Feeding your Baby

Introducing a baby to solid food is one of the most exciting moments of parenthood. Or it should be. Unfortunately, as soon as new parents consult books, websites, friends or even doctors for guidance, excitement turns into anxiety. By the time a new parent has absorbed all the popular myths, feeding a baby seems more like a risky science experiment than the fun and enriching experience it should be.

This is undue apprehension and excessive cautiousness has sad consequences for child nutrition. Parents feed their babies a bland and limited diet or, worse still, boring, processed food in jars that are marketed to seem safer than home-cooked food. In the process, babies may miss an opportunity an opportunity to develop their taste buds, at the very age when they’re most receptive to new tastes. This is one of the reasons kids turn into fussy eaters and can develop bad eating habits that may last a lifetime.

Solids before Six Months

Although there are no strict guidelines by the ministry on weaning babies, it is important to note that babies shouldn’t begin weaning until they’re six months old and should be exclusively breastfed until this time. While in an ideal world breastfeeding exclusively for six months gives your baby a very good start in life, only a small percentage of mothers in Malaysia are still breastfeeding up to six months. Most health professionals recognise that many babies show signs that they’re ready for weaning at an earlier age (but not before 17 weeks). For example, your baby may no longer be satisfied by his usual milk feed, or wake during the night when previously he slept through, and might not be thriving on breast milk alone if for some reason you’re not able to produce enough milk.

Follow your instinct as a mother. Some babies may need simple solids like root vegetables purees or apples, pear or banana from around five months. However, if there’s a history of allergy in the family or atopic illness such as eczema, hayfever or asthma, it’s best to try breastfeeding exclusively for six months before introducing solids.

Babies’ and toddlers’ needs are different from an adult’s – a low-fat, high fibre diet is good for adults but not appropriate for babies or young children, as they need more fat and concentrated sources of calories and nutrients to fuel their rapid growth. They shouldn’t be given too much fibre either, as it tends to be bulky and can fill them before they get all the nutrients they need for proper growth and development.

Excess fibre can remove valuable minerals and cause other problems such as diarrhoea. Babies should eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables to make sure they have plenty of vitamins and minerals in their diet. After the first few weeks of weaning, ensure that as well as fruit and vegetable purees you give foods that are higher in calories such as mashed avocado, fruit mixed with yogurt or vegetables in a cheese sauce.

Why Homemade Purees?

What’s the point in giving bland tasteless food such as baby rice when you can introduce your baby to fresh fruit and vegetables? Root vegetables like sweet potato or carrot make ideal first foods due to their naturally sweet flavour and smooth texture once pureed, plus they’re rich in betacarotene. Cooked apple or pear are a gentle weaning food with a extremely low likelihood of intolerance, and they contain pectin, which helps little bowels to start processing solids efficiently. They also contain vitamin C to boost your baby’s immune system.

There’s nothing wrong with relying on the odd jar of commercial baby food. The problem is that their nutritional content is compromised because of the heat treatment necessary to make them safe to eat throughout a long shelf life. The foods also tend to be bland, which can make the eventual transition to family food more difficult.

Making your Own Purees

If you’re a busy mum and you don’t think you have the time to prepare fresh baby food, think again. Lots of fruits such as banana, peaches and avocado don’t require any cooking and can simply be mashed to make instant baby food.

As a baby only eats tiny amounts, especially in the early stages of weaning, it saves time to make up larger quantities of purees and freeze them in ice cube trays. If you freeze your purees as soon as they’re cool and cover with a lid, they’re as nutritious as fresh and will remain so for about eight weeks in the freezer. Also, cooking implements like saucepans and ice cube trays don’t need to be sterilised.

You don’t need to exclusively use fresh vegetables in baby purees. Frozen vegetables are frozen within hours of being picked, thus locking in vital nutrients. Often they’re fresher than fresh vegetables. Normally, once a food is frozen, it can’t be defrosted and refrozen. However, this doesn’t apply to frozen vegetables, so if frozen peas, for example, are cooked in a puree or other recipe they can be refrozen and reheated.

Babies enjoy food that tastes good. Sometimes combining fruit with savoury dishes is a good way to get children to eat new foods, and since we can’t add salt to baby food, include garlic, herbs and cheese to give flavour. For most babies, it’s fine to introduce a different food each day. However, if there’s a history of allergy in the family, wait two or three days to be sure there’s no reaction to the food you’re offering.

You should try introducing more lumpy food at seven or eight months, as chewing helps develop the muscles your baby needs for speech. Stir tiny pasta shapes into your baby’s favourite purees and start mashing or finely chopping instead of blending.

Avoiding Alleged Allergens

Unless there’s a history of allergy in the family, there’s currently no conclusive evidence that early diet restrictions help to prevent allergies. In fact, the weaning diet in many developing countries is very high in peanut-containing products from as early as four months and the incidence of peanut allergy in these countries is very low.

For babies with no history of allergy in the family, it’s fine to give peanut butter and other finely ground nuts from seven months. However, if there’s a history of allergy or your baby suffers from eczema, seek medical advice first.

Similarly, a whole egg is perfectly healthy for babies. Just make sure the yolk and white are cooked until solid – a well-cooked scrambled egg, mini omelette or boiled egg mashed into a cheese sauce with vegetables are fine. Egg allergies are less common than most people think. Mild sensitivity is more common than actual allergy, but the effects (such as hives) are relatively untroubling. Since they may not recur each time your child eats an egg, you don’t need to enforce a strict no-egg policy unless the reactions get progressively worse.

It’s also important to give oily fish like salmon, as it’s one of the richest sources of essential fatty acids, which are beneficial to brain and visual development. Just watch for a reaction when you offer fish on the first few occasions.

How Much to Give

Most babies are naturally quite chubby, but slim down when they become more active. The amount one baby needs to maintain the same growth rate as another can be very different, even if they’re the sane age and weight. Babies have different metabolic rates and activity levels, and the foods you give them can vary in calorie count. Also, babies have growth spurts when they need to eat more. If your baby is growing and seems content, feed a meal until he loses interest.

Weaning a baby from milk to solids is an exciting time and a big step for both of you. Your baby is entering a whole new world of taste, and eating is one of the great joys of life. Babies generally roughly double their weight at six months and treble it at one year.

Vegetarian Babies

It’s fine to raise your baby on a vegetarian diet. However, an adult vegetarian diet isn’t suitable, as it’s too bulky and high in fibre. Wholegrain cereals are a good source of iron, but don’t give your baby too many or he’ll feel full without having the nutrients he needs to grow. The early stages of weaning will be just the same as for any other baby, but after six months include nutrient-dense foods like cheese, and from six or seven months incorporate iron-rich foods like lentils, eggs, spinach and dried apricots. While it’s true that formula milk should be your baby’s main drink for the first year, it’s fine to use full-fat cow’s milk on your baby’s cereal or when making up recipes like cheese sauce.