Complementary feeding should be introduced to your baby's diet when breast milk or formula is no longer enough to meet his nutritional needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends there be no introduction of solid foods, including infant cereal, baby food or table food, before 4 months of age, and no sweetened beverages before six months. The transition from exclusive bottle-feeding to table foods is a vulnerable period. It's important to introduce new foods at an early age, especially different fruits and vegetables. Yet, it is the time when malnutrition starts in many children. Even with a proper introduction of table foods, improper food choices remains and under-nutrition remains a health problem, especially in poor settings.
Advantages of Complementary Feeding
Appropriate complementary foods that are introduced and consumed by a young baby at 6 months old provide energy, protein, fat and vitamins and minerals. These help meet the growing child's needs in addition to breast milk and formula. According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition is responsible, directly or indirectly, for over half of all childhood deaths. Complementary feeding of a baby needs to be done by a parent or caregiver. This promotes healthy interaction and stimulation, which is crucial for the development of the baby's brain.
Disadvantages of Complementary Feeding
Although table foods become important by 6 months of age, too often foods are introduced too soon or too late. The amount of food offered may not be enough to sustain the normal growth of the child, or the consistency may be inappropriate for the age of the baby and they are unable to consume the food. Poor food choices also contribute to the disadvantages. A 2002 survey conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. and funded by Gerber found that french fries are the most commonly eaten vegetable for toddlers, age 15 to 24 months, and soda is being served to infants as young as 7 months old. Too much of poor complementary food negates the nutritious properties of breast milk and formula in the child's diet.
The second half of an infant's first year is important because infants begin learning how to eat and they must be frequently fed nutritious foods. Malnutrition is a result of poor quality complementary foods and bad feeding practices. Approximately one-third of children less than 5 years of age in developing countries have a lower than normal height for their age, and large proportions are deficient in one or more micronutrients, according to UNICEF. In India alone, more than 5,000 children under 5 years old die every day due to malnourishment or lack of basic nutrients, like Vitamin A, iron, iodine, zinc or folic acid, Health Education to Village reports.
Complementary foods should be prepared and given in a safe manner at an appropriate time. Appropriate complementary feeding is timely and is introduced at a time when the need for energy and nutrients is greater than what is being provided by exclusive bottle or breast feeding. It needs to be done with foods that provide appropriate nutrients for a growing child, the World Health Organization reports.