DIY Baby Food
Every parent of a new baby has thoughts on how they plan to feed their new bundle of joy.
Knowing what and how to feed your baby are things all parents must consider, and there’s no shortage of options. But how do you know what is best for your baby? My husband and I have faced those questions for each of our five children.
Fortunately for us, and for all parents who are wondering and worrying, there are great resources available to help. So congratulations on the newest member of your family, and read on for some basics on feeding options for your little one.
Breast Is Best
For the first six months of life, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding as the sole source of nutrition for your baby. Breast milk contains all the nutrients that your baby needs, plus some components that reduce your baby’s risk for certain illnesses.
Follow these basic guidelines when breast-feeding:
- Feed your baby whenever they’re hungry, about every one to three hours in the beginning. Allow them to nurse until they stop and then offer the other breast. If you are feeding baby expressed breast milk, feed them about one ounce of breast milk for each hour that it’s been between feedings.
- Breastfeeding isn’t always easy, so don’t feel badly if it takes time for you or your baby to get the hang of it. You should ask your healthcare provider if you have questions, or ask for a referral to a lactation specialist.
- If you supplement with formula to feed your baby, make sure to choose one fortified with iron. If you are uncertain which to choose, your provider can help give you some options.
- Don’t put cereal in your baby’s bottle (unless recommended by your pediatrician). It just adds empty, unnecessary calories and can lead to weight problems.
- Make sure you are eating and drinking enough. A pregnant mother needs an extra 300 calories a day for her developing baby, but a nursing mother needs an extra 500 calories a day to produce breast milk for her baby.
Breast-feeding also has benefits for moms, including reducing the risk of certain cancers and osteoporosis, helping mom burn additional calories and causing beneficial hormonal and physical changes. You can continue breastfeeding after you start introducing solid foods until your baby is a year old, or even beyond that. The World Health Organization recommends breast-feeding until at least a year and as long as mutually desirable after that.
If you are unable to breast-feed, there are many good formulas available to feed your baby. You can discuss with your healthcare provider which one may be best, and it may take trying more than one to find out which one works best for your baby. Just as with breast-feeding, feed your baby when they show signs of hunger.
Build Your Baby’s Diet
When your baby reaches six months of age, you can start introducing them to “solid” foods. It’s important to note that this shouldn’t be the only source of nutrition for your baby. Breast milk or formula should continue as their main source of nutrition until they’re close to a year old. For now, solid food is just practice.
What you feed your baby now will help build their nutrition habits for the rest of their lives, so it’s important to start them out right. Here are some tips that can help you along the way:
- Keep it simple: Making your own baby food with steamed vegetables (either fresh or frozen) is a perfect place to start. Simply mash them up very well or puree them in a blender. Don’t feel like you need to add any seasonings to them. Your baby doesn’t need them. Beware of canned foods too, because of high levels of sodium.
- Baby food (in jars at the store) is also available in stages, with different consistencies depending on your child’s age and eating ability. Pick and choose which is best for your baby.
- Take it slow: Don’t be frustrated if food mostly ends up on your baby’s bib at first. Babies have to get the hang of everything, including eating. And if your baby wants to grab the spoon, let them have one of their own. It gives them practice with feeding themselves and coordination.
- Baby steps: Certain foods should be postponed until your baby is ready for them. Meats, nuts and eggs should wait until your baby has some teeth. Cow’s milk dairy and honey should not be introduced until your baby is at least one year old.
- If at first you don’t succeed: Don’t give up on a food just because your baby doesn’t seem to like it once or twice. It can take a dozen or more times over several months for your baby to develop a taste for something. This can help them develop a taste for things like veggies.
- Teach healthy eating habits: Help your baby learn to take their time eating, slow down between bites and stop when they’re full. Learning these habits now will help them for the rest of their life.
When it comes to food, there are some things every parent needs to know. These include how to approach allergies, choking hazards and warning signs to watch for in your child.
To prevent your child from choking, make sure food items are soft, easy to swallow and cut up to be small enough to swallow. Spherical or round foods, like peas or blueberries, should be popped before giving them to your child.
Certain food items shouldn’t be given to children younger than 4 years old because of the risk of choking. These include:
- Whole grapes (Cut them into quarters if you give them to your child)
- Hot dogs (also should be cut into smaller pieces)
- Nuts & seeds
- Chunks of meat or cheese
- Hard or sticky candy
- Chunks of peanut butter
- Chunks of raw vegetables
- Chewing gum
When introducing a baby to new foods, only try one food at a time over three to five days. This makes it easy to identify foods that cause any kind of allergic reaction. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommends introducing your baby to any of the typical allergy-causing foods around six months of age, after other less-allergenic foods have been introduced.
The most common causes of food allergies include:
- Cow’s milk
- Tree nuts (walnuts, pistachios, pecans and cashews)
- Shellfish (shrimp or lobster)
- Peanuts (which aren’t actually nuts, but are legumes, similar to peas or beans)
For mild allergy symptoms, call your healthcare provider and ask for advice. They can also advise you on dosages for over-the-counter medications to treat allergy symptoms. The following allergy symptoms are usually not severe, but you should contact your provider for guidance:
These allergy symptoms are very serious and you should call 911 if your child has any of these:
- Loss of consciousness
- Throat tightness or breathing problems
The good news about food allergies is that many children eventually grow out of them. Talk to your provider about allergy testing for your child and how to handle any allergies that appear.
It’s also important to remember certain fresh vegetables can contain nitrates, which your baby can’t easily process and can become sick from. Stick with commercially prepared versions of these, which are tested to ensure they have limited nitrate levels, and ask your provider when these become safer to feed to your baby. These include:
- Green beans
Other food-related tips include:
- Be careful of the temperature of foods you are giving your baby. Microwaves can heat unevenly, so be sure there are no hotspots by stirring thoroughly and letting hot items cool.
- Don’t forget to make sure your baby is getting enough of certain nutrients like Vitamin D. Talk to your provider about what your baby needs.
If you want more information on the wide world of baby nutrition, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics information website, www.healthychildren.org, or simply talk to your primary care provider.
Sarah Osborne, APRN is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner with Owensboro Health Medical Group. Request an appointment with Sarah Osborne.
This article first appeared in the March 2016 edition of Owensboro Parent magazine.