In the initial few years, feeding takes on important place in the care of the child. Proper, balanced dietary habits cultivated from infancy continue till late in life. The child should be put on the breast within 3-4 hours of delivery. Initially, only few spoons of clear white sticky fluid (colostrums) is secreted and proper milk is seen only after the third day. Breast milk is the perfect food available at the right temperature at a minute’s notice. It has all the nutrients in proper proportion and has antibodies to prevent from common childhood infections. It promotes early bonding between the mother and the child. Contrary to common belief, it helps the mother to come back to her normal shape faster. There is evidence that breast feeding reduces the risk of breast cancer in later life. Till the time the baby is six months old, nothing other than mother’s feed is to be given. No top milk, tea, coffee, cold drink, gripe water etc., not even water.
Weaning is the process of gradual transition from mother’s mild to solid food by one year of age. After four months if the weight gain is inadequate or the mother has to join work, a top feed can be started. Cereals, especially wheat cereals, should definitely not be given before six months of age. Start with a few spoons of vegetable soup or dal water. Never boil the juice. After a week to ten days give banana or mango mashed in milk. In cereals start first with a rice cereal and next wheat. Initially, the readymade tinned cereals can be given shifting later to natural home food like kheer and porridge (daliya). Salt and sugar are not given till 9 months of age. Citrus juices are best avoided till one year of age.
Egg yellow can be introduced after 6 months and egg-white can be added after9 months of age. Some children are averse to drinking milk in any form. The only practical solution is to give milk substitutes like fresh curd, custard, kheer, cheese, etc. Curd has more proteins, calcium, vitamin B- complex and less fat than mil, so it is equally good or perhaps better than milk. Fresh curd (not sour or cold) does not lead to throat or chest infections. A child taking a balanced diet does not require extra vitamins or tonics. A few important points to be remembered are: 1) Start one new feed at a time. Let the child develop a taste and then introduce another new feed. 2) If the child does not like the taste initially, keep trying daily for at least a week before abandoning for next 3 to 4 weeks. 3) Do not force-feed. 4) All new colic, rashes, etc. can be better managed during the day. 5) Do not give artificially coloured and flavoured sweets and drinks and obviously avoid unhygienic food.
By the time the child is one year old he/she should be on table food diet of dal, mashed vegetables, rice, roti, idili, etc. The feeding time should be a peaceful affair and the child should be encouraged to eat along with others but on his special chair. After one and half years the child can be trained to feed himself with a spoon. Bottle feeds, if started, should in any case be discontinued after one year of age. If continued beyond one year it leads to inadequate solid feeding, ear infections, dental caries and thumb sucking in later childhood. Bottle feeding is also the commonest cause of recurrent diarrhea in children.