Your baby’s diet is forever evolving. Discovering strange and new food tastes and textures is an important part of your child’s development and can effect your child’s feeding patterns for life.
During the first 14 weeks of life a baby’s digestive system is unable to process solid foods. The enzymes needed to break down non milk foods have not yet been fully developed and the immune system is still maturing to cope with new foods entering the infant digestive system.
Opinions vary as to when it is best to introduce solids and over the years attitudes have changed. Early last century babies were fed only milk foods for the first nine to twelve months then in the 70s parents were feeding solids to their newborns after only six weeks.
Today is widely accepted that there are no advantages in giving your baby solids any earlier than 14 weeks and the consensus is that breast milk or formula is the best diet for and infant’s first four to six months of life.
Each baby’s feeding pattern is different and how individual babies adjust to being fed non-milk foods can vary considerably.
Parents often feel pressured to start babies on solids early in the belief that it will help develop good eating patterns and ensure healthy weight gain. However there is no real evidence to support these claims. On the contrary it is thought that giving your baby non-milk food before it is ready may cause colicky symptoms, lead to constipation or diarrhoea and in some cases cause problems for those babies with allergies or food intolerance.
Many experts believe that in most cases breast milk provides all the nutrition a growing baby needs and by introducing solid foods you are effectively replacing this superior food source (even if partially) and therefore unnecessarily altering your baby’s nutritional intake.
Your Baby’s Evolving Diet
Your baby’s diet will be forever evolving and babies quickly develop individual tastes. The advantage of preparing your own food for your infant is that you know exactly what is in it. Finding out what suits your baby’s needs may be a process of trial and error. The best advice is to be relaxed and flexible and be guided by your baby’s response.
Mashed food is ideal as it is easier for your baby to eat and there is no danger of choking. Mixing mashed food with your baby’s usual milk is also a good idea.
Here are some simple and nutritious ideas of what to give your infant when first introducing solid foods. Food should be served at room temperature.
Highly nutritious. However if your baby produces green vomit is may be too rich and you are best to wait a few weeks before re introducing.
Choose ripe bananas. This fruit is binding and may cause constipation. If this is the case stop for a while then re-introduce.
Carrot, pumpkin and potato are good foods for mashing either combined or separately. Others include broccoli, spinach, sweet potato and courgette.
Vegetables are best steamed to retain the nutritional goodness.
A good mineral source and wheat-free. Mix two teaspoons of rice cereal with 30 mls of either expressed breast milk, boiled water or formula. This will taste similar to milk but will present a different texture.
Commercial Baby Foods
While there are many commercial baby foods available be sure to read the labels to identify the contents and follow instructions on storing, preparation and age category. Some prepared foods contain added levels of salt and sugar that are not needed in an infant’s diet.
To begin, offer your baby one or two teaspoons of solid food once a day ideally at lunchtime. Many parents offer food at the same time as giving milk for convenience. Whether to give solid food or milk first is often a topic of endless discussion but it is likely that your baby will probably want milk first because that is the usual routine. Do what is easiest for you and your baby.
Sit your baby comfortably on your lap or in a portable chair. Take a small amount of food of the tip of a soft feeding spoon and place it in your baby’s mouth towards the rear of the tongue to encourage swallowing. Try to create a relaxed and happy atmosphere so that food times are a pleasant experience for you both and not distressing wrangles.
Discovering strange and new food tastes and textures is an important experience in your child’s development – try to make it fun for both of you.
It is highly likely that your baby will cry, turn away or refuse the food. Rather than forcing your baby to eat be realistic and try again later.
First attempts will often be messy with most of the food ending up on you. Try and see the humorous side and remember your parents did the same for you.
Finishing with a breast/bottle can be comforting before your baby naps.
If your baby seems to love eating, three or four tablespoons of food a day supplemented with breast or bottle milk is adequate.
If your baby refuses to eat solids don’t worry. Try introducing different foods over the next few weeks. If there is no progress, leave it a month then try again.
If your baby likes some foods and not others stick to the favourites. Be sure not to reward your baby with sweetened foods as the reward system has been proven to encourage poor eating habits that can remain throughout life.
Some babies are finger food babies and refuse to eat until such time they are able to feed themselves at around five/six months. While most of it may end up on the floor some babies become enthusiastic eaters when left alone.
Foods to Avoid
Research has provided valuable information on what foods are suitable and not suitable for infants. Some foods are commonly associated with allergic reactions while others may cause choking or be difficult for an infant to digest. For these reasons it is recommended that the following foods should not be given to infants aged 4-6 months and caution should be used thereafter:
- Unmodified cow’s milk
- Egg yolk and whites
- Dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese
- Hard chunks of non-pureed food
- Wheat based foods including wheat cereals and breads
- Meat and fish
- Citrus foods
- Added sugar or salt
- Processed snacks including biscuits, chocolates, crisps
- Peanuts and peanut oils
Sugar-free fruit juices may be given occasionally after five months but should be diluted by adding seven parts water to one part of juice. But be aware that even sugar-free drinks are still high in fructose – a natural fruit sugar and can become addictive and harm dental development. If your baby likes water it is best not to introduce juice until later years.