Babies have special nutritional needs. They grow and develop extremely quickly and that kind of growth requires lots of fats and nutrients. A healthy diet for a baby is completely different than a healthy diet for an adult. In fact, many foods we eat are actually dangerous for babies. What’s safe to feed your little one?
Foods To Avoid
Certain foods are particularly dangerous for babies. In addition to the risk of choking or digestive troubles, some foods carry dangerous toxins or infections.
For the first several months, your little one will only eat breastmilk or formula. When you start to introduce other foods, be mindful of the risk of choking. Babies can choke on anything larger than a pea. Small, hard foods like seeds and nuts may be too small to choke on but can get lodged in the baby’s airways. Sticky foods also present a choking hazard – no marshmallows or peanut butter until your child has a full set of teeth and the coordination to chew them up thoroughly.
For the first year of your baby’s life, cow’s milk and soy milk are dangerous. They’re difficult to digest. They also contain high levels of certain minerals that can damage the baby’s kidneys. Digestive problems make it harder for the baby to absorb necessary nutrients from other foods. They can also make diaper changing particularly challenging.
Infection And Toxin Risk
Whatever you feed your baby should be thoroughly washed and cooked. Produce can carry infections from the soil and toxins from pesticides. Eggs and meats can carry salmonella, E. coli, and other infections. Babies’ immune systems aren’t as well-developed as ours, so they’re more sensitive to certain types of infection. For example, adults can eat rare steaks because our immune systems are strong enough to fight off whatever bacteria remain in the meat. Babies don’t have that ability. Thoroughly cooking your baby’s food will kill these germs and keep the baby healthy.
One food in particular isn’t safe no matter whether it’s cooked: honey. Honey can carry infant botulism, a dangerous infection that affects infants and toddlers. Cooking the honey won’t kill the botulism. Wait until your baby is at least 3 years old before putting honey on the menu.
Allergies loom large in the public awareness, with peanut butter banned from schools and gluten-free foods appearing in every grocery store. Doctors used to advise against giving foods that commonly cause allergies to babies in case the early exposure sensitized the babies and actually caused allergies. However, recent research suggests that the incidence of allergies is not affected by when the food was introduced. You can feed your child these foods as long as there is no choking or infection risk.
When you introduce new foods into your baby’s diet, do it one at a time and wait for a couple of days between each new food. That gives you time to watch for food allergies and sensitivities. If there’s no negative reaction within a couple of days, that food is safe and you can add another.
Newborns eat just one thing: breastmilk or formula. Breastmilk and formula have the right blend of nutrition to support a brand new baby. They’re also gentle on your little one’s brand new digestive system. Breastmilk and formula provide everything your baby needs to be happy and healthy. Not only are other foods unnecessary, they’re a choking hazard.
Remember that breastmilk and formula are very different from cow’s milk. Cow’s milk can make your baby sick and won’t provide the right kind of nutrition. Doctors recommend that you don’t feed your baby cow’s milk for the first year.
Adding Baby Food
Every baby is different, but most start to eat some baby food at 4-6 months of age. At this point, your baby will be able to sit with some support and may show interest in what you’re eating. Your baby still needs breastmilk or formula, but can begin to eat baby food. Start with single grain cereals; these are easy to digest. Once your little one gets the hang of single grain cereals, you can move on to fruits and vegetables.
You may choose to purchase baby food or you may choose to make your own. If you’re making baby food at home, remember to thoroughly clean and cook the ingredients and puree them. Fresh produce can carry germs and toxins that your baby won’t be able to fight off, so cleaning and thoroughly cooking fruits, grains, and vegetables can make them safe. Completely pureeing the food until it’s smooth helps keep your little one from choking.
After about six months, you can start to introduce pureed meats and legumes to your little one’s diet.
At about 8 months of age, your little one will start be teething and have enough coordination to pick things up with the thumb and forefinger. That means it’s time to start eating more solid food. In addition to breastmilk, formula, and pureed baby food, you can start to give your baby small amounts of finger food. That includes scrambled eggs, small pieces of banana, cooked and mashed beans, well-cooked spiral pasta.
Remember that your baby can’t really chew food yet and isn’t coordinated enough to avoid choking. Everything should be cut up in bite-sized pieces and you’ll need to keep an eye out in case a bite gets stuck. As always, introduce foods one at a time and wait a few days between each new food.
One Year Old!
After about a year, it’s safe for your baby to start drinking cow’s milk. At first, you should give your little whole milk. Low-fat and non-fat milk aren’t safe until after your baby turns 2. It’s also time to start learning to use a spoon, although it will take a little while to get the hang of it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you continue to breastfeed or give your baby formula for at least a year, and even longer if both you and your baby want to. That’s just a guideline – many babies will wean earlier or later than a year old.