It is not recommended to introduce solids too early.
Transitioning your baby from feeding exclusively on breastmilk or formula to solids can be fraught with worry, doubt and uncertainty especially for new mums.
When should I start? Should I introduce cereal, fruit or vegetables first? Am I doing it right? How do I prepare it? So many burning questions and every person you speak to is going to have differing tips for you.
There are no hard and fast rules to weaning your baby but there are general guidelines you should keep close to mind when embarking on this new milestone.
Ms Izabela Kerner of the Singapore Nutrition & Dietetics Association (SNDA) dispels common food myths and speaks about weaning your baby.
1. First Food Myths
MYTH 1: It’s best to avoid giving my baby foods that may cause a potential food allergy.
Parents are often concerned about introducing allergy-causing foods such as eggs, dairy, soy, nut butters, wheat and fish to their babies. According to current studies, delaying introduction of these foods beyond the 12-month mark does not mean babies will not develop an allergy to them.
In fact, early and repeated exposure to these foods in a baby’s first year of life may help prevent food allergies from developing. However, if parents suspect that their baby has an allergic reaction to a particular food, they should stop giving that food and seek professional medical advice.
MYTH 2: Offering fruits before vegetables will give my baby a permanent sweet tooth.
Some parents might have received advice to introduce solids or other complementary foods in a particular order such as rice cereal, or pureed vegetables before fruits. There is no evidence that suggests the order of food introduction offers any advantage to babies.
In fact, breast milk is actually sweet; hence babies might gravitate towards sweeter tasting food first. As their taste buds mature, babies will be more willing to explore other types of food with different flavours and textures.
2. Baby is developmentally ready for food when...
they show the following signs.
- Good head and neck control, and ability to sit upright with little or no support.
- Ability to move food from the spoon to the back of the mouth.
- Showing an interest in food by watching other people eat or reaching for food on your plate.
- Opening their mouth when offered a spoon with food.
- Displaying signs of hunger by crying for feeds before usual feeding time or waking up more often at night.
It is also important for parents to remember that these signs occur at different ages for every baby, depending on their individual development.
3. Solids should be introduced at six months old.
The best age to introduce solids is when a baby reaches six months old. At that age, babies need solids or complementary foods to meet their increasing nutritional needs.
However, it is important to note that breast milk (or infant formula) remains the main source of nutrition for them at their early stages of weaning.
It is not recommended to introduce solids too early. Before the four month mark, a baby may not be developmentally ready for solids due to inadequate control of the head and neck muscles. The inability to sit up also increases the risk of a baby choking on solids.
In addition, a baby’s digestive system may not have been developed well enough to digest nutrients in real food. Giving cereal, a common solid food, to a baby too early may lead to diarrhea and discomfort as the baby’s digestive system might not be able to digest starch. Undigested proteins, on the other hand, may increase the risk of developing allergies.
Introducing solids after the six month mark (unless otherwise advised by doctors) might lead to babies developing picky eating habits and health issues such as Iron-deficiency anemia.
4. What are the benefits of waiting until baby is ready?
Waiting until a baby is ready will minimise the risk of choking, allergies and gastrointestinal problems. Furthermore, waiting with introducing solids until your baby is ready will make the process of weaning easier and create a more positive experience and smoother transitions for both parent and baby.
5. What first foods would you recommend?
Traditionally, single-grain cereal (e.g. rice cereal) and single smooth purees are the first foods introduced to the baby. However, there is no evidence that introducing solids in any particular order offers additional benefits for most babies.
Nonetheless, it is recommended to start with iron rich foods as the baby’s iron stores will be depleted at the six month mark. Iron rich foods include iron-fortified cereal, pureed meats, poultry, fish, tofu or legumes.
The general advice is for parents to introduce a new food every few days to help identify any foods that cause allergic reactions such as rashes, gastrointestinal problems or wheezing.
Gradually, babies should learn to eat a variety of foods from different food groups to meet their specific nutritional needs.
6. How do I prepare my baby's food?
The best way to prepare healthy purees for your baby is to start with fresh, good quality ingredients and cooking them by the preferred methods, such as baking or steaming, will help retain the nutrients.
Using a versatile electric food maker, reduces the time spent preparing nutritious baby food for busy mums. It is a versatile tool with steam, blend, defrost and reheat features that can help prepare healthy food for their baby efficiently at every weaning stage.
7. Can I make larger batches in advance?
When preparing larger batches of baby food in advance, it is important to cool it quickly and store them in airtight containers in the refrigerator.
Baby food can be stored for up to 24-hours if it contains meat, poultry or fish, and up to 48 hours for fruit and vegetables.
As a general guideline, any food that is not consumed within 24 hours should be frozen in clearly labeled and dated containers. Alternatively, baby food can also be frozen in ice cube trays.
8. Do you have any tips for making a successful introduction?
Introducing solid foods during the weaning stage is an exciting milestone for both parent and baby. Start slowly with one to two teaspoons of food and gradually increase the amount in response to your baby’s appetite and cues.
Offer your baby foods that are the right consistency for their developmental stage, starting with smooth foods (pureed or mashed) at around six months, finger food at around eight to nine months and cut up food at twelve months.
Choose a time when your baby is not too tired, hungry or cranky and limit the distractions such as TV or toys during mealtimes. When your baby does not seem interested in eating solids or rejects a particular food by closing the mouth, turning the head or throwing the spoon, wait for a few days and try again.
Do not force feed or show frustration as it will turn mealtimes into a negative experience for you and your baby. Babies and children eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full, hence respecting these cues helps them develop healthy eating habits in the future. It is important to be patient as it takes time for them to learn to eat a variety of foods, flavours and textures.
9. What should I avoid?
The general advice for parents is to avoid feeding their babies any food that can be a potential choking hazard. Foods such as whole nuts or seeds, hot dogs, raw carrots, celery stick, chunks of apple, dried fruits and hard or sticky candy can get lodged in the baby’s throat and cause choking. Although babies can be fed raw mashed bananas, most other fruits and vegetables should be cooked until they are soft.
It is also best to avoid adding salt or sugar to your baby’s food. Babies should not consume too much salt, as their kidneys are not fully developed and not able to excrete the excess salt, while regular intake of sugary foods and drinks may lead to dental caries. Furthermore, babies exposed to sugary (and salty) foods may develop a preference for them, resulting in poor eating habits. For babies over six months old, drinking cool, boiled water is a better choice than fruit juices or fruit drinks.
Another food which should be avoided in babies younger than twelve months is honey. Honey may contain spores of harmful bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, which can produce toxins in the baby’s immature intestines, causing infant botulism.
Raw or undercooked foods, in particular meat, poultry, seafood or eggs should not be given to babies as they can increase the risk of food poisoning. Babies are at higher risk of getting foodborne illnesses because their digestive and immune systems are not yet fully developed.
10. How can I safely prepare baby's food?
Cleanliness and freshness of food are important once a baby starts to eat solid foods in order to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. To keep a baby’s food safe:
- Washing of hands, equipment and surfaces is necessary before preparation of their meals.
- Use different cutting boards and utensils for different types of foods. For example, one cutting board and knife for raw meat, fish and poultry and a different set for vegetables, fruit and other non-meat foods. Separate cooked or ready to eat food from raw food, especially raw meat, fish and poultry to prevent cross-contamination.
- Rinse fresh foods such as fruit and vegetables thoroughly under clean, running water before cooking.
- Cook meat, fish and poultry thoroughly to kill any bacteria that might be present. All meats should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 ºF, fish to at least 145 ºF, and poultry to at least 165 ºF.
- Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for more than two hours.
- As a general guideline, do not store prepared baby food containing meat, poultry, fish or eggs in the refrigerator for more than 24 hours, or more than 48 hours for fruits and vegetables.
- Discard any leftover food from the dish that your baby has eaten from. Food that has been in contact with saliva should not be stored as it contains bacteria that will multiply in the food.
- Thaw baby food in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
- Thoroughly reheat refrigerated or frozen food to an internal temperature of 165 ºF.