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Top ten tips for mothers when introducing solids to their baby’s diet.

By: Dr. C Groenewald

What an wonderful time in baby’s development, his or her first meal. Up to now, it’s been boobies and bottles only. This is an exciting time, but also a very crucial time in baby’s development. Up to now, baby’s immature gut has only been exposed to one thing, breastmilk (if you are lucky). This perfect little gut, has the perfect culture of beneficial bacteria, lending itself to a healthy gut and healthy immune system. 70% of our immune system cells reside in the gut, hence, a healthy gut equals healthy baby. So, when introducing solids, it is very important, to minimally  disturb this environment, and here is how you can do that:

  1. Breast is best.

The paediatric association of America, recommends breastfeeding your baby up to three years of age…yikes, can they just take their teeth out before feeds please! If, unfortunately, you were unable to breast feed, or had to stop breastfeeding for whatever reason, choose a hypoallergenic formula to replace your breast milk. Discuss which formula is best for your child with their paediatrician or homeopath. Baby’s immature gut is very sensitive and choosing a formula that will be easiest on baby’s gut is a must. Also, consider a pre-and probiotic to add to their formula. This will recolonise the gut and protect the gut lining, following introduction of a new formula.

  1. NO solids before 6 months of age.

Yes, I know, your grandmother has been hounding you to feed your baby rice cereal since he/she was practically born. That is how she did it, maybe it is how your mom did it, and now they are trying to convince you, that your baby is not sleeping through the night, because they are hungry… so give them rice cereal. Tempting, but please refrain. Knowledge is power, and progress is made by adapting our previous beliefs, based on new research and information. Your baby is not meant to sleep through the night, they are meant to feed. So, for the first 6 weeks of baby’s life, at least, you will be breast feeding non-stop. After that, waking up for 3-6 feeds per night is normal. It is torture, but it is natural.  Yes, your friend Lucy’s baby slept through from 6 weeks old, so why do you look like a sleep deprived Zombie, there must be something wrong with you! You should not be friends with people whose babies sleep through from 6 weeks, unfriend her, you don’t need that type of negativity in your life. (Just kidding J)

  1. When to introduce solids.

As mentioned above, 6 months is your first que. Also, look out for the following signs that baby is ready for the introduction of solids. These include:

  • sitting upright unattended;
  • putting objects in his/her mouth (hand eye co-ordination);
  • loss of tongue-thrust reflex (automatically pushing objects out of their mouth with their tongue) ;
  • and baby is willing and able to chew (even if he/she only has two front teeth).

There is further research that suggests baby should only start on solids once they have their first tooth – my daughter sprouted her first two teeth at 4 months, while my friend’s baby only popped one at 1 year of age…so it is not very realistic to wait until they teethe.

  1. What to introduce.

Two things and two things ONLY. Butternut and sweet potato. It is boring and repetitive, yes I know. But, it is also hypo allergenic, and very soft on baby’s gut. For iron deficiency, a common ailment in breast fed babies, you can consider biltong sticks (no salt, sugar or spices, talk to your local butcher). Ensure that the biltong is thick enough, that baby can’t bite a piece off, and possibly swallow/choke. They basically just need to chew on it, like a chew toy, nice and soggy and gross, then you can discard that piece and give them a new piece. The intention is NOT for them to actually eat the piece of meat.

  1. How to prepare baby’s food.

Initially, you can steam the pumpkin or butternut. Use a potato masher, mash the veggies to a smooth consistency, then, if baby is still breast fed, add some breast milk to the mixture. This helps baby’s gut to not recognise the food as ‘foreign’, causing an immune response and possible allergies later in life.  If baby is no longer breast fed, give them the mashed veggies as is.

  1. How much food should I feed my baby?

When introducing solids, you can start with 1 tablespoon of butternut or sweet potato, 1- 2 times day. Your baby should not be getting their nutrients from the food they eat, for at least the first year of their lives. Their primary source of nutrition, is and remains breast milk, or formula, for at least 0-12 months of age. The introduction of solids, is more for sensory development and the familiarisation of different tastes and tactile development.  So, don’t freak out if baby does not want to eat, or if they are playing more with their food than actually eating it. They should continue with their liquid diet for a while yet!

  1. Baby led weaning

Baby led what? Baby led weaning is the latest craze taking the baby market by storm. The idea is to not introduce foods that have been mashed to a smooth consistency, but rather providing baby with grip friendly soft finger foods, that they can enjoy without being spoon fed. Love the concept, let kids play with their food, and eat whatever the family is having for dinner, no special baby food needed. Smoesh it, throw it, feed it to the dog (this is the golden years for your dog/vacuum cleaner), smear it all over themselves (baby might need a bigger bib), all over you (you might need a bib too), the baby chair (now you wish you opted for plastic not cloth), and most likely the walls too. If you have the time and patience for this, enjoy! Just take heed of the following. In my opinion, sweet potato chips, slices of par boiled apple, cucumber sticks etc, is great for 8- 10 months and onwards. Earlier than that, your baby will end up with small pieces of food, that his/her immature gut should now break down (normally we chew our food until it is fine before swallowing, the first step in digestion should happen in our mouths), which I feel is too much work for that little system. So, baby can go big with the mash you make them, let them feed themselves, feed you, hands, spoons, anything goes. Just stick to mashed food for the first two months, even if you start decreasing the smoothness over the next month or two, allowing baby to ‘chew’ some bigger pieces of veg left in the veg mash.

  1. What NOT to introduce

Baby cereals, I want to die when I see mom’s grabbing the rice cereal from the store shelf. Do yourself a favour and do some reading up on arsenic levels in baby cereals and the effect it has on their neurological development. Just because it says ‘baby food’, does not mean it is safe or healthy for your baby. You will become an expert label reader in the next year or so, check the label of anything you feed your child. NO sugar, NO additives or preservatives, NO wheat, NO gluten, NO msg, NO dairy, NO tartrazine, NO thickeners, NO baby cereals, did I mention NO SUGAR? It is illegal in some countries to feed your child sugar, before two years of age. Yes, I know, the grannies will faint and the grandads will have a fit. They will fight you all the way to the supreme court, almost convincing you, you are a borderline bad mother, depriving your baby from a childhood. Fun times. Stick to your guns. Sugar is evil, it will eat through your child’s gut, causing leaky gut syndrome, inflammation and ultimately a poor immune system. It might be exhausting to fight the masses on this topic, but it is still less effort than a permanently sick baby…less costly too. Seriously, I am giving away the biggest secret in my practise, it is the ace up my sleeve, that makes desperate mothers think I must be a magician, to resolve that snotty nose their child has had for a year, in just one week.

  1. When to introduce the good stuff.

After a week or two of sweet potato and butternut, you can introduce soft ripe pear or paw-paw. Always introduce one new food every three days, so you can be aware of any adverse reactions. From week 6, you can introduce other fruits such as peaches, prunes, guava etc. Soft steamed apple slices is also a favourite.  Try vegetables like pumpkin, avocado and other non-cruciferous veggies (gas producing). There is no set rules, but the following serves as a guideline:

  • After 8 months, try introducing the green veggies.
  • If all goes well, you can introduce meat and meat products from 9 months, staying away from any processed meat products and cow’s milk products.
  • After 10 months, you can add products like oats (try buying gluten free oats initially), maize, rice and yoghurt (organic, free range, double thick plain yoghurt).
  • The most common allergens are as follows: soya, fish, egg, peanuts, shellfish, wheat and milk. Take great care when introducing these foods, and where possible, wait until baby is 12 months and older, before trying these foods.

An allergic/ intolerance reaction can vary in presentation, from hives, eczema, runny tummy, hay fever and oedema (swelling of lips and tongue), to full on anaphylactic reaction, which is a medical emergency. Introducing foods one every three days, allows for better identification of non-immediate allergic reactions to specific foods.

           10.  Constipation

The most common ailments when introducing solids, is constipation. It makes perfect sense, not only are you changing the gut flora, but you are also giving the gut much harder work to do with each feed. Digesting solids is much more work than a liquid diet, and the constipation that follows is normal. There are a few tips to help alleviate a hard tummy, to be discussed in article to follow.

Enjoy this exciting time in your baby’s life. It is fun, it is messy, and it is necessary. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and experiment with baking yummy treats using healthy ingredient. Keep an eye on our website, for healthy treat ideas and recipes for baby and toddler.

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