Bringing Up a Baby
Birth - 6 months
From birth to 6 months all of the baby's nutritional needs can be met through breast milk. If baby is also receiving bottle feeds, mother will make less breast milk. The more baby breast-feeds, the more milk the new mother will produce. Feeding frequency should be as with breast-feeding - on demand. Left to themselves, bottle-fed babies consume little more than breast fed babies and are only slightly heavier.
At 6 months solid foods can be introduced but the weaning process should not be hurried if baby is content with breast milk alone. Pay attention to the signals baby gives out e.g. baby will probably be ready for solid food if they cry after breast-feedings or chew on the nipple. Even then, breastfeeding should be continued (alongside the introduction of solids) for as long as is comfortable for mother and baby. Weaning usually begins with smooth pureed foods (first stage) and progresses through to thicker purees, soft lumps and then soft finger foods (second stage). By the age of 9 months they will progress to mashed, chopped and then finger foods (third stage) and by a year should be eating most family food.
The best time to introduce solid foods to baby is just before breast or bottle-feeding. Starting solids is a very gradual process so be patient and go slowly. The classic 'first food' is mashed banana, which is very digestible, sweet and a good introduction to foods. Suitable first foods are baby rice or pureed vegetables. Fruits are usually introduced after vegetables in order to allow acceptance of vegetables before the sweet tastes of fruits is experienced. Other popular first foods are carrot, sweet potatoes, parsnip, apples, bananas and pears. When they have had enough babies will turn away their head, clamp their mouth shut or spit the food out! These are signs that they have had enough.
When introducing solids to baby offer one type of food only and then observe how well it is tolerated. Start with around 1-2 tsp of food and gradually increase up to 6 tsp. How is fed to baby depends entirely on how much they will eat. A rough guide might be a quarter of a very ripe mushy banana for a few days (or for a week) and the following week another soft fruit such as apple sauce. This gives the baby's digestive system time to get used to each new food before the introduction of additional ones. If two or more foods are introduced at the same time and baby has diarrhoea, colic or other digestive problems, it will be difficult to identify the culprit. The foods during this first stage should be bland with a smooth consistency.
If the baby is not interested the first few times solids are introduced it is advised to try again in another week. When baby is ready they will let you know. Baby might be hungry at any time of the day or night. Babies cannot tell the time but they know what they need.
Prepare cooked vegetables plainly, do not add salt, sugar or spices. Good introductory vegetables are parsnips, sweet potatoes, yams and carrots. Still start feeds with breast or bottle but now very gradually increase the amount of solid food given afterwards. Solids should only be given by spoon or hand and never added to a bottle of feed.
Typical feed for one day at stage 1
- 1st feed - breast or bottle
- 2nd feed - breast or bottle
- 3rd feed - 1-2 tsp baby rice mixed with 1 tbs milk from feed or 1-2 tsp unsweetened fruit puree
- 4th feed - breast or bottle
- 5th feed - breast or bottle
Try and move gradually from solid food at one feed in the day to solid food at two and then three feeds. Follow baby's appetite and move at baby's pace.
Avoid all baby foods that contain sugar or artificial sweeteners. Sugar contains no vitamins, minerals or protein and can lead to obesity, both now and later in the child's life. Sweetened foods also confuse and seduce the appetite tending to satisfy hunger quickly and displace healthful foods. Do not add salt to foods.
Typical feed for one day at stage 2:
- 1st feed - breast or bottle
- 2nd feed - breast or bottle followed by 1-2 tsp baby rice mixed with 1 tbs milk from feed or 1-2 tsp unsweetened fruit puree
- 3rd feed - breast or bottle followed by 1-2 tsp vegetable puree or 1-2 tsp pureed fruit
- 4th feed - breast or bottle followed by 1-2 tsp pureed fruit
- 5th feed - breast or bottle
Around 7 months of age baby should now be ready for well-cooked wholegrain cereals such as pureed lentils, rice, lima beans and weetabix. These foods should be mushy in consistency. If the family has a history of wheat, soya or corn allergies, start with rice or oat cereals. A small amount of mashed banana or breast milk can be added to the cooked cereal for easy introduction.
From 8-10 months of age gradually adjust baby's feeds to fit in with the rest of the family's meal times. Baby should be used to a spoon and experimenting with food that has soft lumps or is mashed e.g. mashed potato. Bake potatoes whole to preserve vitamins and mash with a small amount of water or breast milk. Try mashing them with cooked beetroot to make them pink, something that delights babies of this age. Baby will be ready for fresh fruits e.g. pears, peaches, plums and melons. Try finger foods such as toast or rusks.
Never leave baby alone whilst eating or drinking. This is especially important when children are just learning to feed themselves. They could easily choke whilst your back is turned. Avoid hard chunks or sticks of vegetables to children under 3 because of the danger of choking.
Baby may also be taking a drink from a cup. Drinks between meals should be confined to cooled boiled water or breast/formula milk. Diluted fruit juices or baby drinks can be given as part of a meal and the Department of Health recommend a dilution of one part fruit juice to 10 parts water to reduce the risk of tooth decay. Children's teeth are at most risk from tooth decay. Babies should never be left with sugary drinks or juices in feeding bottles or reservoir feeders.
Typical feed for one day at 8-10 months
- On waking - breast or bottle or cooled boiled water
- Breakfast - stewed or fresh fruit, baby rice or breakfast cereal, toast fingers with margarine/yeast extract, breast or bottle
- Lunch - cooked vegetable puree with protein
At 10-12 months the texture of foods can be chopped, finely grated or blended. Baby is likely to be holding a feeding spoon and trying to feed on their own. They should be receiving a variety of vegetables and after a tolerance to various foods is established, they can be offered blended salads. Try blending avocado, tofu, apple-sauce and cooked greens with nut butters. The introduction of peanuts and nuts to the diet of infants from allergic families should be delayed until three years of age or at an age advised by their medical practitioner. For infants from families with no known allergy there is no need to specifically delay the introduction of peanuts.
During this time period well-cooked whole grains e.g. strained rice, barley and oatmeal as well as high protein cereals e.g. soya beans and wheat germ, may be introduced. The infant should be eating a wide variety of vegetables now including spinach and cabbage, along with root vegetables and fruits.
From 12 months of age infants can share the same meals as the rest of the family with additional snacks in-between. Add legumes (peas and beans) to the menu, but be sure all beans are cooked until quite soft and the skins (especially soya) are removed. A thin split-pea soup is a good introduction to legume protein. Check stools to see whether the beans are being digested well. If the stool smells sour, if the baby's bottom becomes reddened or irritated, or if parts of beans are seen, wait a while before trying legumes again. Some infants do not tolerate whole legumes until age two or three, however, other soy products (such as soya milk and tofu) and grains will meet the child's nutritional needs. Hummus, made with chickpeas and tahini (sesame seed butter), is a tasty protein and calcium-rich food that can be used to augment an infant's nutrient intake. Another winner is avocado, rich in riboflavin, essential fatty acids, potassium and copper. Small pieces of ripe avocado can be eaten as finger food, or blended with water or fruit juice.
Don't forget how much children, even young ones, love noodles. Pastas, enriched with artichoke or other vegetable flours and served with gravies and sauces, provide energy and protein.
Also try to get the infant at this age to enjoy raw vegetables such as carrots and cucumbers. Grate vegetables finely or try putting a dab of peanut butter, tahini or almond butter on vegetables to entice the infant to eat. Plain tofu and rice cakes are other healthful snacks.
Typical feed for one day at 12+ months
- Breakfast - cereal or Tahini on toast, breast or bottle-feed
- Lunch - mixed vegetable dish with a pulse base and a variety of vegetables, rice pudding or fruit, water or diluted fruit juice
- Tea - baked apple and rice, soya yoghurt
- Evening - breast or bottle feed
Throughout these early months of the infant's life criticism may be endured from friends, family or the medical establishment that the diet is 'reckless'; or 'experimental; but be assured that it is a good healthy start to life. Many health professionals now recognise that a vegan diet can be both nutritionally adequate and health promoting for both adults and children.
Whilst infants can be offered foods at an earlier age than 6 months, it is not recommended. This is because the baby's developing system may be unable to cope with solids before this time. However, some parents choose to introduce solids earlier than 6 months in which case it has to be stressed that solids should not be introduced into the diet before 17 weeks. There is the danger that introducing solids too early to an immature system can lead to allergies and food intolerances.