This fortnight qualified naturopath and nutritionalist Helen Ridge of Alive Natural Health shares her abundant knowledge on baby's first solids and answers common questions such as when is my baby ready for solids, what can I start with and how much, introducing allergens and key nutrients.
Helen, specialising in women’s health, kids’ nutrition, gut health & skin, is passionate about bringing the finest possible healthcare to her community and endeavours to take a balanced approach, infusing scientific, evidence-based practice with traditional therapies to achieve the best possible outcome. She uses functional pathology testing and holistic techniques and believes in working with medical doctors to build a new integrated health model.
I am so excited to share this huge and utterly informative piece with you all and hope that you pass it on to other Mama's in this stage of their journey or better yet, get in touch with Helen to book an appointment if you have further questions or concerns (you can find her over in our directory under resources).
A Wholefoods Baby
Get ready for mess! Are you and your baby ready to embark on the culinary journey of first foods? It doesn’t need to be daunting if you follow a whole foods diet that is rich in quality proteins, good fats and complex carbohydrates. Read below and I’ll take you through what you need to know.
How & when do I feed my baby?
How do I know if my baby is ready for solids?
Well, every baby is different when it comes to starting solids, there is no magic number. It doesn’t matter if they are a bigger or smaller baby, start by observing your baby for developmental signs.
Look for signs such as:
How much should I start feeding my baby?
A question I get asked a lot is, how much should I be feeding my child? Good question. To begin with, food is complementary and breast milk or formula is the most important source of nutrition. So, start with just a taste, about 1 tsp, and increase until your baby eats 1-2 tbsps. First foods can be smoothed, mashed, pureed, or offered in soft pieces. You do not have to puree, but some foods are easier to give pureed, such as meat. After a couple of weeks, slowly increase the texture.
Puree or baby led weaning (BLW)?
There are pro’s and cons to both. BLW encourages independence from an early age, but there is some research to suggest babies who are exclusively feed using BLW are lower in key nutrients such as iron. If you choose BLW for your baby, it is still important to spoon feed important nutrients.
Nourish your baby with wholefoods
When solids are introduced into the diet, it is important that the food choices are nutrient dense to provide enough quality nutrition for your rapidly growing baby. Focus on wholefoods and try to avoid processed and refined foods. Also try to use organic where you can, as the toxic burden of pesticides build up in a baby’s system.
Commercial baby foods are not a suitable replacement for home made fresh food. This includes supermarket baby food & pouches – they are packed full of fruit to make them palatable, which means they are full of sugar. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that sugar intake should not exceed 5-10% of total daily calorie intake for babies, children or adults. For a child, this is roughly 3 teaspoons or 12 grams. If you look at the nutrition panel of most baby food pouches, you’ll find a lot of the fruit-based ones contain around a whooping 15 grams of sugar. If you need to feed your baby with commercial store bought food, choose a vegetable based one with some protein such as quinoa or meat that is in a glass jar or in plastic-free and aluminium-free packaging.
Your baby’s digestion
Babies produce only small amounts of the pancreatic enzyme amylase and are therefore unable to process grains. Do not start your introduction of solids with rice cereal, it is a dead food and not a suitable choice as a baby’s first food. It is highly refined, high in carbohydrates, devoid of nutrients as well as being bland tasting. It is usually recommended as it is a source of iron, however this is only because it has been fortified with iron. White rice cereal is inflammatory & rice cereal and other rice-based products can contain high concentrations of arsenic. Arsenic is a heavy metal and known neurotoxin, which has been linked to neurodevelopment problems.
Infants do however produce proteolytic enzymes to digest proteins. They also have digestive stomach juices such as hydrochloric acid, which breaks down proteins and fats. Suitable first foods are foods such as egg yolk or avocado – these are great to try mixed with a little breast milk. Foods like cereals, breads and grains are challenging for a baby to digest, so should be one of the last to be introduced.
All babies are born with a leaky gut lining so that they benefit from their mother’s colostrum. The leaky gut allows babies to absorb nutrients quickly and it boosts immunity.
All babies need to be given allergenic foods in the first year of life. Delaying the introduction of these foods may increase the infant’s risk of allergy and atopic disease. Food allergies and sensitivities can present in many ways from eczema, cradle cap, asthma, stomach pains, gas, bloating, constipation, nasal / chest congestion, reflux, unusual stools (soft, green, yellow or foul smelling), sleep and behaviour disturbances.
Top allergen foods:
Offer one of the top allergen foods at a time and look for a reaction. I found with my children it was best to try the allergen food after a milk feed in the morning or lunch, this way you have the day to watch for any potential reactions.
Important nutrients to consider
Your baby relies on a range of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to grow and develop. Until now, milk (be it breast or formula) has given your baby everything it needs. I’ve highlighted a few key nutrients below that need to be focused on, just a little more than the others.
Formula fed babies are often lower in beneficial bacteria than breast fed. It would be my priority to establish a good microbiome in formula fed babies especially if they have signs of eczema, cradle cap or recurrent infections. A breast fed baby on the other hand, provided antibiotics haven’t been used and was delivered vaginally, will be requiring iron rich food around the 6 month mark as the iron stored in the liver from birth will be starting to deplete. Vitamin D levels could potentially be low also if the last month of pregnancy or delivery was in the winter months.
Around the age of 6 months, your baby will require more iron than any other stage of life. Iron deficiencies under 2 can have irreversible effects on brain development & learning. A baby starts to build their iron stores in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, and delayed cord clamping (later than 1 min, ideally 3 min) helps boost these iron stores that will typically last 6 months. Because breast milk is a poor source of iron and stores are beginning to deplete, it is important to start with iron rich foods first.
Fortified iron (found in commercial foods, such as rice cereal) is hard to absorb, and can lead to constipation so your best option is start with some of the foods below:
Red meat (organic)
NB: Heme is easier to absorb than non-heme sources. Pair with Vitamin C to increase absorption
Your babies’ brain is about 60% fat, and so is human breastmilk (mother nature knows how to provide for our babies). In the first 2 years of life, your babies’ brain is going through enormous development. DHA supports this growth and development, and adequate levels help to support cognition, social, and physical development. Here are some top omega foods:
The vitamin D content of breast milk will depend on the maternal mothers vitamin D status, which is often very low. Especially if the last few months of pregnancy were during winter. If you are based in the likes of Melbourne or NZ, supplementation in the last trimester is a must during the winter months. Vitamin D is essential for brain development, mood, sleep and modulating the immune system.
We need adequate vitamin D to absorb calcium, as these two important nutrients support each other. They are required for the development of strong bones, teeth & muscle function.
Exclusively breast-fed babies, receive roughly 32g of calcium per 100ml, but this will depend on the mother’s dietary and supplemental intake. Infant formulas contain similar amounts of calcium to breast milk as they are formulated this way, though absorption may vary. If the mother’s diet is high in calcium rich foods and she is taking a pregnancy or breastfeeding multivitamin, you need not worry; your baby is likely getting all they need. If the mother’s diet is lacking in calcium, the mother can draw on calcium stored in her bones, but she must ensure this calcium is replaced to prevent a decline in her bone density. See calcium rich foods below for sources.
Offering your baby cow’s milk too soon may inhibit the absorption of iron, so offer closer to 10-12 months rather than earlier
Tropical fruits are also great first foods for babies as they contain enzymes that aid in the digestion process. Add papaya, melons, banana, pineapple, mango, kiwifruit to purees.
Best First foods
Pureed & mashed foods
Introducing textures and flavours. A variety of nutrient dense foods pureed and mashed as needed. The more variety, the better chance you’ll have at avoiding a fussy eater.
Fingers & family meals
Introducing more texture and offering finger foods. This is also a crucial window to introduce flavour. Try herbs and spices, sour and bitter foods. Pureed & mashed as needed. Include foods with a variety of different colours, textures and flavours.
I am so excited to share this fortnights beautiful journal with Charlotte from The Living Doula. Many of us have heard the term 'doula' but I've found many Mama's are still a little unsure of the immeasurable support they can offer us, from fertility, pregnancy, birth and into our post natal period, on this often challenging journey. Here, Charlotte shares her take on this important role and offers some very important lessons we should all be taking stock of, mother or not.
We are honoured to welcome Nature Baby to our journal this month. As kind as they are clever, Jacob and Georgia Faull, founders of world renowned baby-wear brand Nature Baby are in a league of their own, paving the way for ethical and organic business. A wee ways back I sat down with the dynamic duo for my book Wild Kinship; Conversations with Conscious Entrepreneurs and am excited to be sharing 5 questions for 5 minutes about this incredible brand and the work that they do.