[Guest post by Naturopathic Physician, Dr. Michael Smith, founder of Carolinas Natural Health Center. ]
The process of introducing foods for the first time to your baby needs to be thoughtful. We live in a time where we are seeing and explosion of allergies, asthma, eczema, and other immune hyper-activity. This is in part due to a dramatic shift in the food that we eat. With more foods being genetically modified (GMOs), treated with chemicals, and processed in a way that produces new proteins that have never existed before in nature, our body’s immune system is constantly under assault and at times unsure how to respond. The food we eat is the one thing we have the greatest control over, and it has a significant impact on how our immune system responds. I have put together this food introduction schedule as a way to minimize allergic reactions by our little ones developing immune system. It is broken down by months starting with six months based on what nutrients are most needed at each stage, and which foods are best tolerated at those ages.
There are several signs you want to look for before starting this process.
- Your baby should be able to sit up on their own,
- They should show and interest in food,
- They have developed their pincer grip (index and thumb),
- They have lost their tongue-thrust reflex,
- They may have teeth.
These are good signs that your baby maybe ready to eat food.
You want to keep the foods simple and only introduce 1 new food at a time, giving it 3-4 days before trying another new food. The quality of their food and preparation of it is important as well.
Infant Food Introduction
Breastfeeding for the first 6 months is one of the greatest gifts you can give your baby. Breast milk provides all the energy and nutrients needed for healthy growth, including antibodies and beneficial bacteria which help build their immune system. Breastfed babies have decreased rates of eczema, allergies and asthma. Babies have immature digestive systems, and we have found that introducing solid foods before 6 months can cause food allergies.
Solid foods should be introduced when your baby can no longer get enough energy and nutrients from breast milk or formula alone. As your baby becomes more active, their calorie needs increase beyond what they get in breast milk or formula. The digestive system is mature enough to digest a range of food around 6-8 months. Wait until your baby is very interested in solid foods and exhibits signs of readiness including: appearance of first teeth, sitting up and ability to push food away. It is best to start with foods that are easy to digest and relatively hypoallergenic, although breast milk or formula should continue to be their primary source of nutrition for the first year. These are low allergy foods:
It is best to wait until 18 months, when your baby’s digestive system has become more mature, to introduce foods which typically cause allergic reactions. If a food causes problems, wait 4-6 weeks before trying it again. Contact your doctor if your baby reacts to the food a second time.
When your baby is just starting solid foods, they will probably only manage to eat 1/2 tablespoon-sized portion the first few feedings. As your baby becomes accustomed to eating solids, you will gradually increase the portion sizes. Remember that breast milk and/or infant formula provide most of your baby’s nutrition.
In communities around the world, the first food is the local staple. Grains, roots and starchy fruits provide the additional calories your active baby needs. Around 6 months, the iron stores your baby was born with begin to decline, and additional iron from foods is needed. Vitamin C is also important, as it aids iron absorption. Your baby’s first food does not have to be cereal, in fact, pureed sweet potato or yam is a great first food. Continue to introduce a variety of low allergy vegetables followed by fruits to provide the additional nutrients your baby needs. Everything must be cooked and pureed, with the exception of a few fruits, like banana and avocado. Choose organic foods as much as possible.
Iron-containing foods that are more complex/allergenic can be introduced between 9-12 months. Foods containing more fiber and protein are necessary. Your baby also needs additional zinc for immune function. You can increase variety for your baby by combining foods you have already introduced. Spices can also be included at this time, but please avoid adding salt or sugar. Your baby is ready for more texture, and foods can be softly mashed or chopped into small pieces. Raw fruits can be introduced at this stage, and your baby is ready for finger foods they have established a good pincher grasp.
Your baby should be very active and cutting molars around this time, and additional protein is very important. Honey can now be introduced, but please use it sparingly.
More complex/allergenic foods can be introduced at this time, as your baby’s digestive system is more mature. Your baby should now be eating the same thing as the rest of the family.
Do not introduce peanuts/peanut butter before 3 years of age. Cow dairy products, including yogurt and cheese, are not recommended at any time and should be avoided.
Dr Michael Smith, N.D.
1126 Sam Newell Road,
Matthews, NC 28105
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