How Indians introduce solid food to their babies

Annaprashanam ceremony or Chor Oonu ceremony at a temple in Kerala

Indians, for generations, have celebrated every milestone of a human being’s life. The various customs associated with Indian culture are fine examples of such occasions. Interestingly, these are not mere traditions as most people deem them to be. On the contrary, each of these practices are governed by scientific and medical facts.

To begin with, the word Samskara means - a change in the property of a substance. Various Samskaras have been mentioned in the ancient texts, including the Manusmriti. They elaborate on different aspects of human existence; from the point of fertilisation till the end of a human beings life.

Here, we shall look deeper in to Annaprashana samskara that is observed when the newborn turns 6 months.

Phalaprasana samskara

According to the ancient text - Kasayapa samhita – parents ought to follow the procedures of the phalaprasana samskara when the baby is five-months-old. This refers to the introduction of fruit juice after five months of exclusive breast feeding.

During this phase, the iron and vitamin content of the breast milk is unlikely to satisfy the nutritional demands of the baby, who has been solely breast fed. Hence, she or he is introduced to fruit juices and vegetable soups. In the beginning, it is given in small doses of approximately five milliliters. The fruit juice is diluted with double the quantity of water. The quantity must be increased, gradually, to 30-50 milliliters in a week.

In contrast to the sweetness and unctuousness of the breast milk, the sour taste of the fruit will kindle the digestive fire. As it is the first external food supplement, its watery state adds to the easily digestible effect. Fruit juices are also good laxatives.

Annaprashana samskara

This custom should be followed when the baby turns six-months-old. On this auspicious day, the gods are given special offerings. Many protective measures are also taken to safeguard the baby in this immunocompromised stage. These include:

  1. Keeping a rod in an oblique fashion at the entrance to restrict visitors
  2. Placing antimicrobial and pesticidal drugs such as mustards, garlic, etc. in the corners of the house and bed. They are also tied around the hands, feet and neck of the baby.
  3. Regulating the temperature of the room through the oblation in the fire. This helps to prevent the colonization of microbes and hypothermia
  4. Fanning the baby with the stems of plants like neem, meswak, etc. to disinfect the surroundings.

The toys that are given to be baby are made of edible items including milk, curd, ghee, different types of cereals. It is made in various shapes and sizes. The place where the baby sits is smeared with cow dung to disinfect the area. Different kinds of foods are prepared from cereals, vegetables to meat.

The different kinds of taste

The baby is exposed to five different kinds of taste: salt, sour, spice, astringent, bitter. Each of these taste kindle the digestive power and development of the child’s body.

The food is made into a paste and is given to baby about three to five times in a day. . After feeding, the mouth and body are cleansed thoroughly. Easily digestible as well as nourishing food such as red rice and shashtika are used to begin the child’s solid diet.

Wheat and barley can also be included in the baby’s diet if they are part of the area's staple diet. Rice that is washed, fried (with or without ghee and salt) given in the form gruel is said to be the best diet for a six-month-old.

Annaprashana samskara during the 10th month?

Some scriptures state that the Annaprashana samskara should be done only by the 10th month. However, you must realize that if the baby is fed solid foodstuffs only upon attaining 10 months of age, the baby will be deficient in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins as he or she would be exclusively only breast feeding until then.

The significance

Annaprashana samskara is not just a tradition embarking the child’s diet in the social world. It ascertains the stage when the child’s body is ready to take up additional supplements and his or her ability to swallow as well as digest food. The toys that are placed in front of the baby, helps in developing his or her grasping skills.

Hence, one must realize that these customs play and important role in identifying the abnormality in the development of the child. Identifying the developmental anomaly at an earlier stage will help determining the appropriate treatment for the child at the right time, thus, leading to a better chance of recovery.

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The author, Dr. Dhanya Dilip, is an Ayurveda doctor based in Bengaluru, India. She graduated from the Government Ayurveda Medical College, Kochi, Kerala, India.

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