When my baby hit six months I freaked out. Breast feeding had been easy – no planning or thought. Now I had to start cooking for this tiny human and my brain was still in sleep deprived mush. So I dug up all the articles I had ever written about feeding babies to remind myself what to do!! Advice has changed since then so The New Zealand Healthy Food Guide (a great magazine which you can read online) asked me to write an update to the fraught subject of Baby’s First Foods. Here is a shortened version of it.
When should I start giving my baby solids?
Start your baby on solids at around six months. As with adults every baby is different and some may need solids a little earlier but definitely not before four months of age.
Starting solids too early (before 4 months) will stress your baby’s immature digestive system and kidneys, and increase the risk of developing eczema, asthma, type 1 diabetes, coeliac disease or food allergy. If food replaces some of the milk at this early age, your baby may miss out on vital nutrients and energy for growth.
A full term baby is born with enough iron and zinc stores to last around six months. Around the six month mark it is very important that your baby start to eat some iron rich foods. Breast milk contains just small amounts of iron. More than 90% of a breast fed baby’s iron requirements must come from food once the initial iron stores are used up. Starting solids later than six months also increases your baby’s risk of developing a food allergy.
Breast milk is the number one source of nutrients and energy for babies. Babies should be exclusively breast fed for around six months and ideally during the introduction of new foods.
What should I start with?
Most mums start off with an iron rich food such as iron-fortified baby rice cereal thinned with breast milk or infant formula.
Next add a pureed vegetable such as kumara or pumpkin, or fruit such as mashed banana or cooked, pureed apple or pear. The vitamin C in the fruit and vegetables enhances iron absorption by about four times.
You could also start off with cooked, pureed meat, fish, chicken or legumes. These foods provide both iron and zinc.
Introduce just one food at a time.
How much do I feed and how often?
Buy a soft baby teaspoon and start with a half to two teaspoons of food after the usual breast feed. Gradually increase the amount until your baby is having around one or two tablespoons of solids two or three times a day. The amount may vary each day depending on your baby’s appetite.
Babies naturally know when they have had enough. If your baby turns her head away when food approaches or spits out the food, it’s a clear message that she’s had enough. Don’t be tempted to make her finish the plate or force in an extra spoonful. You are responsible for the type of food but your baby is responsible for the amount he or she eats. Over-riding this in-built mechanism could cause your child to over-eat when older.
For the first year of life breast milk or infant formula is a baby’s most important nutrient source. Until 8-9 months solids are simply a ‘top up’ after the usual milk feed.
How do I introduce new foods
Make sure your baby has had a milk feed and is relaxed. Start with a small amount. Mix the new food with a food they are already familiar with such as adding a little pureed apple to a new vegetable, legume or pureed meat. If they refuse it, don’t force it and don’t worry. Try again in a few days.
It may take around a dozen small tastes for a child to like a new food flavour. Don’t give up introducing new foods. Babies who learn to enjoy a wide variety of flavours and textures are most likely to continue eating this wide variety as they grow older.
Is there a particular order I should do it?
Around the six to eight month mark is a critical window of opportunity when a baby is ready to experience a wide variety of tastes and textures. Introduce a wide range of foods quite quickly, especially iron rich foods.
It’s all about texture: Start with pureed food and progress to mashed or lumpy purees and then onto chopped and finger food.
If a baby is not eating lumpy, solid food by around ten months there is a greater chance of feeding problems later on.
FOOD IDEAS FOR EACH TEXTURE STAGE
Iron fortified baby cereal thinned with breast milk or infant formula
Cooked and pureed vegetables such as carrot, pumpkin, potato, kumara, parsnip, zucchini, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, cassava
Pureed or mashed fruit such as banana, avocado, mango, cooked apple, pear (no skins or pips)
Cooked, pureed meat such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish (choose low mercury types). Simmer chopped meat, chicken and vegetables in pot with water, then puree.
Steam boneless fish fillet and puree with cooked vegetables.
Cooked and pureed legumes such as lentils, split peas and chickpeas. Simmer lentils in water with vegetables, then puree.
Whole milk yoghurt, milk pudding or custard. Add puree fruit or banana for sweetness – no sugar or honey.
Thick, lumpy puree, soft mashed, minced, grated, soft finger foods
Grated cheese, cottage cheese
Cooked pasta, noodles, rice
Porridge topped with unsweetened stewed apple or chopped banana
Smooth peanut butter (check label for no added salt or sugar)
Cooked, mashed egg
Grated or cut fingers of carrot, zucchini, pumpkin and steam
Roast whole sweet potato and scoop out centre
Grate roast beef, lamb or chicken over mashed vegetables
Pan fry chicken or fish and grate or flake over mashed vegetables
Firmer finger foods, bite sized pieces, chopped, lumpy mashed
Fingers of cooked vegetables
Thin strips cooked meat
Breakfast cereal such as infant muesli or wheat biscuits – only once a day with breast milk or infant formula. (Never add cereals or any other food to an infant’s feeding bottle)
French toast -cut in fingers
Mini pancakes with sliced banana
Peeled raw fruit such as orange, kiwifruit, pineapple
Rinse and drain a can of chickpeas. Blend with cooked pumpkin or beetroot (remove skin). Serve with sticks of capsicum or toast fingers.
Mini corn fritters
There is no need to delay introduction of potentially allergenic foods such as fish, eggs, nuts (apart from whole nuts), wheat and dairy.
When can my baby have cows milk?
Babies can have small amounts of cooked whole milk as part of food such as custard, yoghurt and cheese from around 6-7 months. After 12 months of age they can have whole cow’s milk as their main drink.
What foods are choking hazards?
Whole nuts (wait until 5 years old), crunchy raw vegetables such as carrot, hard fruit, raisins, grapes, large seeds, popcorn, thickly spread peanut butter, stringy bits of celery or silverbeet.
Always supervise your baby when he or she is eating. For older babies, make sure they sit to eat – no crawling, walking or running while eating.
Can I give my baby honey?
Honey contains a spore that can cause infant botulism. Wait until 12 months. Honey is similar to sugar – babies don’t need it.
Should I give my baby fruit juice, soft drink, cordial or flavoured water?
These are high in sugar and play havoc with budding teeth. There is no nutritional reason for a baby to have these drinks. Stick to breast milk, formula or cooled, boiled water.
My baby’s food tastes bland. Should I add a little salt for flavour?
Your baby’s food may taste horribly bland to your adult taste buds but it is perfect for them. A baby’s kidneys cannot handle too much salt and they may become seriously ill. Adding salt or sugar will only make a baby develop a taste for sweet or salty foods and sets them up to prefer these types of foods when older. Limit or avoid salty foods such as corned beef, canned fish, soy or fish sauce, stock, tomato paste and tomato sauce.
Should I give my baby tea?
No. Tea contains the stimulant caffeine (as does coffee and chocolate) and also tannins which reduce iron absorption.
Remember: Just because your baby is eating solid food there’s no reason to stop breastfeeding. If you are able, continue breastfeeding until one year or beyond.
There is no evidence that delaying introduction of potentially allergenic foods such as nuts, egg, wheat, dairy and fish beyond six months will reduce the risk of a baby developing an allergy. In fact allergy specialists think that the old advice to delay certain foods may have partly contributed to the dramatic increase in childhood allergy. The most important way to reduce the risk of developing a food allergy is to continue breastfeeding while introducing small amounts of new foods to your baby. If you are at all concerned, see a dietitian specialising in food allergy for advice.
Key ways to reduce risk of food allergy
* Breast feed for at least 6 months
* Continue to breast feed while introducing solid food
* Start solids around six months
If your baby has a suspected or proven food allergy, eczema or asthma, see your allergy specialist for specific advice.