Through each stage of your baby’s growth and development the nutrients and energy they need are changing. It’s important to make sure that your baby is receiving all the nourishment they need to support every stage of their development. Like energy needs, a baby’s needs for protein, vitamins and minerals increase with age.
0–6 months: During their first 6 months, breast milk – or infant formula if you are not breastfeeding – provides all the nutrients, energy and fluids your growing baby needs. It’s recommended that babies be exclusively breast or formula-fed up to around 6 months of age.
6–12 months: From around 6 months of age you can start to introduce solid foods which will provide your baby with the extra nourishment they need at this next stage of their growth.
12–24 months: Once your child is comfortably eating solids, a wide range of foods should be offered to ensure adequate nutrition. Toddlers are notorious for being picky eaters, and you may need to offer new foods as many as 8–15 times before your child accepts the food.
Your baby will begin to show signs that they are ready for solids at around 6 months of age. When your baby is ready for solids you may notice that your baby:
It’s important to remember that solids don’t replace breastfeeding or infant formula. Your baby needs breast milk and/or formula along with solids until they are at least 12 months of age. If solid food replaces breast milk or formula too quickly, your baby could miss out on important nutrition.
From around 6 months of age, you can begin to introduce solids and gradually wean your baby from the breast or bottle. When you decide it’s time to introduce solids, it’s a good idea to wait until a time when you’re not rushed, and you and your baby are both relaxed.
It’s traditional to start your baby on rice cereal or a similar cereal, but for most babies you can start with any pureed solid food. Some good alternatives to rice cereal are pureed bananas, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, apples, peaches or pears.
Try the following when you’re first introducing solids:
Another approach that is gaining popularity is baby led weaning. The main idea behind baby led weaning is that the baby is control of what they’re eating right from the start. Baby led weaning foods are the same as whatever the family is eating, rather than specific “baby foods”,
If you decide to try baby led weaning, it’s important to cook the food until it’s soft, cut your baby’s food into very small pieces and monitor them closely to ensure they don’t choke.
As your baby is weaned from the breast or bottle, they will need to obtain more and more of the nutrients they need from solid foods. Maintaining your baby’s iron stores is particularly important when they begin to transition to solids, as by the age of 6 months the iron stores they built up in the womb will begin to run low.
Some babies may develop a food allergy during their first year of life. A food allergy happens when a baby’s immune system reacts to a normally harmless food protein as though it’s a threat. An allergic reaction is the body’s way of trying to fight the “dangerous” food protein.
Food allergy of any type occurs in up to 1 in 10 babies under the age of 12 months. The most common food allergies in children are to cow's milk, eggs, nuts, seafood, soy, and wheat. Most babies will grow out of their allergies as their digestive and immune systems mature.
Food allergy symptoms can occur immediately after eating a food and include hives, mild swelling of your baby’s lips, eyes and face, a runny or blocked nose, sneezing or an itchy mouth and irritated throat. Sometimes your baby may experience nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea.
In rare cases, babies may have a more severe reaction, causing them to have difficulty breathing or appear “floppy”. If you suspect your baby is having a severe allergic reaction, call an ambulance immediately.
Not all allergic reactions are immediate as sometimes your baby’s body can take longer to react to an allergen. Delayed allergic reactions are harder to spot, but can cause reflux, colic, diarrhoea/constipation, or rash, which is common in babies with a cow’s milk protein allergy.
All of these symptoms are common in babies, and an allergy is only one possible explanation. If you suspect your child may have a food allergy, talk to your doctor to get a proper diagnosis. They may advise a food intolerance elimination diet to confirm your baby is reacting to a particular food allergen. At present, there is no food allergy treatment apart from removing the allergenic food from the diet. Fortunately most children will eventually grow out of their food allergy.
Australian guidelines now recommend that all babies, including those at high risk of allergy, be given potentially allergenic foods before the age of 12 months.
When you first introduce these foods, give them to your baby in the morning so that you can watch them and easily respond to any reactions. Cooked eggs and peanut butter should be given in small amounts to start with. Try mixing a ¼ of a baby spoon into your baby’s usual food and gradually increase the amount if your baby doesn’t react.
If you notice any symptoms of allergy or any change in your baby’s well-being (e.g. becoming very unsettled) soon after giving a new food, they could be having an allergic reaction and you should seek medical advice. For severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing or becoming pale and floppy, call an ambulance immediately.
Further information about food allergies in babies is available from the ASCIA website at www.allergy.org.au
Breastfeeding is best for babies and has many benefits, such as protecting your baby from infection while their immune system develops. It is important that you eat a healthy, balanced diet in preparation for and during breastfeeding. Infant formula is designed to replace breast milk when an infant is not breastfed. Combining breast and bottle feeding in your baby’s first weeks of life may reduce your supply of breast milk, and reversing a decision not to breastfeed is difficult. The social and financial implications of using infant formula should be considered when choosing a method of feeding. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when preparing and using infant formula, including proper sterilisation of bottles and using boiled water. Improper use of an infant formula may make your baby ill. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health care professional for advice about feeding your baby.
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