Solid food and your baby

By Drum Digital
23 April 2014

It is an exciting time for mom and baby when you first introduce solid food into your little one’s diet. But it’s often also a nerve-racking experience. What are you allowed to do when, and how do you know what your baby is ready for? Dr Kath Megaw, a clinical paediatric dietician in Cape Town, gives advice.

It is an exciting time for mom and baby when you first introduce solid food into your little one’s diet. But it’s often also a nerve-racking experience. What are you allowed to do when, and how do you know what your baby is ready for? Dr Kath Megaw, a clinical paediatric dietician in Cape Town, gives advice.

When should solid food be introduced?

Dr Megaw says the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines for introduction to solids is to start at about six months. “Up till then they recommend exclusive breastfeeding,” she adds.

She says this is fully supported by health professionals, but research also shows introducing solids between four and six months while still breastfeeding is safe and effective.

Dr Megaw says there are four things that will indicate your baby is ready for solid food:

  • Age: “Start considering solid foods from 17 weeks and definitely don’t delay introducing it after six months.”
  • Development: “If your baby can sit supported and hold his or her head up, you can start considering it.”
  • Growth: “If your baby is following a healthy growing curve and then start to slump, it could be that they need more calories.”
  • Interest. “If your baby is exposed to you eating and starts reaching out, grabbing, or following the food with his eyes, it’s time.”

Get started

“Start with one food first, like sweet potato or pear, and then within a few days after that you can introduce a second and third. Try to get up to two meals and two veggies or fruits in the first week, and then add a new vegetable or fruit every day in the second week,” Dr Megaw says.

“Vegetables and fruit are nature’s starter foods as they are easy to access, easy to prepare, easy on the digestive system of your baby and helpful in preventing constipation.”

Best first foods

Dr Megaw recommends:

  • sweet potato
  • butternut
  • carrot
  • gem squash
  • pear
  • apple
  • mango

If you are doing baby-led weaning (where the baby is allowed to feed himself and you offer food in recognisable chunks instead of puree) you can prepare large soft pieces, like steamed butternut. For professional weaning (where you offer the foods in puree form with a spoon) you can liquidise these foods.

When to introduce grains

“Grains such as rice cereal, oats, millet, spelt and maize can be introduced down the line when you progress to three daily meals. These grains should be as natural as possible and with no added cow’s milk, protein or soya protein.”

Should rice porridge be added to a bottle of milk?

Dr Megaw discourages this. “It can lead to constipation as it thickens the milk and thus the stool, and it also can lead to less milk intake in some babies as it fills them up too much. At this stage milk is still most important and has many more nutrients than rice cereal. Thirdly and very importantly it can increase the risk of obesity and over feeding. So this is not a practice I advocate.”

What about allergies?

While some people think one should stay away from foods that might cause allergies, such as cow’s milk, eggs and wheat, during the introductory phase, Dr Megaw says more recent research indicates that introducing foods containing protein that might cause allergies around six months can actually decrease the risk of allergy – as long as you avoid introducing this before the age of four months.

“We now understand a lot more about allergies than in the past. Withholding allergen-risk foods isn’t a way to prevent allergies but a sure way to encourage fussy eating. Once your baby’s been introduced to solid foods and as long as he or she is older than four months, you can feed him all foods. Introduce the high-risk allergen foods one at a time and allow three days in between. This includes fish, egg, chicken and other protein meats such as beef and lamb, nut pastes, peanut butter, wheat and soya proteins. Always introduce these high-risk allergen foods at lunchtime or morning.”

How much should you give when starting?

Dr Megaw recommends you start by feeding one to two teaspoons of food after a milk feed and once the meals become bigger, three to six teaspoons per meal. If you’re doing baby-led weaning, you can offer one to two pieces of fruit or vegetable. Alternate the milk and solid meals with two hours.

“Start with one meal a day for about three days and then move to two, then three meals a day. For those choosing baby-led weaning you would normally offer food whenever you are eating, starting with one of your meals and slowly offering food at all three.”

Dr Megaw’s top tip

Always start at a happy time of day. “Remember starting solids is a new learning experience and one that will take time and patience on your part, so both of you need to be in a relaxed and happy space. Your baby must not be sleepy or hungry as this will lead to distress, it’s very important that it’s fun and interactive.”

Water and liquids

“Water can be introduced after the little solid meals from the very beginning. It can be out of a bottle, a sippy cup or even a sip out of your glass. 10-30 ml after mealtime is all your baby will need. Avoid fruit juice for as long as possible, it is both a dental and obesity hazard. Rooibos tea can be introduced around 7 months when you start finger foods and possibly cutting down on milk feeds.”

Remember

“Whether you’re taking the scenic route or the well-mapped highway, the most important thing is to enjoy the journey and if you do, you’ll reach your destination – with a happy, healthy, thriving baby that enjoys a variety of foods!”

? Dalena Theron

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