For the first six months, breast milk - and/or substitute milk - provides all the nutrients and fluids that your baby needs. The Department of Health recommends that solid food should not be introduced before a baby is six months of age. Also, that after six months, you should continue breastfeeding and/or giving your baby breast milk substitute, alongside solid food for up to two years of age, or beyond.
You should not give your baby cows' milk to drink before the age of 12 months.
Introducing solid food is known as weaning. It is not recommended before your baby is six months of age because the infant digestive system, and
kidneys, are not usually developed enough to deal with solid food.
Soft, runny foods should be given when weaning your baby because babies are not able to chew at this age. Start with baby rice, cooked and pureed vegetables, such as carrot, or butternut squash, avocado, or fruit, such as banana, or stewed eating apple. As your baby gets older, you can slowly introduce textured foods, such as lumpy purees, rice cakes, or breadsticks, which will teach them to chew.
Meat, fish, dairy products, and legumes, are all excellent sources of iron and protein, and are important for sustaining the rapid rates of growth and development in your baby.
Liquid drops containing vitamins A, C, and D are recommended for infants who are over the age of six months, and who are receiving breast milk as their main drink. Formula milk is fortified with these vitamins, so infants who are drinking it, do not require the supplement, unless they were born prematurely.
Foods to be avoided
There are a number of foods that should be avoided in the diet of a young infant. These are outlined below.
Gluten is a protein that is found in certain cereals, such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats. You should avoid giving foods containing gluten to young infants, particularly those under six months of age. This will reduce the risk of your child developing a reaction to gluten called celiac
Do not add salt to your baby's food because their immature
kidneys are unable to process it. Children between the ages of 1-3 years should have no more than 2g of salt (0.8g sodium) a day.
You should restrict the amount, and frequency, of sugary foods and drinks, in your child's diet because they can damage their teeth and cause tooth decay.
Shellfish may cause an allergic reaction in young children. Some types of fish, such as shark, marlin, and swordfish, may contain relatively high levels of methylmercury, which can affect the nervous system.
Whole and chopped nuts
Whole and chopped nuts should not be given to children under five years of age due to the risk of choking. Peanuts have been linked to allergy in some families that have a tendency for inherited conditions, such as asthma, eczema, and hay
fever. Mothers from these families may be advised to avoid peanuts while they are pregnant, and breastfeeding, and to remove peanuts from their child's diet until they are three years old. This reduces the risk of them developing an allergic sensitivity to nuts, although severe nut allergy is rare (affecting less than 1% of the population).
Honey should not be given to infants who are under one year of age because it may contain harmful
Do not give eggs to young infants, particularly those who are under six months of age. Eggs prepared for older infants and children should be thoroughly cooked (both the white and the yolk).
Organic baby foods
Organic baby foods and produce (grown without pesticides and other chemicals) are becoming widely available. Wherever possible, you should give your child fresh food; home cooked meals are inexpensive, and you know exactly what has gone into them.
Cooking in batches for freezing is also a good idea, particularly for purees, which are only eaten in small amounts (and can be frozen in ice-cube trays for ease of use). Develop your child's senses by introducing a variety of tastes and textures.
Buying a few pieces of useful equipment can make mealtimes easier, and a less stressful experience all-round. A rubber-tipped spoon will protect your baby's gums, and a plastic dish, with suction cups, can help keep your baby's meal in place.
It is best to feed your baby while they are seated in a highchair, or an eating chair, because handing food to a baby that is crawling, or rolling about, could result in choking.
You should never leave your baby alone when eating because of the risk of choking.