A new born baby goes through various changes in their body when they enter the neonatal period from fetal life. Just the act of being born creates a huge change in environment from the uterus to open air. From their first breath when they emerge, a series of physical, mental and emotional changes occur and they need appropriate nutrients and energy for them. Until they are one year old, babies develop rapidly and variably at different months of age, therefore their hunger and appetite can be unpredictable. There are day to day variations in a baby’s eating habits. Babies’ digestive systems develops to absorb solid food and kidneys to excrete, and filter it. They also learn tongue movement and swallowing, and sitting up straight which helps in swallowing.
However, this does not mean that you should start feeding your baby solid food as soon it is born. A new born baby primarily relies on breast milk, which is the most nutritional and healthy food for them till the age of 12 months. If the mother is unable to breastfeed, then infant formula is used as a substitute. Animal milk should not be given before one year due to food allergies and possible health concerns.
The next step after milk is introducing solids at 6 months after discussing this with your Pediatrician. It is essential to introduce solids as to prevent an iron deficiency because babies have relatively low iron stores, hence extra foods to boost the iron levels plays a vital role in their growth and development.
Other important ready to eat signs are excitement and interest in food, when the baby is able to hold their head up, and can sit without any additional support. However, don’t be over eager to start solids too early as that can lead to several health problems. When a milk feed is replaced with food, it can result in poor growth as the baby is not able to digest these nutrients as effectively.
Another problem these undigested nutrients can cause is loose bowl actions or diarrhea. An infant’s stomach lining isn’t fully formed and food can leech into their blood stream causing allergies and other health issues so it is not advised to introduce solid foods before 6 months. These problems can be fatal in newborn babies and need medical attention immediately.
What to Expect?
You’ve gotten the go ahead from your Pediatrician so you’re ready to start feeding your baby solid food, right? Make sure you’re not distracted with other work, pay close attention to your baby and stay calm. Babies are used to suckling, so it is natural to make a mess. They might not take in spoonsful of food immediately or may reject solid food altogether. Try again sometime later if this happens. If your baby is too grumpy and hungry, do not try solid food then. In fact make sure your baby is sitting comfortably and is not too hungry, otherwise they may lose patience and start crying. Do not force your baby to open their mouth as it may result in choking.
Remember babies do not have teeth, so they cannot chew hard foods, and may choke on large bites. The first food should always be mashed and smooth. Do not use harsh spices and salt till after a year as it can affect their baby kidneys. Generally, the rule is to choose one easy, non-allergic and somewhat sweet food item and introduce it slowly in one meal a day only over three days. This way you can check if your baby has an allergy and let them get used to the taste. Once three days have passed, you can choose another nutritious food item and mash it up so it has no lumps or choking hazards and start the three day rule again. This will allow your baby’s food menu to slowly grow.
Infant cereals are one of the top choices parents pick, but tend to have a lot of sugar and processed material so try something natural like a banana, sweet potato or avocado. You can even make your own rice cereal at home, free from added sugars. These are often mixed with expressed breast milk or infant formula to make them runny.
As time passes by and your baby is used to solid food, you can modify the food by changing the texture from smooth to lumpy leading eventually to chopped food and bigger pieces like finger fish/chicken, boiled vegetables and pieces of roti. You can always hand a bowl and spoon to your child to encourage eating while you feed them yourself. Never leave any crockery with infants without supervision. Along with eating solid foods, encourage your baby to drink from a cup. Make sure you have baby crockery at home; like small plastic spoon, cups and plates with a lot of colors that attract children.
After initial changes from smooth to coarse to bits of food, you can escalate to introduction of rice and pasta. By the end of 12 months you can introduce pasteurized cow milk gradually in custard, yogurt, cheese etc.
Be very careful experimenting with hard cooked vegetables, nuts and fruit juices. Hard foods might damage your baby’s gums or they might choke. Do not give your child cow milk as primary drink until after 12 months of age and with consent of your doctor. Cow milk is not an alternative of breast milk, as it is not a rich source of iron. It has high content of minerals and proteins that might be too much load for the baby’s kidneys. Low-fat or fat-free milk is not suitable for babies under 1 year either. Another no for your child is honey, which contains a risk of bacterial infection and is a threat for botulism which is fatal. Tea can cause tannins which restricts vitamin uptake.