You might have seen recipes to make your own baby food and maybe even make your own baby formula, but should you?
When it comes to baby formula, the FDA recently sent out a warning to tell parents and caregivers to stop making their own formulas. Recipes online that have included using protein powders and unpasteurized milk can cause babies to have electrolyte imbalances and nutritional deficits, or even cause death in some infants.
While “breast milk is still the best source of nutrition,” says Kristen Davis, a pediatric dietitian and diabetes educator at Texas Children’s — Austin Specialty Care, and cannot be completely replicated by formula manufacturers, formula marketed in the United States is a good substitute. Those formulas also have to meet nutritional requirements set by the FDA before they can be marketed here. Parents should avoid formulas from outside the United States and should follow the instructions on the label, Davis says, including cleanliness practices to avoid contamination-borne illnesses.
When in doubt, ask your pediatrician for formula recommendations, as well as how much to give, which changes as babies grow. Breast milk naturally changes as babies grow, but breast-fed babies do need a daily Vitamin D supplement to help them absorb breast milk better.
When it’s time for babies to start eating real food, many of the old rules of what to start when and in what order have been lifted. There are still two hard-and-fast rules: no cow’s milk before age 1 because they cannot digest the protein in that milk and no honey before age 1 because of the risk of botulism.
Davis recommends looking for cues from your baby when starting food. They should be able to sit up on their own and pick up things in their hands as well as have lost their tongue-thrust reflex. Also look to see if they show interest in your food as you are eating. All of this usually happens around 6 months. From 6 months to a year, the main source of nutrition should still be breast milk or formula. Solid food is about getting babies used to eating it and trying new tastes and textures.
Start with one food at a time, and it’s a good idea to allow three days between introducing the next new food to test for allergies.
There are no rules about which food to start first. Often parents start with infant oatmeal or rice cereal mixed into breast milk or formula, then add things like apple sauce, mashed peaches, pears, avocado, sweet potatoes, squash or other soft veggies before adding things like eggs and yogurt.
You don’t have to buy commercially prepared food. You can mash up soft food with a fork or blend it to get an easier texture, or cook it to soften it up. Your homemade baby food shouldn’t be kept more than a day or two in the fridge. It can be frozen into ice cube trays to last longer. Make sure to wash your hands and have clean surfaces and utensils when preparing meals for your baby.
If you decide to use commercially prepared food, look for products that don’t have added corn syrup, sugar or salt.
When babies are ready for less soft food, remember to avoid foods that are choking hazards such as hotdogs, grapes, nuts and seeds or anything else that is hard and circular in shape.
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One thing babies should now be exposed to is peanut products, usually in the form of peanut powder or peanut snacks made for babies. Studies have shown that early exposure to peanuts helps avoid developing a peanut allergy. If your baby has eczema or other forms of allergic reactions, talk to your pediatrician about how to introduce foods such as peanuts, shellfish and eggs, which have higher risks for allergies.
Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t like a lot of different types of food at first. Sometimes they need to try things multiple times before they will want to eat them. Sometimes it’s a textural thing rather than taste, and it just needs to be prepared differently.
Once babies turn 1, you can start moving them from formula or breast milk to cow’s milk, though the World Health Organization recommends moms continue to breast feed until the second birthday if possible. That’s a personal decision, Davis says.
You also should be moving 1-year-olds to eating what everybody else is eating, but in smaller pieces. Remember the plate rule: half of the plate is fruits and vegetables, one-fourth is protein and one-fourth is a whole grain or starch. They can drink milk or water, but juice should be avoided because of the high sugar content.
Davis says introducing your baby to food is about creating “lifetime healthy habits.”