- This type of feeding is important when the child is aged 6 to 24 months and it’s a transition period, meaning that at this time, the child is being oriented to foods other than breast milk.
- It’s during this period when malnutrition is most likely to affect many children. Malnutrition is a big problem in Tanzania and beyond.
There comes a time when breast milk alone can no longer be sufficient to meet the nutritional requirements of your baby. In this case, other foods and liquids are given to the child, alongside breast milk.
This type of feeding is important when the child is aged 6 to 24 months and it’s a transition period, meaning that at this time, the child is being oriented to foods other than breast milk.
It’s during this period when malnutrition is most likely to affect many children. Malnutrition is a big problem in Tanzania and beyond.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 2 out of 5 children are stunted in low-income countries, including Tanzania.
Here are guiding principles for parents to follow to boost children’s health when they are ready for solids.
First is the age when complementary feeding is introduced
WHO recommends that infants start receiving complementary foods at 6 months of age in addition to breast milk. The parent must bear in mind that initially the food is given 2-3 times a day between 6-8 months, increasing to 3-4 times daily between 9-11 months and 12-24 months; with additional nutritious snacks offered 1-2 times per day, depending on the child’s desire.
Then comes the maintenance of breastfeeding.
It’s advisable to continue breastfeeding on demand until 2 years. This helps when the child’s appetite for other foods decreases but breast milk intake is maintained during illness. Frequent breastfeeding protects a child’s health by delaying maternal fertility during the period after delivery.
The third is responsive feeding. This means feeding the child patiently. Experts advise against forcing the child to eat if he refuses to. They instead recommend trying different food combinations, tastes and texture or talking to the child during feeding by maintaining eye contact. Also, minimise distractions during meals.
Fourth is safe preparation and storage of the complementary foods. Good hygiene should be maintained by the care giver and proper food handling such as washing caregiver’s and a child’s hands before preparing, handling and eating foods.
Storing the food safely must go along with serving the food shortly after being prepared. Use clean utensils to prepare and serve food. Use clean bowls and cups when feeding the child. But also, avoid feeding using a bottle which is hard to clean.
Then, let’s look at the amount of complementary foods needed. Start with a small amount, and then proceed by adding the amount of energy food while still giving breast milk 200 kcal/day at 6-8 months, 300 kcal/day at 9-11 month and 550 kcal/day at 12-23 months.
Food consistency also matters. Gradually, this increases food consistency and variety as the infant gets older, adapting to the infant’s requirements and abilities.
Seventh, is meal frequency and energy density. Thisincreases the number of times that a child is fed on complementary foods as he/she gets older. Feeding frequency at the age of 6-12 months give complementary feeds 3 times a day, even if breastfed and 5 times day if not breast fed. At age 12 month- 2 years, complementary feeds are given 5 times a day even if breastfed and at the age of 2 years and older, give family foods at 3 meals each day; also twice daily give nutritious food between meals.
The eighth is about nutrients content of complementary foods. Feed the infant on a variety of foods to ensure that nutritional needs are met such as proteins, vitamins and adequate fats but avoid giving drinks with low nutrient value such as tea, coffee and sugary drinks such as soda.
Then, the use of vitamin/mineral supplements or fortified products is very vital. In some populations, breastfeeding mothers may also need vitamin-mineral supplements or fortified products or both for their own health and to ensure normal concentrations of certain nutrients (particularly vitamins) in their breast milk.
Tenth and last is feeding during and after an illness.
According to the principles of feeding a sick child, this involves continued breast feeding; Do not withhold food at this point. Give frequent small feeds every 2-3 hours. Encourage the child and be patient but also, you can take the child to a health facility where feeding by what we call a nasogastric tube can be started. This is, if the child severely loses appetite (anorexic).
After an illness, give food more often than usual, encourage child to eat more.
But always remember that inadequate feeding of the baby can result to under nutrition syndromes such as kwashiokor, marasmus, marasmic-kwashiorkor and underweight while over-nutrition can result into obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Hence, it’s important to maintain a balanced diet.