All across Australia and the developed world, mealtimes with infants and children can be an agony of anxiety. When do you start? Are they eating too little, too much, too fast? Not the right foods? How can we encourage them to eat healthier foods? Is it okay that it’s so MESSY?!
The old fashioned ideas (pre-2008) were at six months of age a cautious, slow introduction of spoon-foods, limited variety and the avoidance of allergic foods until the infants were older. Once solids were established, there was then a fear that unless they were actively encouraged (that is, bribed) to eat a set amount, they might starve or not develop properly.
Nowadays, based on real information and studies, we know differently.
- Babies should eat solids when they watch with eager anticipation as their parents eat. This is usually somewhere between four and six months of age.
- They should be introduced to a wide variety of healthy foods, and should be encouraged, but not cajoled or forced, to eat sensibly.
- The volume of spoon foods does not have to be large – just a taste will do in the early months. Some babies (especially the breastfed) can be wildly unenthusiastic for months – and that is okay.
- Babies program their food preferences from tastes that are familiar to them, tastes from the amniotic fluid when in the womb, from the breastmilk or formula after birth, and the spoon-foods offered later. If you don’t wish your baby to get to like processed, refined foods (which is likely to shorten their life) don’t offer those tastes. Give real wholesome food. So mother should improve her diet, and resist the old habit of starting babies on ‘baby rice’ and sweetened commercial baby food.
- The data now suggest strongly that the introduction of peanut (butter) and whole eggs should take place between four and six months. This definitely does decrease the incidence of allergy to these foods and introducing at this stage appears to be completely safe. Early introduction may also reduce allergy to white fish, but the evidence is less convincing. There is no evidence for benefit for the early introduction of gluten, sesame, cow’s milk or other foods.
More to come…