Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon may have made Baby Food Diet a trending subject among regressive weight-watching adults, but apple puree and gloppy bananas are best suited for the target consumers: babies over six months old.
It’s scientifically established that breastfeeding your baby exclusively for six months is enough to keep her fit and healthy. “Even in tropical countries such as India, there is no need to give your baby water. It just fills the stomach with empty calories. Breastfeeding on demand is ideal, which takes about 10 minutes after which it’s just comfort nursing for the child,” says Dr Anupam Sibal, paediatric gastroenterologist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital.
A mother’s breast milk provides immunologic protection against many infections, like diarrhoeal diseases that remain the biggest killer of newborns in India. Breastfeeding also prevents common childhood infections, like respiratory and middle-ear infections.
“Newborns have immature immunologic defences, more so if it is a premature baby. In the womb, the mother’s immunoglobulin (Ig) G antibody crosses the placental barrier to provide some protection to the baby. After birth, breastmilk becomes the source of immunoglobulins that help in the development of the immune system, which not only fights infections but also lowers the baby’s future risk of skin and breathing allergies,” says Dr Sibal. Breastfeeding also keeps the baby lean and protects against diseases like diabetes and heart disease later on in life.
Nutritionally, too, breast milk is best adapted to an infant’s gut, offering the perfect blend of protein, fat, carbohydrates and nutrients. Cow’s milk is iron-deficient, while goat’s milk, which is emerging as a trendy replacement for breast milk, is deficient in folic acid, which could cause developmental problems in the child.
Starting at the age of six months to about two years, semi-solid and solid foods need to be introduced to familiarise the baby’s palate with different tastes, smells and textures. “Nutrition in the first two years is a critical determinant of overall growth and development in the long term. Since the stomach of a baby at this stage is very small — typically the size of his fist — the baby has to be fed nutrient-rich and calorie-dense food. A mix of home and fortified complementary foods is the ideal way to meet the nutritional needs,” says Dr Nitin Verma, senior consultant in paediatrics at Max Hospital.
In the first year, a healthy child’s weight should ideally be three times the birth weight, about 9 kg (an average Indian baby weighs 2.8 kg). Weight doubles in the first four months — a baby puts on 30 gm a month initially — after which weight gain slows to 20 gm a month for the next four months, and then 10 gm a month in the final four months before the first birthday.
“After the age of six months, breastmilk does not provide sufficient nutrients and calories for growth, the baby has to be gradually introduced to foods that offer iron, zinc, phosphorus, vitamins A, D, E, K, B6, niacin, biotin, and thiamine, among others,” says Verma. Between nine months to a year, for example, your baby needs food with iron and zinc that are not present in sufficient amounts in breast milk.
A baby should be introduced to a new taste three spoonfuls at a time every two to three weeks as new flavours can confuse the young palate “It’s natural for the baby to spit out food initially, which makes parents panic and either overfeed or switch over to something new, which she will spit out again, leading to under-nutrition,” says Sibal. Overfeeding often makes the child throw up, so feeding should be stopped if the baby starts spitting out food.
Begin with fruit and vegetable purees, and lentils. “Egg, fish and chicken can be given after 9 months, but children should not be force-fed. The target should be that the baby reaches weight milestones and should be ready to eat regular food after one year,” said Sibal.