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Baby Food Guidelines

Baby Food Guidelines
Introducing solid foods can be stressful if you’re not sure when to start or what to feed.  Here are some helpful guidelines on these important questions.

When to introduce solid foods – How do I know when my baby is ready?

Short answer: Wait until baby can sit up on her own.  This milestone occurs at roughly the same time as her ability to effectively swallow and digest food.  6 months is the generally accepted age.  Don’t try earlier than 4 months or wait longer than a year.

Long answer: Recent generations of moms were encouraged to introduce solids very, very early.  This resulted in a lot of force-feeding and created unnecessary stess for both baby and mama.  Current research supports waiting until six months of age before introducing solid foods.  This delay provides the time for baby to achieve crucial developmental milestones that help them consume and digest solid food. More specifically, baby’s intestinal lining becomes more selective.  This helps to filter harmful substances and prevent allergens from entering the bloodstream. The tongue-thrust reflex also diminishes and the swallowing mechanism matures enough to effectively manipulate and swallow food.  Additionally, older babies enjoy imitating their loved ones which makes it easier to convince them that eating is fun.

Can you wait too long?  Sure, but if they’re healthy and nursing well, breast milk provides everything they need for their first year. My son rejected solid foods until almost 11 months of age and well meaning people warned me that if I waited too long he’d get nutrient deficiencies and might not learn to swallow.  This didn’t make sense to me since babies in past generations nursed for much longer than today.  So I spoke to our pediatrician.  She said that around 1 year babies’ iron stores run out and around that time they need to begin getting iron through their food.  Prior to 1 year, breast milk provides all of the nutrition they need.  She advised me to try solid food a few times a week and to let him set the pace.  Don’t force it and don’t stress out.  So every couple days I sat him in his high chair and gave him something to eat.  He loved playing with the spoon and squishing food in his little fingers (playing is a good start) but he seldom ate more than a couple bites.  It was so annoying – I made all this great food and he just wanted to smear it all over himself and the furniture.  But he was healthy and nursing great so I was confident that his instincts were good.  This went on for several months and then out of the blue he wanted to eat everything! Because he was so old, he was developmentally ready to handle a wider variety of tastes and textures right out of the shoots. We started giving him lots of soft, baby friendly foods – peas, yogurt, bananas… and he loved them all. Before long he was eating “baby-fied” versions of our own meals which is healthy, delicious and saves us a lot of time and money!

 

What are recommended first foods?

Short answer: Many fruits, vegetables, meat and egg yolk make great first foods.  Some of our favorites include:

  • Vegetables: carrots, green beans, peas, squash, sweet potato
  • Fruit: apples, avocado, banana, blueberries, pears
  • Other: soft boiled egg yolk, low mercury fish, pureed meat and/or liver

Long answer: I advocate providing a variety of healthy foods and letting baby decide what to eat and how much.  I recently learned about a technique called Baby Led Weaning and I love the concept: http://www.babyledweaning.com/.  It encourages babies to self feed and make their own food choices.  This technique is based entirely on table food – cut into baby size pieces starting with soft food items such as cooked peas or carrots and progressing as the baby is ready to harder and chewier foods.  I largely followed this technique with the addition of some homemade baby food purees (see http://youngmotherhubbard.com/http:/1051/how-to-make-baby-food/ for this simple technique).

Babies can eat a surprisingly large variety of foods including vegetables, fruits, meats, beans and more.  Fruits and vegetables are common baby foods so I won’t go into much detail here – just provide a variety and see what your baby likes.  Start with purees and soft foods when the baby is young and gradually progress to foods with more texture.  In my reading I often come across baby foods from other cultures and past generations that we don’t consider baby food today.  Here are some items that surprised me and deserve a comeback in our babies’ diets (in addition to the veggies and fruit above):

  • Egg yolk, lightly cooked – I soft boil the egg and scoop out the warm, gooey yolk.  Eggs are brain food.  The yolk contains cholesterol, amino acides and omega 3 fatty acids all of which are important for babies’ developing brains.  Pastured eggs provide the most nutrition.  Please Note: egg whites are best delayed until age one because they contain proteins that are hard for babies to digest and can cause allergic reactions.
  • Meat – most people don’t think of meat as an appropriate baby food.  But after 6 months of age, small amounts of meat (red and white) are a healthy addition to their diet.  In particular, red meat and liver are two of the best sources of iron – which is increasingly important as babies’ approach their first birthday.  Meat should be pureed or very soft.  It can also be mixed with cooked vegetables or purees.
  • Homemade chicken or beef stock – Homemade stock is one of those old fashioned items that I always assumed was too time consuming to be worthwhile.  But it’s so incredibly nourishing that one day I decided to give it a shot and it was much easier than I expected. Broth has been hailed all over the world as one of the best health promoting foods.  It’s easily digested and provides a good dose of vitamins,minerals and protein.  Stock also contains calcium for strong bones, aids the digestive tract and has anti-inflammatory properties.  Chicken stock (or soup made from stock) is hard to beat when you or baby is under the weather.  Stock makes an excellent soup base.  It’s also a tasty and healthy addition to purees, for cooking rice or vegetables, moistening left overs or just sipping plain. Here is a simple stock recipe worth trying: http://youngmotherhubbard.com/http:/1067/stock-recipe/!
  • Yogurt, plain whole milk – the fermentation process used to culture dairy (yogurt, sour cream, cheese, kefir) breaks down milk protein and increases enzyme content.  This makes cultured dairy easier to digest and absorb than regular milk.  They also provide important calcium and beneficial bacteria that aid the digestive tract.  Introducing plain yogurt at a young age helps babies and children develop a taste for its sour flavor.
  • Fat – Babies need fat. More than half the calories in breast milk come from fat which babies digest exceptionally well and need in order to thrive.  Your baby is growing like crazy.  Fat contributes to healthy brain development and provides an important energy source.  High fat foods such as avocado, butter and full fat dairy should not be feared.  In addition to the benefits above, fat increases nutrient absorption – especially in low fat meals such as vegetables.  I routinely add butter or olive oil to my son’s food to improve its absorption and nutrition.
  • Salt – many people are so scared of salt they eliminate it entirely from their baby’s diet.  However, small amounts of sea salt can actually benefit babies.  Salt activates the formation of glial cells in the brain and can promote brain development.  Choose a quality unrefined sea salt for the most nutrition.  Please note: I’m not suggesting mass quantities of salt here, just a pinch here and there for a healthful and tasty treat.

I encouraged my son to eat a wide variety of foods from a young age.  I started with squishy foods then introduced more challenging foods based on common sense and intuition.  I paid a lot of attention to his responses and ability to manipulate new foods.  For the most part I gave him a variety of healthy options and let him dictate his own diet.  For us this worked really well.  But there were some things I consciously delayed or avoided.  Some obvious things to delay include choking hazards, junk food and foods highly associated with allergies such as peanuts.  Less obviously, I also chose to delay cereal/grains and to avoid soy all together.  Here’s why:

  •  Cereal: Despite great marketing by the baby food industry, cereal is not a particularly good food for the first year. Babies are excellent at digesting fat and protein (the primary components of breast milk).  But their immature digestive systems don’t make much amylase yet (the enzyme that breaks down starch) which makes carbohydrates difficult to digest and unsuited as a baby food.  Babies start producing more digestive enzymes around age 1.  Avoiding grains/cereals until the first birthday will give your baby’s digestive system enough time to mature enough to properly digest them.
  • Soy: In recent years soy has exploded onto the food scene and can now be found in a ton of processed foods including some baby formulas.  Despite its reputation as a health food, soy in this form is actually quite controversial.  Fermented soy has been eaten for centuries in the form of tofu, miso and soy sauce.   It’s the “fresh” forms (edamame, soy milk, textured vegetable protein, soy protein) that are primarily in question.   Unfermented soy contains high levels of phytoestrogens which disrupt the bodies hormones, the developing endocrine system and depress thyroid function.  It also contains phytic acid which blocks mineral absorption and protease inhibitors which block protein digestion.  I consciously avoid unfermented soy in my own diet and even more for my son’s.

To view additional baby and family posts, please see: http://youngmotherhubbard.com/index/baby-and-family/

Photo: Luke after a particularly delicious dinner:)

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