Infant nutrition is crucial for supporting optimal growth and development. Think about this for one minute.. choosing foods for your infant can either prevent a disease or feed one. Now, that sounds serious, but we actually have the power to influence our children with fuel to set them up for a healthy life.
The philosophy of Naturopathic medicine is “First Do No Harm”. As a mother I want to know that what I’m offering to my child is not going to hurt them in any way. This means providing a diet that their tiny immature digestive system can assimilate and absorb. I can’t emphasise this enough – The gut of a 6 month old baby is very different to an older child’s and must be treated with care.
A baby begins to acquire his gut bacteria in utero from the mother’s digestive system. This bacteria is affected by the maternal diet and lifestyle. The health of the mothers gut at time of birth directly relates to her baby. Interesting right! All the more motivation to make sure Mum is healthy during pregnancy.
It is during the first 6 weeks of embryo development that the formation of the digestive system begins, and it is not until well after birth when a fully functioning digestive system is complete. The delicate digestive system of an infant requires a bit of TLC & respect before honing in on food glorious food.
So how do we know what foods are best for our tiny humans?
My number one rule is to ensure your baby is a “whole foods baby”. Avoid processed and refined foods, this also includes supermarket baby food. A puree that has been sitting on a shelf for god knows how long cannot possibly offer the same nutritional profile as homemade. Make a batch of food and freeze into portions or take a little aside from your meal and make it the right consistency for baby.
Go slowly and be observant; every baby will have an individual response to different foods. Introduce new foods one at a time and continue to feed that same food for at least four days to rule out the possibility of a negative reaction. Signs of intolerance include redness around the mouth; abdominal bloating, gas and distention; irritability, fussiness, over-activity and awaking throughout the night; constipation and diarrhea; frequent regurgitation of foods; nasal and/or chest congestion; and red, chapped or inflamed eczema-like skin rash.
Babies produce only very small amount of the pancreatic enzyme amylase, and therefore are unable to properly digest grains. When I hear mainstream advice recommend baby rice cereal that is fortified with iron I am screaming inside my head. White rice is a refined carbohydrate that is a highly processed, nutritionally devoid food and is worthless nutritionally for infants. It is inflammatory and one of the hardest food groups for them to digest.
One European study found that infants tended to have pancreatic amylase levels close to those of adults by ten months. In fact, it can take up to 2 years, just around the time when molar teeth are fully developed, for the pancreatic enzymes to fully work. Foods like cereals, grains and breads are very challenging for little ones to digest. Thus, these foods should be some of the last to be introduced.
Infants do however produce proteolytic enzymes to digest proteins as well as digestive juices: hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which breaks down protein & fats. Mother nature always gets it right and it makes perfect sense looking at the nutritional profile of breast milk which provides up to 60% of its energy as fat, which is critical for growth, energy and development.
All babies are born with a leaking or permeable gut lining so that they can fully benefit from the nourishment of their mother’s colostrum. This “first milk” from the mother delivers powerful nutrients and immune boosting substances like lactoferrin, immunoglobulins, sugars and antibodies to the fragile newborn infant. The permeable lining in the intestines of each newborn baby allows them to absorb nutrients quickly and boosts immunity. How clever are we!
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOUR LITTLE ONE IS READY FOR THE GOOD STUFF?
- First of all every baby is different so there is really no magic number that says start feeding your baby on this date. Observe your baby’s signs.
- When babies are ready for solids they start leaning forward at the sight of food and opening their mouths in a preparatory way. I know my children were jumping out of my arms at the sight of my food.
- At around the age of four – six months your mini humans should be able to sit up and coordinate breathing with swallowing.
- A good test is to see if they push their tongue out when a spoon or bit of food is placed in their mouth– this is another good indication as the tongue reflex disappears at around four – six months of age.
- Don’t forget that we are all different and some babies wont like certain textures and flavours. If they do screw their face up or spit it out in disgust don’t be scared to offer it again another day, they may like it the second or third time when they become more familiar with tastes & textures.
SO, WHAT FOODS SHULD BE OFFERED FIRST?
Bone broth is an excellent first food because it works as a digestive elixir that helps the lining of a baby’s digestive tract to mature and strengthen, preparing baby’s tummy to digest more complicated foods down the road. It also provides an abundance of minerals and nutrients for development and health of teeth, bones, hair, nails, and joints. Bone broth also contains amino acids which are the building blocks of protein. For info on how to make bone broth and all the nutritional benefits click HERE.
Egg yolk is rich in B vitamins, choline, cholesterol and many other nourishing substances. Cholesterol is vital in everyone’s diet, it functions by insulating the nerves in the brain and the entire central nervous system. It helps with fat digestion by increasing the formation of bile acids and is necessary for the production of many hormones. Since the brain is so dependent on cholesterol, it is especially vital during this time when brain growth is in super-speed. The egg white is the portion that most often causes allergic reactions so mum this is a little bit of extra protein for you to eat.
Meat. I know parents often wonder why and how you give tiny babies meat. Meats will help ensure adequate intake of iron, zinc, and protein with the decrease in breast milk and formula. Iron stores start to deplete around this age and fortified rice cereal just doesn’t cut it. The type of iron in rice cereal is poorly absorbed and harsh on a tiny tummy.
- Liver is a powerhouse of nutrients. It is a great source of cholesterol. It’s loaded with vitamins and minerals, including choline, iron, B-vitamins, D3 & K2. K2 is a very important nutrient that we don’t find in many foods. It contributes to the development of strong bones and teeth and even the facial structure. It is also important for energy production in the body. Organic & Grass-fed varieties are best! People often ask me how to serve liver. You can grate organic, raw liver into egg yolks. If using this method, make sure to freeze the liver for 14 days, in order to kill any pathogens. A second option is to brown it lightly with some ghee and then blend it with some bone broth to thin it to your desired consistency. We sprinkle it with a little sea salt too for additional minerals and flavour.
- Bone marrow: Is another great source of quality fat, that is loaded with nutrients and has a scrumptious taste. I often make a big slow-cooked stew and add a couple of osso bocco cuts, the marrow literally falls out and Wa La dinner is served for everyone!
- Mashed tropical fruits like banana, papaya, mango, rockmelon naturally contain amylase, making it easier for babies to digest.
- Sweet potato, squash, carrots, parsnips and beetroot are vegetables that are easy to digest, but should always be served cooked to young babies. It is important to serve these with healthy fats, to help the baby absorb the fat soluble vitamins available. We usually cook ours in homemade bone broth, so the vegetables can soak up minerals from the broth and become more digestible.
- Mashed Avocado is a rich source of quality fat as well as vitamins A & E. They are very rich dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals and packed with numerous health benefits.
- Grass-fed organic butter and ghee contain vitamin A, E & K2.
- Coconut oil: Is a great source of healthy fat and it is an excellent source of lauric acid, only second to breast milk!
What is a serving size?
At the very beginning a serving size is simply a taste. Start with a teaspoon at a time and slowly increase until your baby eats 1-2 tablespoons. Again, listen to your baby, if she turns her head away or shuts her mouth she has had enough.
First foods can be mashed, smoothed, pureed or offered in soft pieces – it’s up to you.
Although you don’t need to puree your baby’s first foods, some foods – for example, meats – are easier for baby to eat if they’re pureed to start with. If you do start with smooth or pureed food, increase the texture to mashed and soft pieces over a couple of weeks.
One important part of going from baby food purées to finger foods is the ability for baby to be able to self-feed and pick up food with his fingers. A good pincher grasp is needed. Along with a good pincher grasp, your baby needs to be adept at mashing and gumming foods.
A few signs that your baby may be ready for finger food:
- Doesn’t want to be spoon fed
- Turns his head or even spits out those thin purees at mealtimes
- Grabs at the spoon and tries to feed himself
- Mashes lumps and textures easily
- Pincher grasp is developed and baby can maneuver foods easily to his/her mouth
- 8 months of age or older – (some babies begin their solid food journey with “finger” foods from the very start).
- Baby lead weaning is a common method used and very effective for letting infants gain that independence from an early age.
Growing from a baby to a delightful toddler!
The world of food is not new any more and your once very dependent babe is now becoming a very independent little being. The need to feed themselves is strong and can be an amusingly messy situation for them. They will love to get their hands, face, feet and whatever other body part they can it there. This is important because they are learning about texture and feel of food. (Sorry to all you Type A parents out there) This mess is good and interactive.
With the surge in independence also comes an opinion on what they do & don’t like. It can be extremely frustrating but don’t give up. Keep offering a range of vegetables, fruits, meats & grains. Eat with your child, lead by example and don’t place too much attention on the food itself. For more tips on fussy eaters click HERE.
Why go organic?
Organic foods have minimal toxicity, thus placing a smaller chemical burden on the body. This is particularly a benefit for our youngsters. They are more vulnerable to pesticide exposure because their organs and body systems are not fully developed and, in relation to body weight, they eat and drink more than adults.
As a mother I can tell you a lot of my attention goes to what I’m feeding my children. I am a nutritionist and at times, I too get overwhelmed with the abundance of information on what to feed a baby / toddler/ child and what not to feed them.
The basic rule is to stick to whole foods and ensure to have macro-nutrient balanced foods. That is a serve of protein, carbs & fats with each meal. For more baby food and toddler meals follow my social media pages HERE. If you are time poor, I highly recommend Bib & Spoon who make nutritious, organic fresh meals for infants through to toddlers.
Remember you are doing a great job! It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too.
Gina Rose xx
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- Riordan J & Wambach K. 2010. Breastfeeding and human lactation. 4th ed. Boston: Jones & Barlett.
- Percival, Mark. D.C. N.D. Infant Nutrition. Health Coach System. 1995. – See more at: http://www.westonaprice.org/childrens-health/nourishing-a-growing-baby/#sthash.JUirbtkz.dpuf