As a parent with a first child, numerous situations arise which may be frightening, exhilarating or overwhelming. Giving birth is all three. The first smile is exhilarating! Food introduction is flat out overwhelming.
You thought beginning to breastfeed was going to be a snap – ha – it had its issues as well; but now you’ve made yourself into a champion breastfeeding mom or a helpful breastfeeding assistant (we must assume that dads are reading this as well – as a dad is typing this). Food introduction is a similar hurdle – albeit a longer one with a much longer learning curve and requires a significant amount of patience.
There are many questions and thoughts about food introduction that must have popped into your mind the last few months – one frequently asked question is: When do I begin to introduce foods? That’s a good start – and starting simple is key.
An infant can easily sustain itself on breast milk or quality formula for six months. There is a good amount of growth during these six months – as I am sure all your friends have told you; however, the active crawling or walking has not yet begun. Since these activities are low in the first six months, the amount of energy expended is also low. Thus, all the little one needs really are nutrients and hydration – both of which are found in breast milk or a quality formula. So one part of the answer to when do I begin to introduce solid foods – when energy expenditure goes up.
But that is not the only key. Also need to look at other factors as well – such as if the teeth have begun to pop out. Once teeth begin to arrive, the thought is that it may be time to introduce foods. A key factor that stands out the most to me and makes the most sense is this – when the little one shows an intense interest in what you are eating and is demanding that you share.
In summary for when to introduce foods:
• Energy expenditure increases – by crawling all over the house for example.
• Teeth are coming in and some are out
• Intense interest in what you are eating
• Typically after 6 months old
Now that you know when to introduce solid foods to your little one, the question becomes: What do I start with?! You ask excellent questions!
Start simple. Very simple. Proceed slowly. Very slowly! You must constantly tell yourself that your baby’s digestive powers are not on par with yours. Their liver, pancreas and intestines are still growing and developing their special roles. At six months, they are ready to digest some simple foods which means not complex combinations. An easy thing to start with is single grain hot baby cereals, preferably organic to limit the amount of pesticide exposure. The single food introduction is a great way to monitor a possible allergen. It is best to cook the cereal in filtered water – NOT cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is not recommended to infants less than one year of age. It has been shown to cause not only ear infections but microscopic to gross intestinal bleeding. It is also a common misconception by people to feed their baby soy milk instead of cow or human milk. This is not a valid option. Soy milk is just about as allergenic as cow milk – especially if the child is already allergic to cow milk. So prepare the hot cereal in filtered water.
It is also possible to purchase commercially prepared baby foods; however, it is not wholly recommended for a few reasons:
• nutrients disappear from the processing
• clear glass containers allow light in which destroy vitamins
• preservatives, food coloring and/or sugars are added
It is quite simple to prepare your own baby foods. While you prepare a meal for the whole family, remove a small portion of the simple foods for the smaller member of your family. These simple foods can be a steamed single vegetable, single fruit or simple single grain – such as brown rice, quinoa or millet. There is a hand grinder specifically made for preparing baby food at home. It works extremely well, easy to clean and is inexpensive.
It is crucial to remember why you are feeding your baby one food at a time. Do you remember why? In this manner, it is possible to identify possible food allergens which can cause skin rashes, grumpy baby digestive complaints or ear infections to name a few. Great answer! You do have it! Since you have that rule down pat, I would like to add further information to it.
The absolute best way to figure out whether or not your little one is susceptible to a food, is to introduce it singly – yes, we have that one down now don’t we – but also maintain only that new food for five days before you introduce a new one. It is fine to offer other foods that you have tested out in the past and discovered no allergy – but do not add any other additional new foods besides the one for five days. Some allergies can come on very fast and others take their time. With this approach, you will find most, if not all, of them. If you find your baby to be sensitive to the new food, it does not mean that she or he cannot ever eat it again. In a few months time, try that food again and watch for the results.
I know what you are thinking now. What about going out to grandma’s house where she will stuff her grandbaby will all sorts of stuff? What about going out to restaurants or friends’ houses? This is where it gets difficult. In your own home with your own routine, it is feasible to maintain this incredible method of food introduction. When you step out of it, it may change. The routine is less likely to change if you prepare yourself for it. Educate your friends and relatives what you are doing and why while also bringing your own little food grinder with you. If it does happen that you stepped out of routine, it happens and let it go. Remember what you are doing is a far cry from standard methods. Numerous babies just get whatever and eat processed canned food, cokes (I’ve seen it) and sweets. Remind yourself this and it will be much easier for you to continue on your excellent work.
In summary, the best foods to introduce to your young one:
• simple single grain organic hot cereals cooked in filtered water
• pureed organic vegetables from your meal – not commercial ones
• pureed organic fruits
• continue to breastfeed to maintain a healthy immune system and nutrient base
The biggest hurdle is the one addressed next. I purposely did not begin with what not to feed your baby in detail as beginning with no’s is much more difficult than beginning with yes’s. You have been told numerous times to be aware of little marbles or coins on the floor because of ….yep, you got it – choking accidents. This goes for foods as well. I am not going to write a complete list of foods to prevent choking. I rather want to remind you that food also can cause a choking danger up until about one year old. Now that we have addressed that, let us move on to what is not so obvious.
The following list is what not to feed your baby:
• chemical additives
• common allergens:
wheat, cow milk and cow products, corn, egg whites, citrus fruits.
• raw honey – use brown rice syrup instead
• peanut butter
If the above are avoided, not only will your baby’s health benefit, but so will yours. Baby will be less fussy, less agitated, less sick and less stimulated if not given the above. This will allow you increased sleep and more quiet moments with your little one.
The simple single food routine works well for your baby’s introduction during the first few months of eating food. After a few months of eating only single grains, vegetables and fruits, it is time to introduce other foods. Why would you think it is ok to introduce more foods? They are becoming more used to swallowing, gumming and their digestive abilities are strengthening.
The second stage of food introduction now brings about additional freedoms for the baby and parent – as the menu is expanding.
Foods that can be used next are:
• ground nuts and seeds
• smaller beans as lentils and peas
• occasionally sea vegetables
• simple food combinations – beans and rice, veggies and rice
This menu is similar to the first stage of food introduction in that everything is still ground up and mashed. This stage will last as long as your little one can stand eating mashed foods. As a parent, you will notice that your baby finds interest in grabbing a whole bean off your plate rather than a smashed one on their’s. This is signaling that they want to pick up food and eat by themselves. Food will be more on their shirt and yours rather than inside their little mouth, but in time, they will have it down. Let them experiment and soon they will be pros – so good in fact, that you can enjoy your meal without having to lift their spoon! Freedom! You may notice your little one beginning to steal from your plate or desire pieces of food around eleven months or so.
You have noticed that the above list does not include fish, large beans or dairy. There is much dispute regarding when it is fine to introduce dairy products. If you talk with a dairy farmer, they will say as soon as they can swallow. If you talk with some pediatricians, they will say one year. If you ask me, I will say two years minimum. I am not a proponent of dairy products in general, especially when it comes to feeding kids with it. Ear infection after ear infection is caused by dairy allergy. So – I leave the decision up to you but monitor your child carefully to avoid and stop allergies if they develop.
Fish, red meat and larger proteins can be introduced after one year. Again, the method is still the same. Introduce one new thing at a time for a period of five days and watch to see if there are any allergies or sensitivities developing. If so, remove the food and wait a few more months to reintroduce the food.
Food introduction is a test of endurance for the parent while it is the foundation of health for your little one. Good luck with it and remember this:
You are doing great!
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