Infant feeding – basic recommendations
According to the recommendations of the ESPGHAN (European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition) Nutrition Committee, the diet of healthy infants for a period of at least four months (17 weeks) should include exclusive (full) breastfeeding . Experts emphasize that this method of feeding is the most beneficial for the child in the first months of life.
It is worth emphasizing that breast milk contains valuable nutrients and is natural for the infant: it is adapted to the infant’s ability to assimilate and metabolize. Studies indicate that babies fed with breast milk suffer less frequently from illnesses such as food allergies. Breast milk is a natural shield against the risk of allergies to cow’s milk proteins and plant proteins .
For the prevention of child health, it is recommended to maintain breastfeeding with natural milk for a period of 6 months (26 weeks) . On the other hand, formulae replacing breast milk are emerging in the feeding of non-breastfed infants. Their composition considers the specific nutritional needs of the developing child.
Regular foods in infants’ diets
Correct human nutrition is based on the provision of energy from essential nutrients. Their total amount should be adapted, among other things, to age and body weight. These include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
An intensively growing baby’s body has a high demand for various nutrients. On the other hand, the infant is vulnerable to any nutritional deficiencies. At a certain stage of the child’s development, the need for energy and nutrients naturally increases: protein, vitamins (A, E, K) and trace elements (e.g. iron and zinc).
The definition of complementary feeding refers to the expansion of an infant’s diet to include all solid and liquid foods besides breast milk or substitutes (modified milk) . The introduction of regular foods into an infant’s diet is an important stage in its development. It is the point at which the infant begins to wean regularly from consuming breast milk or modified milk alone.
Complementary foods are foods that are prepared in a semi-liquid or blended form, i.e. foods that the baby can swallow safely without choking. Porridges, gruel, pulp, purée and cream soups are therefore recommended.
When to give your baby solid foods?
According to the recommendation of the Institute of Mother and Child, the expansion of an infant’s diet should begin when the child is 17 weeks old and no later than 26 weeks of age .
Between 4 and 6 months of age, most infants develop the ability to hold their head and neck. This allows the baby to hold himself in a safe position with support while eating. The infant acquires proficiency in eating solid foods, thanks to their grinding with the tongue, a strong sucking reflex and, in turn, biting and chewing skills .
Complementary feeding should not be introduced before the infant is 4 months old, since skills and neuromuscular maturity are gradually developing.
Solid foods in the young child’s diet – timetable
A healthy developing infant between 4 and 6 months of age acquires the ability to open its mouth when approaching a spoon. In this way, he communicates his readiness to accept food. The baby’s first diet should include various food groups: vegetables, fruit, cereals, meat, fish, and eggs.
While the most recent recommendations do not set a rigid order for the introduction of solid foods, it is recommended that vegetables appear in the child’s menu before fruit. The taste of vegetables is more difficult for infants to accept than the sweet taste of fruit .
Infants should be given foods with diverse tastes and textures appropriate to their stage of development. It is recommended that babies are initially given single-ingredient meals. In this way, the parent can more easily spot potentially allergenic or poorly tolerated foods by the child.
Vegetables and fruit: 4-6 months old
The type of fruit and vegetables present in a child’s diet is mostly related to the taste preferences of the parents and the eating habits of the home. Vegetables are introduced to the diet one by one, followed by fruit, respecting seasonality and therefore availability. This group of products usually includes carrots, potatoes, yams, pumpkin, apple, banana, and citrus fruit.
Cereal products: 4-6 months old
Cereal products provide energy, valuable protein and the vitamins and minerals (magnesium, phosphorus, iron) necessary for the proper development of the infant. It is good to choose the least processed products. This group includes porridges, gruel, and natural cereals (millet, barley, wheat, rice, amaranth, and quinoa).
Meat, fish, and eggs: 5-6 months old
- Meat is an important source of protein and including it in the child’s diet is the best strategy for supplying it with iron, zinc and B vitamins. The following are introduced to the child’s menu: chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, or rabbit. Legumes (e.g. lentils, chickpeas, or beans) are a substitute for this group of foods.
- DHA marine fatty fish (e.g. herring, sprat, salmon) supplement the infant’s diet with protein, providing essential fatty acids for the proper development of the brain and nervous system.
- Eggs can be introduced at the same time as the other foods of an infant’s complementary diet .
Potentially allergenic foods
Current recommendations, based on research, clearly indicate that it is possible to introduce potentially allergenic foods into a young child’s diet – without delaying or eliminating them. This group includes, among others, gluten, fish, eggs, peanuts, and cow’s milk. However, it is advisable to consult a specialist and establish a dietary plan for your child, especially if they may be at risk of an allergic disease .
translation: Julia Majsiak