On my home visits with families, one area of concern for parents is that of nutrition – in terms of when do I start to introduce solids, what to feed their growing child, and how much to feed them. Let’s start at the beginning, with pregnancy.
During pregnancy, it is important that the developing foetus receives adequate nutrition via the mothers diet. When the mother eats a mix diet of healthy foods and adequate intake of water, she is giving her baby the best start.
There is a lot of evidence to show that breastfeeding is the best possible food for your new baby, with all the nutrition they need. There are many cases where breastfeeding is not a possibility, and an appropriate infant formula, when it is made up as per the instructions on the label, can provide the required nutrition. Both breast and formula milk contains a particular fatty substance which is essential for the optimal development of neurons (brain cells) – this is why formula milk should not be diluted.
Most countries have organisations which help mothers with establishing breast feeding in the early days. In Australia support can be found at https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/
In the early weeks, parents find the best ways to feed the baby, in terms of posture. Babies need to be held, just sightly upright (rather than horizontal), which is one reason why laying babies flat, and propping a bottle into their mouths isn’t advised. Far better to hold and snuggle them whilst they feed.
At some stage you will want to start solids and the baby may be seem to be demanding it. Introducing solids is done gradually, so as to watch for any allergies to particular foods. Different countries start this process with different foods and at different times. In Australia, it’s usually around 6 months – be guided by your baby and the child health nurse or a Paediatrician. The first solids are pureed vegetables such as pumpkin, or rice cereals.
Stating solids too early may cause problems for babies as their digestive system and gut are still immature. Up till about 6 months of age babies bodies are utilising the supply of stored Iron in their bodies from the pregnancy. After 6 months this supply has diminished and so they need more iron for healthy growth. This does not mean they need a steak – but iron-fortified rice cereal is often a good early source. Milk (either breast or formula) is still their main food source at this stage and so any solids are given after they have had their milk.
As it’s a new experience expect some funny faces as they learn about this new process of eating. They will often spit it out, as their tongue has to learn to move differently to just swallowing a fluid.
If any allergies develop, discontinue that food and seek medical advice.
At around 8 months the baby will often be wanting to hold things themselves, and so finger foods can be introduced. It may be diced pieces of steamed or boiled potato or pumpkin, and later strips of toast to hold. As with any young child, babies and toddlers need to be watched while they are eating, as they may choke or gag on the food – that gives you are timely reminder too… when did you last update your First Aid skills?
By 12 months babies can eat most things like you do… meat, chicken, fish, tofu, pasta and rice, bread, vegetables and fruit. They will often be grabbing at the spoon. Use two… one for you to feed them , and a second spoon for them to attempt to scoop up the food, keep it on there and get it into their mouth – It takes a lot of skill and practice to do that!
Around 12 months is when cows milk is often introduced – provided there are no allergies. It needs to be full cream milk, as young developing children need the fats which are in this milk.
More nutritional information about your child’s needs can be obtained through your Child Health Nurse.
Make eating, and learning to self-feed, a positive experience.