As discussed last week in this column, good nutrition during infancy is essential for lifelong health and well-being. For parents who are breast-feeding, bottle feeding or a combination of both, knowing when to start solid food can be a concern.
There is conflicting advice about when or what solid foods to start feeding your baby. Traditionally, pediatricians had recommended introducing solids between 4 and 6 months and starting with infant rice cereal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics current policy statement recommends breast-feeding for your babys first 6 months and then continuing to breastfeed with the gradual introduction of solids from 6 months until at least 12 months.
What solids should you start with? Those recommendations are changing as well. In the past, parents have been told to start with infant rice cereal or oatmeal, followed by various colorful vegetables, then fruits. Studies have shown that the order in which foods are introduced will not prevent a picky eater; variety in the offerings has the greatest impact.
Newer recommendations are to skip the cereals , particularly refined rice cereal which provides little nutrient value other than the iron with which it is fortified. Instead, doctors are recommending parents start with meats. Yes, pureed meats or strips of chicken, beef or pork for your 6-month-old baby. Why this change? First, cereals were encouraged as a first food because they are less likely to cause allergies. But so are most meats. Secondly, infants need a little extra iron around 6 months to support their rapid growth and development. Meats are the best dietary source of iron for an infant (other than breast milk) and they also provide zinc and protein.
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration released its findings regarding levels of arsenic in rice and rice products. The FDA did not issue any recommendations to change diets to avoid or limit rice products.
Consumer Reports also tested arsenic levels of rice and rice products and suggested limiting the consumption of these products. What does this mean for infants? Consumer Reports recommended limiting rice cereal to no more than one serving a day; that is two tablespoons for an infant. Parents can also vary the types of grains offered to include barley and oatmeal, which also contain higher amounts of fiber than refined rice cereals. Starting with meats and then adding various fruits, vegetables, and grains will provide your infant with a variety of tastes and textures, as well as the nutrients needed to support proper growth.
Healthy eating habits and lifetime nutrition start early. To learn more, visit: www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/11/arsenic-in-your-food/index.htm or www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm319827.htm.
Megan Mignot is a lacta tion consultant with Nature to Nurture. This weekly column is a collaboration Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.