Sunday 17 December 2017

How to feed your baby

Giving your child the right foods can set up good habits for life

Rozanne Stevens

THE first time you gaze at your newborn baby in wonder is the beginning of the biggest love affair of your life. And the biggest guilt trip and stomach-gnawing anxiety-induced ulcers. From the minute your baby is born, you worry if they're okay, if you're doing everything right, if they're developing as they should – the list goes on and on.

Even sneaking in while they're sleeping to check if they're still breathing. Welcome to parenthood. As a parent, you are inundated with so much information from experts, books, family and interfering 'well wishers' offering advice, that it can become overwhelming.

One of the central causes of confusion and anxiety is what to feed your baby. Starting with breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, and the combination of both. I can't think of another area of motherhood that is as fraught with anxiety, confusion and pressure from society.

And then just as you've mastered that, you have to figure out which solid foods to feed your baby. But the great news is, it is actually far simpler than you realise.

Babies need to eat very small quantities – only a teaspoon or two to start, of very plain foods. You will not have Gregg Wallace and John Torode standing over your gourmet baby food creations critiquing your efforts, unless they fancy some mushed-up banana.

Babies are ready for solids from about six months. Some babies are greedy little mites and will devour everything you feed them, and others are slower to adopt solid foods.

Every child is different and will develop at their own pace, some days eating more and other days less. Introducing solid foods when a baby is really hungry is not advised, as your baby will be frustrated and tetchy and will reject the food.

Breast or bottle-feed your baby a little first, then introduce the food when he or she is calm and relaxed and not as hungry.

Avoid all salt in foods until your child is at least two years old. Salt affects kidney function and until two years of age, babies' kidneys are just too delicate to handle it.

Sugar is another food to avoid as much as possible. It has absolutely zero nutritional value, can cause tooth decay and can encourage a bad habit that can contribute to obesity in later life.

Avoid foods with gluten for as long as possible, at least until six months of age. Early introduction of gluten in a child's diet is associated with early onset coeliac disease.

I am also not in favour of fruit juices or cordials at such a young age. They are too concentrated, sugary and acidic for baby teeth. Breast milk, formula and, later, water are the only fluids that a baby needs. Cows' milk does not contain enough iron for developing babies, so should not be the main milk source.

Remember, parents are responsible for what food is offered, but babies are responsible for how much they eat. We are born with an inbuilt sense of satiety, and when we have eaten enough food, we stop.

Don't try and override this by force-feeding your baby. If you have a genuine concern, consult a doctor or nurse to find the underlying cause.

There are many issues to cover when it comes to baby nutrition: food allergies and intolerances, preparing and freezing home cooked foods, and choosing healthy shop-bought baby foods.

And one of my personal hobby horses, dental hygiene and nutrition.

We will be covering these topics in depth in future articles.

STAGE ONE

Signs

Babies are ready to be introduced to solid foods at around six months. Some parents introduce solids earlier, but this isn't really advisable and should categorically not be done before four months.

Your baby will start showing an interest in what you're eating, even trying to grab it. And you will notice some 'chewing' motions. These are all signs that your baby is ready for solids.

Fluids

Breast milk or formula is still the most important source of nutrition and fluid. Milk should be offered BEFORE food.

New foods

* Cooked apple, pear or peach, no skins

* Mashed uncooked avocado, mango or banana

* Cooked and mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pumpkin, carrots and courgette

* Cooked and well pureed chicken, meat, and fish

* Cooked and well pureed legumes and lentils

* Baby cereals

* Cooked and pureed rice

Textures

Foods should be cooked in water or vegetable cooking water. Do not use salt, stock, sugar or any additives. Keep the food very plain – there is no need to add seasonings, herbs or spices.

Puree the food with a hand-held blender, food processor or potato masher until very smooth, adding more liquid until it is runny and lump free.

Method

Sit your baby in their high chair and secure them in. Give him or her some of the food in a bowl to play with – this is an important part of learning and development.

With a baby spoon, gently introduce the food to your baby – don't force it. Initially, they will only eat a teaspoon or two. Let them go at their own pace.

Stay calm and relaxed, making eating an enjoyable, angst-free experience. Introduce a new food every 2-3 days. If your baby rejects it, try a few days later.

Babies may gag on or spit out food. This is totally normal, so do not be discouraged – just try again later.

Start with one meal a day, with one or two spoonfuls at a time.

STAGE TWO

Signs:

This normally begins at around seven to eight months. Your baby will be able to sit upright, will be chewing and may even be teething. If they are hungry, they will get excited when they see food and will show signs like smacking their lips and reaching for food.

Fluids

Breast milk and baby formula are still the fluids of choice, and should still be offered BEFORE food.

Now is the time to introduce a 'sippy cup' as babies will learn to close their lips around the rim and drink with a little help. This helps develop co-ordination and exercise the facial muscles ready for speech.

New foods

* Melons and plums

* Cooked and mashed broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and parsnips

* Cooked egg, start with the yolk only and mash well or mix with another food

* Organic, Non GM tofu and tempeh

* Cooked pasta and noodles

* Cheese, plain yoghurt, cottage cheese, custard

* Baby ground cereals, crackers, bread, rusks

Textures

Continue cooking foods in water or vegetable cooking water, with no salt or additives. Puree or mash the food to a thicker consistency with a few small lumps. This will get baby used to texture and chewing.

Method

You can mix different foods together and work up to three meals a day. Your baby will be eating between one and five tablespoons of food per meal. On some days, they will eat more than others, this is normal. Let your baby play with the food and make a mess – this is an important developmental tool.

Place old newspapers on the floor under the high chair and dress in appropriate baby 'body armour' to help make clean-up easier. Include baby at family meal times and make them fun and relaxed.

Babies observe adults very closely and learn from their reactions to food. So if you pull faces of disgust at the broccoli on your plate, your baby will too. So set a good example!

STAGE THREE

Signs

At around eight to nine months, your baby should be showing good chewing and biting skills. They will show an interest in food and new flavours and textures. They will be able to pick up foods and feed themselves.

Fluids

Breast milk and formula are still important, but should be offered AFTER solid foods. Feed baby breast milk or about 600ml of formula per day. Breast milk or iron-rich formulas are the first option.

Full fat cows' milk as a drink can only be introduced after nine months at the earliest, preferably 12 months.

Introduce drinking water from a sippy cup between meals. The more fibrous foods a baby begins to eat, the more water he will need to prevent constipation.

New foods

* Kiwi fruit, orange, pineapple and berry fruits

* Tomatoes

* Pureed sweetcorn, peas, and cooked spinach

* Baby cereal, like baby muesli and porridge

* Rice pudding

* Smooth peanut butter

Textures

Mince, chop and grate foods. Provide easy-to-hold finger foods that baby can hold and eat easily.

Method

Give baby their own spoon to wield, even if they make a mess and very little food makes it into their mouth – this is part of the learning process.

With another spoon, feed baby pureed foods or porridge until they show signs of disinterest like turning away.

You can sometimes coax a little more food in with the classic 'aeroplane' or 'train' moves, but don't force it. Leave them to gnaw on a rusk or piece of banana at their own pace.

Foods such as crackers or rusks dissolve in the mouth and are good for exercising facial muscles.

NEXT WEEK: Preparing and storing food for your baby

Irish Independent

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