason why this happens. The Ligurian pediatrician explains it to us Alberto Ferrando in his book How to Feed My Child (LSWR 2022 Editions):

"The milk taken in by the newborn is no longer enough to completely satisfy his nutritional needs and, therefore, it is necessary to fill the lack of iron, proteins, vitamins with foods that contain them. As for iron, full-term babies who are exclusively breastfed usually keep enough supplies of it for the first six months. ”Even more if their umbilical cord wasn't cut immediately after birth but when it stopped pulsing.

Read also: Supplements and vitamins for children

Weaning, weaning or complementary feeding: what's the difference

Breastfeeding is not a vice!

"Weaning and weaning are synonyms, and both refer to the idea of ​​"detaching the baby from a vice, that is, sucking at the breast or bottle" explains Ferrando. Emphasizing that today this vision of detachment from vice is fortunately no longer there: breastfeeding is certainly not a vice!

Today we prefer to talk about complementary nutrition, which among other things gives the idea of ​​a gradual transition from a milky diet to solid foods.

In fact, for the first time after weaning, the diet often continues to remain mainly milky. "Little by little, babies get used to new flavors and textures, but at first they continue to get most of the nutrients they need from breast milk or formula," explains the pediatrician. Frank DeLuca, now a freelance pediatrician (formerly a community pediatrician in a Roman clinic), president of the Montessori Birth Center.

"This implies that weaning must be considered as a slow and progressive phase: a series of small steps along which to accompany the child patiently".


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Weaning: when to start

For the World Health Organization, the introduction of complementary foods to milk it should not take place before the sixth month, and various international companies and agencies are on the same line. The European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPHGAN) and the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), for example, recognize six months as an ideal time for the introduction of other foods besides milk, while contemplating the chance to stay in one window between four and six months. And also according to the Association of American Pediatricians, the baby should only drink milk for the first four to six months.

It is clear, however, that it is not a question of waiting for the X time to forcefully put a spoon with the baby food in the mouth of the child. Pediatricians now agree that to start weaning it is good to wait for the child himself:

  • on one side you show interest in food - which could also happen soon, between the fourth and fifth month of life;
  • on the other hand it is ready from a neuromotor point of view.

The signs that the baby is ready

The basic requirements for starting weaning are that the baby knows:

  • stare sitting with your head straight,
  • swallow food well (thus having lost the extrusion reflex which leads him to spit out everything that is not liquid),
  • grasp food with your hands to bring it to the mouth.

"Some babies will be ready a couple of weeks before they turn six months, others a few weeks later," they comment Ilaria Giulini Neri e Giacomo Cagnoli, nutrition pediatricians of the Melegnano hospital and researchers of the NutrMyModernsParents project of the Icans of our city. "Until that moment, the indication is to give milk - maternal or formula - to the baby until approximately the sixth month".

Weaning at 4 months?

Sometimes parents, but also some pediatricians, tend to anticipate the time of weaning a lot, proposing the first foods other than milk as early as four months. But beware: there is no medical reason to justify this great advance.

The nutritionist pediatrician strongly reiterated this to mymodernparents.com Margherita Caroli, board member of the European Childhood Obesity Group "Regardless of habits, traditions, grandmother's advice or whatever, there is no medical reason why a baby should start taking foods other than milk at four months old." .

Read also: Weaning marks the first separation from the mother

Beginning of weaning: does anything change if breastfeeding or formula feeding?

No, nothing changes: the indications provided by international organizations apply to both situations. Often there is a tendency to anticipate the weaning of babies fed with formulated milk, but there is no need because this food, although not comparable in various respects with mother's milk, from a nutritional point of view it is complete.

However, some pediatricians suggest offering the formula-fed baby some taste of cooked and pureed vegetables after the fifth month, to get him used to new flavors. In fact, while the taste of breast milk changes according to the mother's diet, that of infant formula is always the same.

Weaning: how do you start?

There are currently two schools of thought with respect to the type of diet to be proposed to the child for weaning:

  • lo traditional weaning, with baby food (even if there are no more rigid schemes than once)
  • self-weaning or complementary feeding on request.
Read also: Weaning or self-weaning? What the science says

Let's say immediately that there are no scientific studies that compare the two proposals: if parents are careful and scrupulous with respect to the quality (and quantity) of the foods to be offered to the child, there should be no problems in either case and a child who he grows regularly and above all he is calm and active will confirm this.

Traditional weaning: with baby food, but without rigid schemes

"The child he is not a small adult and has different nutritional needs than adults. For example needs more fat - 40-45% of the daily caloric intake, instead of the 30% recommended for mom and dad - because they need fats for optimal development of the nervous system ", says Caroli." At the same time, he needs to have poche proteins, because an excess of these nutrients in the first two years of life is associated with an increased risk of developing childhood obesity. "For this reason Caroli, like other pediatricians, believes that it is appropriate to provide for weaning and for the first years of life of the baby a specific diet.

Of course, it no longer means following a very rigid table with respect to the introduction of foods, as it was proposed until a few years ago in the belief that certain foods could favor the onset of food allergies, if given too early. But according to this line of thinking it is still appropriate provide for a certain gradualness to accustom the child to the novelty of both flavors and textures.

"Better to start with broths and semi-fluid consistencies, easier for them to manage, to gradually move on to more solid consistencies" advises Caroli. What, moreover, she proposes to offer the same baby food for a few days, before changing or adding ingredients ".

Traditional weaning, the meal plan: when to propose the first meal and when to introduce the second

"There is no rigid indication of the time of day when the first meal should be offered. My advice is to do it when both mum and dad are present, so both can share the joy - and even a little effort - of making the baby eat "says Caroli.

For breastfed babies, the second baby food can be introduced after about a month, while for those fed with formula milk it can wait even longer.

Read also: Weaning: how to prepare the first baby food, from theory to practice

I wean myself, or the choice of self-weaning

The dogma of introducing food in stages to avoid the risk of allergies has fallen, the new trend that is gaining momentum in families and among pediatricians is that ofself-weaning or complementary feeding on request.

There are two fundamental principles of this approach.

Responsive feeding

First: it is not the parents who "decide" when the time has come to taste something new, but the child himself, who communicates it with various signals, including an evident interest in food. "This is why we also talk about responsive feeding, which places the child himself and his needs at the center of the management of the child "explains De Luca.

No special baby food

Second principle: no special baby food, but green light to the same dishes as mom and dad, as long as they are healthy. If the little one clearly shows that he wants to try that radicchio risotto or those penne with swordfish, why not give them to him? "Children imitate grown-ups" explains Lucio Piermarini, family pediatrician in Terni and one of the first supporters of weaning in Del Paese, author of the book I wean alone. "They see parents eating certain things in a certain way and they want to do it too. Following this natural inclination allows you to introduce new foods into the diet of the little ones, avoiding the traumas of classic weaning".

In order for weaning not to cause problems, mum and dad must eat healthily first. And precisely because this is not always the case, some pediatricians advise against it. "The problem is there - admits Piermarini - but I think we should begin to see weaning as an opportunity to invite parents to review and improve your diet. A good model is that of the Mediterranean diet and the classic food pyramid can help you understand what to eat ".

Read also: Children and water: when should they start drinking it? How much? And what kind?

Hands or spoon?

"There is no fixed rule", declares De Luca. "It definitely goes one way sustained, when it occurs, the child's ability to take things with his hands and bring them to your mouth. On the other you can also start with a spoon or, better still, with two: one for the parent and one for the child himself who surely begins to be able to use it after the sixth month of life ".

Sometimes it happens that the baby starts weaning using the spoon, even in a very precise way, to then prefer the hands a few months later. On the other hand in addition to taste there is a lot to explore in terms of textures as well...

Read also: Weaning, the bungling baby learns first

Meat, fish, cheese: be careful not to overdo it with proteins

Whichever path you choose, you have to be careful not to make one of the most common weaning mistakes, that is excess protein, which is associated with an increased risk of developing childhood obesity.

"Today it is recommended to add 40-50 grams of protein foods (meat, fish, legumes, cheese) to baby food, but even these are exaggerated quantities" says Caroli, who is coordinating a new document on weaning of the Del Paesena Society of preventive pediatrics and social (SIPPS). "In this document we will urge you to further reduce these unnecessary and potentially harmful doses, ea do not exceed 10-15 grams of protein per pappa ".

If, on the other hand, you do self-weaning, for De Luca the point is simply to have some more foresight. So, if it seems to us that the child ate a good amount of meat for lunch, we will not offer protein foods for dinner as well.

Weaning and allergies

Until recently it was thought that the best way to prevent the risk of food allergies in children was to delay as much as possible the introduction of potentially allergenic foods, such as fish, eggs, tomatoes, strawberries and dried fruit. Hence the compilation of rather strict weaning roadmaps.

For about twenty years now, however, the scientific studies available have led to questioning this belief and today the recommendations have changed radically. An article recently published by the American Association of Pediatricians in the journal Pediatrics recalled this:

"There is no scientific evidence that delaying the introduction of allergenic foods beyond four to six months of life reduces the risk of developing food allergies, eczema, allergic rhinitis or asthma"

Conclusion: already at the beginning of weaning all possible foods (obviously not all together, forcing the child to a marathon of flavors), based on the preference of the child and the gastronomic culture of the family and pediatrician.


Weaning: 50 responses from NUTRITIONAL PEDIATRICIANS to the most common doubts of mothers

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What milk after weaning?

If the mother has breastfed her baby, there is no reason to stop breastfeeding once weaning has begun, if of course she likes to continue. "You can certainly breastfeed during weaning, because breast milk guarantees the baby ideal nutrition, healthy growth and optimal development" writes Ferrando in his book.

Furthermore, breastfeeding also represents a relevant emotional reference for the acquisition of safety and autonomy. For this reason, the World Health Organization recommends it up to the second year of life and even beyond, if the mother-child couple so wishes.

But even if the milk was artificial, its administration should certainly not be interrupted abruptly: for some time the baby's feeding continues to remain mainly milky. "In this case, up to 12 months, formula milk should be offered as an alternative to breast milk"recommends Professor Andrea Vania, head of the Center of Pediatric Dietology and Nutrition of the Maternal-Child and Urological Sciences Department of the Sapienza University of the city. "Instead, cow's milk should be avoided until the first birthday, because it is too rich in protein and low in iron ".

Read also: Milk for babies before 12 months: why avoid the vaccine

Is it better to give baby food or to cook fresh meat and fish?

"The choice has more to do with criteria of comfort and ease of use that of real opportunity "explains Giacomo Cagnoli." If there is little time to cook, the baby food can be used with peace of mind (at the beginning half a jar at a time precisely in order not to exceed the protein quotas). Having time (and desire) to cook, on the other hand, it is perfectly fine to do so ".

"By doing this, by the way, you allow the child to taste a greater variety of flavorsi, given that every single piece of meat or fish has a unique flavor, while that of the homogenized is more homogeneous ".


Weaning, what are the first baby food in the rest of the world?

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Sara Honegger in the book A world of baby food explains how children are weaned in various countries. Generally the first taste is fruit: apple, pear, banana, but also mango or papaya ....

Vegetarian weaning: how to proceed

Various scientific societies agree: it is possible to offer children a vegetarian or even vegan weaning, provided that certain conditions are respected. The main risks of this diet are two: vitamin B12 deficiency (which becomes a certainty in the case of the vegan diet, since this vitamin is found only in foods of animal origin) e low calorie intake, which can lead to growth problems.

However, these are risks that can be kept under control, with some precautions (which mymodernparents.com has extensively presented in the article Vegan diet for children: can it be done and under what conditions?)

  • think about it in time, that is, still during pregnancy. If mom is vegan, she is the first to worry about her vitamin B12 levels. Other deficiencies could concern iron, zinc, vitamin D and calcium: the gynecologist should evaluate the situation with appropriate tests;
  • if you are not breastfeeding, choose suitable products in the first months of life. No to vegetable drinks based on cereals or legumes, yes to milk in a specific formula for infants, which instead of being based on cow's milk will be based on soy or rice;
  • after weaning, in the case of a strictly vegan diet, provide supplementation with vitamin B12 for children (and many pediatricians also recommend it for vegetarian children;
  • for the little ones to prefer energy-dense foods, such as legumes, soy derivatives, nuts, quinoa, and don't overdo it with vegetables, so as not to have an excess of fiber;
  • provide checks on the growth and health of the child;
  • if in doubt, consult your doctor. In reality, not all pediatricians are actually experts in nutrition and even less in vegetarian or vegan nutrition. If possible, however, seek out a specialist with these specific skills.

Stress-free weaning: the basic rules

1 Don't rush

If the child is not ready, forcing him in advance is the best way to generate tension and stress, which the whole family will suffer from.

2 Trust in the child and his ability to regulate himself

"If the child is healthy and hungry, he eats. If he does not eat, he is not hungry", writes Ferrando. Sometimes - many times! - it seems to us that the child does not eat enough or - more rarely - that he eats too much. In reality, no one knows better than children themselves what it takes to grow up. If a child is well, he is active and has a good growth it means that he knows how to regulate himself in quantities: let's not worry too much!

3 On food, no rewards or punishments, but a lot of patience

"Food must be proposed, not imposed" writes Ferrando. "If the child refuses important foods such as vegetables, fruit or fish, do not force him, but after a few days try to offer them again with calm, tranquility and serenity, without getting irritated". And arm yourself with holy patience: it may be that a child refuses a food even 10 or 20 times before accepting it!

4 Fun

Weaning must be a moment of serenity, of sharing beautiful moments, to be faced with a smile. Too much anxiety risks compromising it and creating problems such as non-acceptance of new foods.

"We derive joy from being at the table together" write the pediatricians Jacopo Pagani and Andrea Vania and the chef Luigi Nastri in their book Learn to eat, the right weaning with the margherita method. "The discovery of the flavors, colors, aromas and textures of food passes through a path of attention and responsibility on the part of the family context, it cannot ignore the fun and pleasure of the child, which must be guided in this wonderful adventure ".

5 Understanding

Protests, crises, scenes: during weaning they can happen, but not necessarily everything depends on food. Sometimes, more simply, the moment of the meal can be the scenario in which a child protests that nothing has to do with nutrition itself. For example - Nastri, Pagani and Vania clarify - it can happen that the little one is angry at mom who has been at work all day and doesn't want to eat. "So try to go beyond the behavior itself and strive to understand the message the child wants to give you ".

The child refuses to eat: how to behave

"In front of children who do not want to give up milk, do not want to eat or seem to eat little, there are two basic tips: trust them and have patienceWord of Ilaria Giulini Neri and Giacomo Cagnoli.

The first thing to do if the baby does not want to start weaning, abandoning the milk - maternal or formula - that has fed him up to that moment is therefore to be patient. "Wait and try again later, especially if the child still shows little interest in food" write Nastri, Pagani and Vania. "It is not a tragedy for him or for you if the start of complementary nutrition is delayed a bit ".

Finally, a last useful indication for children who do not want to eat is to try to change the proposal: maybe you are insisting on a traditional baby food, and the baby would prefer to taste what is on your plate (as long as it is healthy!), With a tendency to be weaned. . Or viceversa. Why not also make some attempts in this direction?

Weaning and choking hazard

It is a major concern of parents, especially when struggling with self-weaning. Fortunately, a few tricks are enough to minimize this possibility.

First, iThe baby must be ready: must sit and be able to swallow. If something goes wrong with him, in the vast majority of cases he can handle himself, but still it should never be left alone during meals, also to make sure you don't put too much food in your mouth. AND while you eat you do not do other activities, like running or playing.

Some foods are more risky than others: for example the small, smooth and rounded ones like peanuts, grapes, cherry tomatoes, olives, hazelnuts, or the sticky ones, like a too big bite of raw ham, or the firm or stringy ones like carrot and fennel (raw). In these cases, just present them in a suitable way, breaking them, cooking them or breaking them up.

Finally, it is always good for parents to know about them maneuvers to clear the pediatric airways, to be able to intervene in a timely manner in case of problems.


How to cut food to prevent choking

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How to prevent children from suffocation? A campaign, "SicurezzAtavola", which was presented in 2022 at Expo with the Ministry of Health, provides for the diffusion ...

Weaning: prohibited foods

1 No salt (or very little): the child does not feel the need and the later he gets used to it, the better. Yes instead to aromatic herbs - sage, marjoram, thyme - to flavor: they are also good sources of mineral salts.

2 No sugar and sugary drinks, which get used to the sweet taste, predisposing to the development of obesity.

3 No honey before 12 months: it could contain botulinum spores that the baby's immune system is not yet able to eradicate.

4 No cow's milk before 12 months (unless it is used in food preparations such as mashed potatoes).

5 No raw meat and fish.

6 No coffee and other caffeinated drinks.

7 Obviously, no alcohol.

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Questions and answers

What is weaning?

The term "weaning" today means the transition from an exclusively liquid diet, based on breast milk or formulated, to a mixed diet, with the addition of solid or semi-solid foods.

When and how to start weaning?  

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends continuing exclusive breastfeeding for up to approximately 6 months, the age around which babies are usually weaned.

How to understand that the baby is ready for weaning?

As your child sits at the table with you, you will notice an increasing interest on his part in what you do while you eat. It's time to please him, to take some shredded food with your cutlery and leave it at hand.

What is self-weaning?

Self-weaning means letting the child wean himself during the parents' meals, asking for and getting small samples of all courses. In this way, he will insensibly adjust to the family's diet and schedules.

  • child diet
  • infant feeding
  • baby food
  • breastfeeding
  • breast milk
  • artificial milk
  • self-weaning
  • newborn 4-8 months
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