Thursday 10 March 2022



The complementary feeding period, from 6 to 23 months of age, is one of the most challenging times to meet children’s nutrient demands. While children’s stomachs can only hold a small amount of food, their nutrient needs reach a lifetime peak, leaving them vulnerable to growth faltering.

Based on indicators established by WHO –in Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs- Nigeria inclusive), half of all children are not receiving the minimum meal frequency (the minimum number of meals throughout the day needed to meet their nutrient needs); more than two-thirds of children are not receiving the minimum dietary diversity (meals from a minimum number of food groups), and five out of six children are not receiving a minimum acceptable diet (both the minimum meal frequency and minimum dietary.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF recommend that infants begin consuming safe and nutritionally adequate solid, semisolid, or soft foods starting at 6 months of age but not earlier than 4 months while continuing to be breastfed until 2 years of age or beyond. The complementary food should be nutrient-rich, without excess energy, saturated and trans fats, free sugars, or salt.

Recommended practices include

  • Timely introduction of complementary foods at 6 months of age when the need for energy and nutrients exceeds that provided by breastmilk  
  • Appropriate portions sizes, texture  and meal frequency according to age
  • Diversity of diet: Should provide sufficient energy, protein, and micronutrients
  • Safe: Should be hygienically prepared, stored and fed
  • Responsive feeding cue: feed in response to a child’s appetite and satiety signals, and feed with care.
  • Encourage self-feeding despite spillage and feed under supervision in a separate plate to develop an individual identity.

When should complementary foods be started?

Complementary foods should be started when the baby can no - longer get enough energy and nutrients from breast milk alone when nerves and muscles in the mouth develop sufficiently to let the baby munch, bite, and chew. This period is between 4 and 6 months of age when their digestive system is mature enough to digest a range of foods. At 4-6 months of age, it becomes easier to feed thick porridges, purees, and mashed foods because children: can control their tongues better start to make up-and-down 'munching' movements start to get teeth like to put things in their mouths are interested in new tastes. 

Signs that a child is developmentally ready

  • At least 4 months old
  • Start to make up-and-down 'munching' movements
  • Interested in new tastes.
  • Receives frequent breastfeeds but appears hungry soon after
  • Not gaining weight adequately.

Why giving complementary foods too soon is not recommended:

The foods may replace breastmilk which is the most important food for them at that stage. If foods are given, it may become difficult to meet the nutritional needs as they fill the stomach but provide fewer nutrients than breast milk. 

Not developmentally matured to digest foods order than milk

Increases risk of diarrhoea because complementary foods may not be as clean as breast milk.

Starting complementary feeding too late is also dangerous because:

A child does not get the extra food needed to fill the energy and nutrient gaps a child stops growing or grows slowly the risk of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies increases. The chances of refusal are very high as they are already accustomed to breastmilk taste.


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