02 June 2008

First foods for baby

Are you unsure of what to feed your baby when you start to wean her? DietDoc gives suggestions on when to introduce juice and semi-solid foods.

Are you unsure of what to feed your baby when you start to wean her?

According to an article on ‘Weaning Recommendations: 6-12 months. The very first menu has a lifelong effect’ published by Irene Labuschagne and co-authors at the Nutrition Information Centre of the University of Stellenbosch (2008), the following ages are suggested for the introduction of juice and semi-solid foods:

Considering that the WHO advises that all children should, if possible, be exclusively breastfed up to the age of six months, babies still need milk during the weaning period.

Breast milk and infant formula are preferred to cow’s or goat’s milk in infants younger than one year.

Between the ages of 6 and 8 months, you can decrease the amount of milk you give your baby to 150ml/kg of the baby’s weight. So a 3kg infant would require 150 x 3 = 450ml of milk a day, provided other foods derived from animals such as meat, fish, egg yolk and legumes (which are rich in protein and iron) are being introduced to the child’s diet.

During the period between 9 and 12 months, 500ml of milk per day is sufficient, because by now your baby should be eating the above-mentioned foods and obtaining sufficient protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins from semi-solid foods.

Most babies are offered baby cereals that are available in supermarkets as their first weaning food. Select iron-fortified baby cereals or prepared porridges and strain them for your baby.

By the time your baby is 9 months old, you can start varying the textures of porridges by using cereals that contain bits of fruit or puffed rice. This is to get your baby used to eating foods with a ‘rougher’ texture instead of only eating gruels.

At 6 months, you can introduce your baby to cooked and pureed or strained (passed through a sieve) or commercially prepared vegetable purees. If you make your own strained vegetables, then don’t add salt or sugar, fat or oil to satisfy your own taste. Babies are better off without these additions.

Once your baby reaches 8 months, pureed vegetables can be phased out and she can be offered small pieces of cooked vegetables from the table.

Start off with strained or pureed cooked fruits or mashed banana, one teaspoon at a time. Reserve the introduction of fruit until your baby is used to eating vegetables to allow her to develop a taste for vegetables first.

After the age of 8 months, you can start replacing pureed fruits with chopped, well-cooked or canned fruits.

Protein foods
Foods rich in protein, B vitamins, zinc and iron are an important addition to a baby’s diet after the age of 6 months.

Protein foods include meat, chicken, liver and other organ meats, fish, egg yolk, and dry, cooked legumes such as dry beans, peas, lentils or soya (Labuschagne et al, 2008). Legumes are an excellent source of plant protein plus the above-mentioned vitamins and minerals, and are also less expensive than other protein foods such as meat or fish. All these foods should be cooked and then strained or pureed when you offer them to your baby at 6 months.

At the age of 8 months, you can reduce the amount of strained/pureed protein foods and gradually substitute it with soft, cooked meats, fish and legumes, as served at the table.

Finger foods
Toast, biscuits or rusks can be introduced at 6 months as soon as the child is physically capable of grasping the foods. Your baby will probably suck happily on such foods and gradually learn how to bite off small portions.

Contrary to popular belief, fruit juices should only be introduced at the age of 6 months and limited to 115-170ml per day. Just because fruit juice is perceived as ‘healthy’, doesn't mean you can give your baby unlimited quantities as this may lead to overweight (Labuschagne et al, 2008).

Drinking from a cup
Labuschagne and co-authors (2008) recommend that fruit juices or milk formula should be offered from a cup at the age of 9 months. By this time, the baby should be able to drink rather than suck liquids, but it is still important to monitor your child when she drinks from a cup to prevent choking.

Avoid special ‘kiddy’ foods
Special foods designed for kiddies are all the rage, but they're generally expensive and high in fat, sugar and salt, and should be avoided. There is no need to buy special foods for babies. You can make all the above-mentioned foods in your own home.

Infant obesity
Don’t give your child cold drinks, fried potato chips or crisps, and fatty snacks. This paves the road to infant obesity that may complicate your child’s entire life.

Excessive use of fruit juice, sweetened cold drinks, cordials and squashes, fatty foods and snacks have all been identified as foods and drinks that make babies fat.

Studies have produced disturbing results indicating that a relatively large percentage of infants as young as 7 months already have unbalanced diets, for example:

  • Up to 33% of the children in one study did not eat any vegetables or fruit.
  • One of the most common ‘vegetables’ consumed by these children was fried chips!
  • Up to 46% of the children drank sweetened cold drinks or ate sweetened puddings or sweets (Labuschagne et al, 2008).

Nutritionists are alarmed by these findings, because poor eating habits and inappropriate food choices can lead to childhood obesity and all its associated problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, raised blood fat levels and adult obesity.

Always keep in mind that the eating habits you teach your babies will determine their health and longevity for the rest of their lives.

- (Dr I.V. van Heerden, aka DietDoc, June 2008)

(Labuschagne I et al (2008). Weaning Recommendations: 6-12 months. The very first menu has a lifelong effect. The Specialist Forum, April 2008: 27-36.)

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