An exciting milestone has arrived!
As a new mommy living in the Caribbean, my baby taught me a lot of practical tips and tricks on her food introduction journey. I want to educate and inform you on the what, where, when, why and how to feed baby so you can be proactive in regards to her nutrition, overall health and wellbeing.
Optimal health for baby and the entire family occurs with a healthy life style, NOT a special diet of processed or refined pre-packaged foods. Baby will want to eat when you are eating, and most importantly, WHAT you are eating. If you want baby to eat healthy foods and eventually eat from the “family pot”, then the entire family needs to be eating healthfully.
Introducing foods can be fun. Prepare yourself for the ride of your life, and don't forget your sense of humour! You'll need it! The first few months, you'll probably be WEARING more of baby's food than she actually eats! Brace yourself, as you will receive a lot of well-meant advice at this stage. Everyone seems to know best! It's important to find a routine that works for YOU AND BABY, and stick with it!
When should I introduce baby to food?
This is a hugely important question for all new parents, yet is one that will often bring an overwhelming amount of conflicting answers. Many medical professionals still advise introducing baby's first foods anywhere from 4 to 6 months. However, this is a subject that has been hugely researched of late and the current recommendation from the World Health Organization is that no solid foods are introduced for the first 6 months.
You may receive advice from older relatives, advocating the introduction of solid foods far sooner than 6 months - it's certainly true that babies were given their first foods very early in past generations. Remember, though, that not as much research had been done into solid feeding at that time, and the information we have now, particularly in regard to food allergies, simply wasn't available then.
The key is to remember that there are no rules. Some flexibility enables you to make baby's foods to her specifications! One of the best people to advise you on baby's readiness for solids is BABY!
Let’s Get Started Baby!
Once you are satisfied that baby is ready, begin spending some time in the kitchen!
Baby may start by exploring and playing with her food, but she should soon begin to suck, gnaw and eventually chew. I strongly believe the baby led weaning (no purees) approach is a good method to bring up nourished, non-picky eaters that have a good relationship with food. It gives baby the chance to discover textures and shapes, and promotes the development of motor skills. I did baby led weaning with my own baby and it was great!
Baby will follow her instincts and eat what she needs when she needs it, along with deciding how much she wants. Just place the food in front of her, with a variety of healthy options, and she will decide. Do not stress, as baby should still be getting all her nutrients from breast milk or formula. You can take the edge off baby's hunger by giving breast milk or formula first, then solids. If she's too hungry, she'll probably end up screaming in frustration - and so will you!
What should I feed baby?
Introducing organic foods is especially important because the immaturity of baby’s developing system leaves her vulnerable to chemicals, which can eventually overload it. This could increase the likelihood of intolerances and adverse reactions in susceptible babies.
Most pediatricians recommend introducing a wide range of foods from 6 months, including some of the foods that were previously considered 'high risk' (eggs, seeds, etc). There are different recommendations about which food to start with first; some say to start with baby rice, and more recently meat, but I suggest fruits and vegetables as the food of choice. Let me explain.
The grains in most infant cereals, including rice, oats and barley, contain starch, which needs to be broken down with enzymes. When babies are born, they haven’t yet developed their full spectrum of enzymes, including the starch digesting enzymes. Around six months of age, enzymes to digest starchy foods slowly increase, but not enough to handle cereals yet. Giving cereals closer to one year of age is preferred.
I recommend starting baby on orange vegetables like steamed butternut squash, pumpkin or carrot, as they are not overly bitter or overly sweet, just like breast milk – the perfect taste and texture for a new palate. Vegetables are idea in order to prevent a sweet tooth. After that, you can follow the following list in no particular order, alternating with different colored vegetables and fruits. Wait three to four days between new foods to make sure there is no adverse reaction.
Vegetables: Butternut squash, pumpkin, carrot, white and sweet potato, yam, cassava, green fig, rutabaga, parsnip, green peas, snow peas, green beans, zucchini, bell pepper, broccoli, eggplant (melongene), cabbage, cauliflower, beetroot, asparagus, turnip, okra, leafy greens (in smoothies or steamed), zucchini
Fruits: Banana, silk fig, pear, avocado, plum, apple, peach, nectarine, blueberry, papaya (paw paw), starfruit (five finger), melon, apricot (fresh or dried; soaked), raisins (chopped and soaked), grapes (halved), watermelon, mango, prunes (soaked), cherries (pits removed)
Beverages: Breast milk or formula and water – no juice please!
You can incorporate a number of aromatic spices, herbs, garlic, onions, chives, and mushrooms to expand your baby’s palate. Some parents will soon move on to free-range eggs, beans and legumes, organic meats and poultry as well as seeds and seed butters.
Avoid all processed and refined foods, excessive dairy, junk foods, “fat free” foods and foods with preservatives and artificial ingredients. The emphasis should be on fresh organic whole foods prepared at home with love.
How should I prepare baby’s food?
Making your own baby food is fast, easy, and economical. The taste and texture from food made at home exposes baby to real food that will eventually be served at family meals. It prevents picky eating, as you know baby’s likes and dislikes and can work to expand her palate. And when was the last time you saw cilantro, parsley, garlic or ginger in a jar? Remember that it can take 8 – 12 times before baby takes to a particular flavor or food. So keep trying it!
First foods can be lightly steamed vegetables, and most soft fruits, which can be eaten raw. Steaming is preferred over boiling, baking, or microwaving because it helps to retain more nutrients. Microwaving destroys nutrients, creates hot spots, kills enzymes and energy, and can change texture. The entire family should stay away from microwaved food!
Ready, set go!
I have given you the tools and knowledge to be able to make positive decisions and choose a healthy food introduction approach for your baby. It is now your responsibility to take action. Your baby’s health is in your hands. Have fun!