Nutritionist Gina Ulrich’s Tips – First Foods for Babies
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.
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.
How do you know when your babe is ready for food?
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. 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.
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. 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. 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!
What Foods Should Be Offered First?
- Mashed Tropical Fruits like banana, papaya, mango, rockmelon naturally contain amylase, making it easier for babies to digest.
- Root Vegetables such as 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!
- Small Amounts of Organic or Homemade 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Remember you are doing a great job! It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too.
Gina Rose xx
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