First foods

A nu­tri­tion ex­pert ex­plains the many mer­its of baby-led feed­ing

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Contents -

Ba­bies have very ef­fec­tive ap­petite mon­i­tors.

Nu­tri­tion ex­pert and mum of two Vanessa Clark­son is a huge ad­vo­cate for healthy eat­ing and has re­cently launched her first book Real Food for

Ba­bies & Tod­dlers. We asked her to share her best tips for feed­ing ba­bies safely, with nour­ish­ing, de­li­cious foods.

Q What are the ben­e­fits of baby-led feed­ing?

AWhile there are ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits to ba­bies feed­ing them­selves, most no­tably in pro­vid­ing the op­por­tu­nity to prac­tise their mo­tor skills, there are many other pos­i­tives that are per­haps more sub­tle. Ba­bies learn to like foods through a cou­ple of routes – firstly, by be­ing re­peat­edly of­fered foods so that they be­come fa­mil­iar and, sec­ondly, by ob­serv­ing what oth­ers around them are eat­ing.

We know that there is an early win­dow from around the six- to 12-month mark when ba­bies are more open to ex­plor­ing new tastes and tex­tures, and by in­tro­duc­ing real, whole, recog­nis­able food from the get-go we are mak­ing the most of that im­por­tant time. As such, if given the op­por­tu­nity, ba­bies are very quick to learn what a broc­coli flo­ret looks, smells and tastes like, which should trans­late into a lik­ing for it.

Shar­ing one family meal has clear ben­e­fits from a prac­ti­cal point of view, but it is also re­in­forces to a learner eater what is safe and ac­cept­able to eat, when they are watch­ing you eat the same thing.

Fi­nally, al­low­ing ba­bies to set their own pace at meal­times en­ables them to re­tain con­trol of what and how much they want to eat. Ba­bies and young chil­dren have very ef­fec­tive ap­petite mon­i­tors that will en­sure they eat enough to fuel their growth and de­vel­op­ment.

Q What age should you start your baby with self-feed­ing?

AI would en­cour­age you to look for signs that your baby is ready to self-feed. These signs in­clude the abil­ity to sit up­right com­fort­ably, with lit­tle or no sup­port, and be­ing able to reach and grasp for food. Most ba­bies will have de­vel­oped these skills by around six months. Start­ing first foods be­fore a baby can self-feed means that only purées can be of­fered from a spoon by a par­ent.

Q Does it mat­ter if your baby doesn’t seem to be eat­ing that much?

AIn the very early days of first foods it's un­likely your baby will man­age to eat much. Their feed­ing skills need time to de­velop and their nu­tri­tional needs will mostly be met by breast milk. In time, and with am­ple op­por­tu­nity to prac­tise, they will start to eat more, but re­mem­ber that mak­ing a mess is all part of the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for lit­tle food ex­plor­ers. I'd rec­om­mend be­ing guided more by your baby's over­all sense of well­be­ing. Ask your­self whether they are grow­ing and thriv­ing in a broader sense.

Q What are some good foods to start off with?

AGood starter foods are those that are long, thin and rel­a­tively soft, of­ten called finger foods. These en­able a baby to eas­ily hold one half and put the other half in their mouth. Even with­out teeth, most ba­bies can ef­fec­tively munch soft foods with their hard gums from around six months old. Ideas in­clude soft fruit pieces such as ba­nana, orange seg­ments (no pips), very ripe peach or pear, sticks of cooked veg­eta­bles such as car­rot or zuc­chini, slow-cooked strips of meat or poul­try, strips of omelette or toast 'sol­diers'.

Q What are some good op­tions for older ba­bies?

ABy 12 months their self-feed­ing skills will be well-honed and prob­a­bly aided by some teeth. Older ba­bies will also be re­ly­ing more on their food than breast milk for nour­ish­ment. Con­tinue to reg­u­larly of­fer a va­ri­ety of whole­some family foods to keep up with their big ap­petites but small tum­mies. Three meals and two or three snacks is about right for this age.

Q What are some foods to avoid?

AUn­less a baby has a di­ag­nosed sen­si­tiv­ity to a food, there is very lit­tle re­stric­tion in what you can of­fer them. The most im­por­tant thing to be mind­ful of is chok­ing and en­sur­ing that foods of­fered are age-ap­pro­pri­ate. So, hard foods such as raw car­rot or ap­ple, or very small foods such as whole nuts that can get lodged in the throat should not be given. Ba­bies un­der one year should also not be of­fered honey in any form be­cause of the risk of bot­u­lism.

Q How can you pre­vent chok­ing?

APro­vided that the foods of­fered are age-ap­pro­pri­ate, re­search shows that self-feed­ing ba­bies are at no greater risk of chok­ing than ba­bies fed from a spoon. Gag­ging is a com­mon re­sponse re­gard­less of how a baby is fed, and learn­ing to recog­nise the dif­fer­ence be­tween gag­ging and chok­ing is im­por­tant. Pae­di­atric first-aid cour­ses are a good idea for par­ents.

You can min­imise the risk of chok­ing by of­fer­ing food shapes and tex­tures that your baby can man­age. Be mind­ful that ba­bies take longer to eat, so plan for meal­times that are free from dis­trac­tion and not rushed. A baby should not be slumped in their seat or too tired to fo­cus on what they are do­ing.

VANESSA’S BOOK REAL FOOD FOR

BA­BIES & TOD­DLERS (MUR­DOCH BOOKS, $35) IS AVAIL­ABLE FROM GOOD BOOK­STORES NOW.

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