Nutrition during the first few years of life plays a significant role in how a child's brain develops. Parents must learn the best nutrition for their baby, along with how and when to introduce new foods. Along with ensuring proper nutrition, parents should always monitor their baby to watch for signs of food allergies.
The Best Food for Newborns
Newborn babies require only breast milk or formula for the first six months of life. Breast milk is the best option for babies, as it provides antibodies and full nutrition, along with coating the intestines to allow the infant to properly pass stool. If mothers aren't able to or choose not to breastfeed, the next best option is a formula that is as close to breast milk as possible. During the first six months, breast milk or formula are all that are required - water is not necessary and can be dangerous.
Introducing Solid Foods
Solid foods should be introduced into an infants diet beginning at six months of age. It is recommended that parents begin by introducing grains - such as rice cereal, then pureed vegetables, pureed fruit and finally pureed meats. Parents should introduce only one new food at a time, every three to five days. This allows enough time to watch for an allergic reaction to each different type of food. At six months, a small amount of water can be given in a cup with one meal each day.
By seven or eight months, a baby can move on to eating mashed foods instead of pureed foods. Around nine months parents can begin to offer finger foods. Good choices for finger foods include strips of toast and vegetables cooked until soft and then cut into long pieces that are easily gripped. Pieces of cheese and yogurt can be introduced around ten months, but whole milk shouldn't be offered until 12 months of age. By 12 months, parents can offer a small drink, such as water or whole milk, with each meal during the day.
Foods that are common allergens should be avoided until after 12 months of age. Common allergens include nuts, milk, corn, eggs, soy, fish and shellfish. Honey should be avoided until one year, as it poses a risk of botulism. Other foods to avoid would be anything with a choking risk, such as popcorn, seeds and small pieces of food.
How Much do Babies Need to Eat?
Babies have small stomachs and do not require as much food as older children. Parents should offer small meals throughout the day, but never force feed a child. A baby will eat if he is hungry, and turn down a meal if he is not hungry. When solid food is first introduced, a baby will probably only eat once or twice a day and nurse or bottle feed the rest of the time. By 12 months of age, parents should be offering three meals and two or three snacks during the day, along with breast milk or formula.
How to Prevent Food Allergies
To prevent food allergies in babies, parents can take a few different steps. First, if the baby will be breastfeed the mother should know that the baby will be less likely to develop allergies the longer she breastfeeds. Waiting to introduce solids until at least six months helps a baby's digestive system mature enough that the chance of food allergies is reduced.
Parents should keep track of each food that they introduce, along with any possible allergy signs that go along with each food. If they note signs such as diarrhea, vomiting or rashes after eating a certain food, they should mention it to the family doctor and decide what step to take next. The doctor may perform a scratch test to confirm whether or not there is an allergy to the food.
As long as parents follow the recommendations for baby nutrition, they will find that their child quickly learns to enjoy new types of foods. The first six months go quickly, so parents shouldn't rush it - by waiting six months they will ensure that their infant doesn't have a negative reaction to table foods. By learning to recognize the signs of food allergies, parents will be able to figure out which foods their baby can and cannot eat.