Today’s topic? First foods for babe! Food is what nourishes the body and makes us healthy and strong – especially when one’s weight hovers around 20 pounds! Infant nutrition is critical for ensuring proper development, maximizing learning capacities, and preventing illness. At no other time in life is nutrition so important. But which foods are best?
After (or With) the Breast or Bottle
The first year of life requires a full spectrum of nutrients, including fats, protein, cholesterol, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Once breast milk or formula is no longer the sole source of these nutrients, where should one go?
There are three concepts to keep in mind:
1. MAKE YOUR LITTLE ONE A “WHOLE FOODS BABY”!
Avoid processed and refined foods as much as possible, including many brands of baby food; they are usually devoid of nutrients and have added “undesirables.” It is always best to make your own baby food from organic, whole foods. (You can freeze it in one-serving sizes in ice cube trays for later use.) Better-quality, additive-free, prepared brands of baby food, like Earth’s Best, do exist, but it is still better to make your own baby food to be assured of the quality – plus making baby food puts Mama on the right track for home food preparation for the years to come.
2. 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:
3. RESPECT THE TINY, STILL-DEVELOPING DIGESTIVE SYSTEM OF YOUR INFANT
Babies have limited enzyme production, which is necessary for the digestion of foods. In fact, it takes up to 28 months, just around the time when molar teeth are fully developed, for the big-gun carbohydrate enzymes (namely amylase) to fully kick into gear. 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. (One carbohydrate enzyme a baby’s small intestine does produce is lactase, for the digestion of lactose in milk.)
Foods introduced too early can cause digestive troubles and increase the likelihood of allergies (particularly to those foods introduced). The baby’s immature digestive system allows large particles of food to be absorbed. If these particles reach the bloodstream, the immune system mounts a response that leads to an allergic reaction. Six months is the typical age when solids should be introduced; however, there are a few exceptions.
Babies do produce functional enzymes (pepsin and proteolytic enzymes) and digestive juices (hydrochloric acid in the stomach) that work on proteins and fats. This makes perfect sense since the milk from a healthy mother has 50-60% of its energy as fat, which is critical for growth, energy and development.
In addition, the cholesterol in human milk supplies an infant with close to six times the amount most adults consume from food. In some cultures, a new Mama is encouraged to eat six to ten eggs a day and almost ten ounces of animal protein for at least a month after birth. This fat-rich diet ensures her breast milk will contain adequate healthy fats.
A baby’s earliest solid foods should be mostly animal foods since his digestive system, although immature, is better equipped to supply enzymes for digestion of fats and proteins rather than carbohydrates. This explains why current research is pointing to meat (including nutrient-dense organ meat) as being a nourishing early weaning food.
Is Cereal the Best First Food?
Remember, the amount of breast milk and/or formula decreases when solid foods are introduced. This decrease may open the door for insufficiencies in a number of nutrients critical for baby’s normal growth and development. The nutrients that are often in short supply when weaning begins include protein, zinc, iron and B-vitamins. One food group that has these nutrients in ample amounts is meat.
Unfortunately, cereal is the most often recommended early weaning food. A recent Swedish study suggests that when infants are given substantial amounts of cereal, they may suffer from low concentrations of zinc and reduced calcium absorption.
In the US, Dr. Nancy Krebs headed up a large infant growth study that found breastfed infants who received pureed or strained meat as a primary weaning food beginning at four to five months grew at a slightly faster rate. Kreb’s study suggests that inadequate protein or zinc from common first foods may limit the growth of some breastfed infants during the weaning period. More importantly, both protein and zinc levels were consistently higher in the diets of the infants who received meat. Thus, the custom of providing large amounts of cereals and excluding meats before seven months of age may short-change the nutritional requirements of the infant.
Meat is also an excellent source of iron. Heme iron (the form of iron found in meat) is better absorbed than iron from plant sources (non-heme). Additionally, the protein in meat helps the baby more easily absorb iron from other foods. Some recent studies have looked at the iron status in breastfed infants who received meat earlier in the weaning period. While researchers found no measurable change in breastfed babies’ iron stores when they received an increased amount of meat, the levels of hemoglobin (iron-containing cells) circulating in the bloodstream did increase. Meat also contains a much greater amount of zinc than cereals, which means more is absorbed. These studies confirm the practices of traditional peoples, who gave meat – usually liver – as the first weaning food.
Don’t Fear Fats!
Pediatric clinicians have known for some time that children fed low-fat and low-cholesterol diets fail to grow properly. After all, a majority of mother’s milk is fat, much of it saturated fat. Children need high levels of fat throughout growth and development. Milk and animal fats give energy and also help children build muscle and bone. In addition, the animal fats provide vitamins A and D necessary for protein and mineral assimilation, normal growth and hormone production.
Choose a variety of foods so your child gets a range of fats, but emphasize stable saturated fats and cholesterol, found in pastured egg yolks, grass-fed butter, meat and coconut oil, and monounsaturated fats, found in avocados and olive oil.
Foods to Introduce at 4 Months
Egg yolks, rich in choline, cholesterol and other brain-nourishing substances, can be added to your baby’s diet as early as four months, if you feel your baby is good and ready for solid foods AND that baby takes it easily. If baby reacts poorly to egg yolk at that age, discontinue and try again 1-2 months later. Cholesterol is vital for the insulation of 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 hyper-speed. Choline is another critical nutrient for brain development.
But why just the yolk? The white is the portion that most often causes allergic reactions, so wait to give egg whites until after your baby turns one.
Don’t neglect to put a pinch of salt on the egg yolk. While many books warn against giving salt to babies, salt is actually critical for digestion as well as for brain development. Use high quality, unrefined, mineral-rich salt to supply a variety of trace minerals.
Around four months is a good time to start offering cod liver oil, which is an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA (also important for brain development) as well as vitamins A and D. Start with a ¼ teaspoon of high-vitamin cod liver oil, doubling the amount at 8 months. Use an eyedropper at first, and later baby can take cod liver oil mixed with a little water or fresh orange juice.
If baby is very mature and seems hungry, he may be given mashed banana during this period. Ripe bananas are rich in amylase enzymes and are easily digested by most infants.
Foods to Introduce at 6 Months
Pureed meats can be given at six months (or even earlier if baby is very mature). Meats will help ensure adequate intake of iron, zinc, and protein with the decrease in breast milk and formula.
A variety of fruits can be introduced at this time. Avocado, melon, mangoes and papaya can be mashed and given raw. High-pectin fruits such as peaches, apricots, apples, pears, cherries and berries should be cooked to break down the pectin, which can be very irritating to the digestive tract.
As time goes by, move up in complexity with food and texture. At about six to eight months, vegetables may be introduced, one at a time so that any adverse reactions may be observed. Carrots, sweet potatoes and beets are excellent first choices. All vegetables should be cooked (steamed preferably), mashed and mixed with a liberal amount of fat, such as grass-fed butter or coconut oil, to provide nutrients to aid in digestion.
Early introduction to different tastes is always a good plan to prevent finickiness. Feed your little one a touch of buttermilk, yogurt or kefir from time to time to familiarize them with the sour taste. Lacto-fermented roots, like sweet potato or taro, are another excellent food for babies to add at this time.
Foods to Introduce at 8 Months
Your baby can now consume a variety of foods including creamed vegetable soups, homemade stews and dairy foods such as cottage cheese, mild harder raw cheese, cream and custards. Hold off on grains until at least one year, preferably two years. With the possible exception of soaked and thoroughly cooked rice, which can be served earlier to babies who are very mature.
Foods to Introduce at 12 Months
Grains, nuts and seeds should be the last food given to babies. This food category has the most potential for causing digestive disturbances or allergies. Babies do not produce the needed enzymes to handle cereals, especially gluten-containing grains like wheat, before the age of one year. Even then, it is a common traditional practice to soak grains in water and a little yogurt or buttermilk for up to 24 hours. This process jump-starts the enzymatic activity in the food and begins breaking down some of the harder-to-digest components.
The easiest grains to digest are those without gluten like rice, buckwheat, quinoa or millet. When grains are introduced, they should be soaked for at least 24 hours and cooked with plenty of water for a long time. This will make a slightly sour, very thin porridge that can be mixed with other foods.
After one year, babies can be given nut butters made with soaked and dehydrated nuts, cooked leafy green vegetables, raw salad vegetables, citrus fruit and whole egg.
Just Say No
One important warning: do not give your child juice, which contains too much simple sugar and may ruin a child’s appetite for the more nourishing food choices. Sorbitol, a sugar-alcohol in apple juice, is difficult to digest. Studies have linked failure to thrive in children with diets high in apple juice. High-fructose foods are especially dangerous for growing children. Soy foods, margarine, vegetable oils, fried foods, and commercial dairy products (especially ultra-pasteurized) should also be avoided, as well as any products that are reduced-fat or low-fat.
Remember that babies should be chubby and children should be sturdy and strong, not slim. Babies need body fat to achieve optimum growth. The fat around their ankles, knees, elbows and wrists is growth fat that ensures adequate nourishment to the growth plates at the ends of the bones. Fat babies grow up into sturdy, well-formed adults, neither too tall nor too short and either slender or stocky depending on genetic heritage.
Common sense prevails when looking at foods that best nourish infants. A breastfeeding mother naturally produces the needed nutrition when she consumes the necessary nutrients. The composition of healthy breast milk gives us a blueprint for an infant’s needs from there on out.
Finally, be an example. Although you won’t be able to control what goes into your child’s mouth forever, you can set the example by your own excellent food choices and vibrant health.
Foods to Avoid
Up to 6 months: Certain foods, such as spinach, celery, lettuce, radishes, beets, turnips and collard greens, may contain excessive nitrate, which can be converted into nitrite (an undesirable substance) in the stomach. Leafy green vegetables are best avoided until 1 year. When cooking vegetables that may contain these substances, do not use the water they were cooked in to puree.
Up to 9 months: Citrus and tomato, which are common allergens.
Up to 1 year: Because infants do not produce strong enough stomach acid to deactivate potential spores, infants should refrain from eating honey. Use blackstrap molasses, which is high in iron and calcium. Egg whites should also be avoided up to one year due to their high allergenic potential.
ALWAYS: Commercial dairy products (especially ultra-pasteurized), modern soy foods, vegetable oils (canola, soybean, cottonseed, corn, sunflower, safflower, etc.), margarines and shortening, fruit juices, reduced-fat or low-fat foods, refined grains and all processed foods.
Feeding Tips and Tidbits
In a Nutshell
Sarah Jane Sandy is a functional nutritionist and women’s health expert. As a hormone imbalance survivor herself, Sarah is passionate about helping women fix their hormonal chaos, get pregnant, grow a healthy baby, and feel happy and content in their bodies. For over a decade she has been researching and studying how the food we eat and the way we live affects our fertility, pregnancy, hormones and post-birth. Sarah works with women all over the world remotely through her 1:1 consultations and online programs. You can read more about Sarah on her website, and find more information about she works with women to optimize health in all phases of life.