Your baby’s first foods: Mini Parenting Master Class

“Patience, persistence and a lot of love.” A nutrition expert's tips on how to introduce first foods to your baby.

What are the best first foods for babies? What should I do if my baby refuses to eat? We speak to nutrition expert Dr. Purnima Menon to find out what parents need to know about introducing first foods to their children. 

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Transcript of “Mini Parenting Master Class on your baby’s first foods” video

Feeding babies isn’t just about putting food in their mouths. It’s also about them learning to eat. It’s about them learning to enjoy their food. It’s about a positive interaction between parents and babies and about food being part of that positive relationship.  

My name is Dr. Purnima Menon and this is my Mini Parenting Master Class on your baby’s first foods.

When is my baby ready to try her first foods?

Six months is just about the right time to start introducing babies to first foods. It’s the time when breast milk stops being enough in terms of fulfilling nutritional needs. It’s also a time when children a developmentally ready and are, themselves, interested in trying new foods. So six months is just about right.

What are the best first foods for babies?

It’s quite important that these first foods be as packed with nutrients as we can possibly make happen. So pureed coloured vegetables, like carrots, pumpkins and sweet potatoes. Pureed fruits are nice. You can feed them pureed meats, if your family eats those. Eggs are a great first foods for babies.

You can actually modify almost anything you’re eating at home. You just need to mash it up and puree it a bit for babies. We also want to make sure that we avoid foods that are not giving babies vitamins, proteins, and minerals. So we want to make sure that those first foods are not excessively sugary. They’re not excessively salty. But really, that they’re packed with the right kinds of nutrients to grow brains.

How should I prepare first foods for my baby?

If you’re starting first foods when babies are six months old, you absolutely need to puree them. First foods need to be soft. The babies need to be able to swallow them easily. Now you can adapt this over time so when you first introduce foods, you need to puree them but you can adapt the texture a little bit as the babies grow a little bit older.

How can I make the introduction of first foods a fun and positive experience for me and my baby?

First foods are about so much more than just about the food. It’s about culture. It’s about love. It’s about children learning to become part of our families. And if parents keep that whole picture in mind, it just takes the stress off a little bit from just getting food into your baby’s mouth. And I think the best thing we can do is remind ourselves that children are learning. They’re learning who we are. They’re learning what foods we eat as families. They’re learning what they like because they don’t know what they like until they taste it. And we’re learning about them when we see them experience those foods, so it’s really important not to be stressed. It’s really important to approach it with patience, with persistence and really, a lot of love, because it is about learning in the end.

What should I do if my baby refuses to eat first foods?

Oh, babies refuse foods all the time and again, we have to remember it’s them learning. You’re tasting something new. It’s very natural for babies sometimes to refuse that taste and sometimes, the science tells us in fact that babies need to taste some things several times before they can be comfortable with it. So it’s quite important that parents not lose hope or feel like the baby, once they’ve rejected a food that it’s rejected forever. And the best things we can do as parents is to relax and try again.

Should I spoon-feed my baby or let him reach for the food himself?

You can feed babies with either a spoon or with very clean hands. It’s really quite important to wash hands and make sure that everything you’re feeding the baby with is as clean as it can be. Again, the one thing we have to remember is that babies are learning and they’re very interested in their food, so the feeding of babies really needs to be a bit of give and take. Part of feeding babies is also listening and watching for their cues, for parents to understand the signals that babies are telling them. Because just as they can’t feed themselves, they also can’t talk to us and tell us when they’re not enjoying something quite as much as we’d like them to or when their tummies are full. They can’t tell us that verbally and so they use a range of cues to send signals.

What happens when they get a little bit older is that they also want to start touching their food and feeding themselves. That can start as early as when they’re nine months old to a year old. We can control what we offer babies but we should let them have some control over how they interact with their food.

How often should I feed my baby solid foods?

When you start first foods, you want to start offering them about three or more times a day. And then as the babies grow older, so as soon as maybe they’re 9 or 12 months of age, you need to increase this to about four times a day. And you need to increase the quantities as well, so it isn’t enough to feed the same quantities at 12 months that you were feeding the baby at 6 months. Both the frequency and the quantities need to increase as the babies grow older.

After introducing solid foods, should I continue breastfeeding?

You should absolutely continue to breastfeed. It’s currently recommended that breastfeeding is continued for at least two years and perhaps, even beyond. In a sense, breast milk and the nutrients that breast milk provides is the basis of good nutrition for babies. And the first foods are adding in other critical missing nutrients that babies need for their bodies and brains to grow.

Growing brains need good nutrition. So what we achieve with first foods is actually bringing that nutrition to help babies’ brains grow. Parents spend a lot of time feeding babies in those first few years of life. Feeding moments also offer opportunities for play and opportunities to demonstrate love. They create opportunities for language development. Parents speak to children about the food or they speak to them when they’re feeding them. First foods isn’t just about nutrition for the brain. It’s also about creating opportunities to bring together nutrition, play, positivity, the things that we know really help babies’ brains grow very well.

Dr. Menon is a Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. She has a Ph.D. in International Nutrition from Cornell University and a M.Sc. in Nutrition from the University of Delhi.

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