According to the available literature, West African mothers usually breastfeed for 12 months. Many urban poor and rural women breastfeed for up to 18 to 24 months. These reports indicate that there is early supplementation with solid foods or early weaning. Although the majority of women start weaning their infants at the age of three to four months, a few begin within the first two months of life. The first solid food and the most popular weaning food is a thin cereal gruel that is called by different names depending on the type of cereal or the West African country. The weaning process may be gradual, lasting for months until the infant is finally introduced to the family diet. On the other hand, in abrupt weaning, the infant is introduced straight into the family menu. This latter option creates a problem, as the child may not be able to eat enough of the adult diet to meet his or her nutritional needs. In West African countries, weaning can be a period of problems and vulnerability for the survival of a child. We looked at the conventional or traditional weaning foods and weaning practices in some West African nations. The nutritive values, nutritional problems, and possible solutions are presented.
In Nigeria the usual first weaning food is called pap, akamu, ogi, or koko and is made from maize (Zea mays), millet (Pennisetum americanum), or guinea corn (Sorghum spp.). In Borno State most mothers introduce the thin gruel at three to six months of age. The baby is fed on demand with a spoon or a cup, although in certain parts of the country, a few mothers use the traditional forced hand-feeding method. Cereal such as maize are known to be deficient in some essential amino acids such as lysine and tryptophone