Thursday, November 4, 2010

Homemade Yum

Today's blog topic is one I've spent countless hours researching: baby food. I'll have to break this topic into a few posts because just like food for adults, there is SO much to know about food for babies.

Baby food is also known as solids but that doesn't necessarily mean the food is solid, it can be pureed. I suppose food is called "solids" because it's solid as opposed to milk, which obviously is liquid. I apologize if that sounds a bit silly but I thought I'd clarify that since I had no idea of such terminology before becoming a parent.

Current recommendations state there are very few reasons to introduce solids before four months of age. As parents, we can hardly wait for each milestone our children reach but in this case especially, wait until the recommended 4-6 month range. I waited until AI was a few days short of 6 months old because he still had a tongue-thrust reflex until then and that was a clear indicator that he was not ready for anything other than breastmilk. (The reason I started a few days earlier was a bad bout of constipation that only the almighty prune could fix but that's another story for another post!)

Breastmilk or formula is all they need for the first six months, and the early introduction of food has been linked to the onset of food allergies. It is also advisable to wait until their stomach lining has fully formed, which normally isn't until 6-7 months of age. Finally, contrary to popular belief, it does not help babies sleep longer at night. AI awoke far more once he started eating solids than when he was only on breastmilk.

So now that is out of the way, I have to admit solids scared me. What kind, how much, how safe is it, allergic reactions... stressful! While I wish I could just giving AI milk forever, there is no benefit to delaying solids past six months. In fact, the has been anecdotal evidence that delaying solids for too long may cause texture issues in children. Oy vey!

My initial exposure to baby food showed that certain homemade vegetables, such as carrots, contain nitrates and can cause "baby blue syndrome". Of course, I went into hysterics thinking I couldn't provide my baby with homemade carrots because it might cause this particular syndrome. I started my research and found sites like this that only fed my hysteria:

Q: Should I avoid certain foods if I make my own baby food?
A: High-nitrate vegetables, such as beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, collard greens, lettuce, spinach and turnips, should not be fed to babies in large quantities. The naturally occurring nitrates in these vegetables can change to nitrites, which bind iron in the blood and make it difficult to carry oxygen. This can make it hard to breathe and cause the skin to become blue. Limit the serving size of these vegetables to one to two tablespoons per feeding.

What this site failed to mention was that this is only applicable if you feed your baby these vegetables prior to three months old. Again, current recommendations are that you should not be feeding your baby anything other than breastmilk or formula at that age. This site put up information about harm from nitrates but not about the age it is related with - this makes the site lose credibility in my eyes. Further to that, it feels like an implication to use jarred food as opposed to making your own.

Another day of research led me to my current go-to site for baby food information:

Do Commercial Baby Foods Have Lower Nitrate Levels?
Due to screening, commercial baby foods may contain a lower level of nitrates than homemade as parents do not have the ability to screen veggies for nitrates.
Please keep in mind that baby food companies voluntarily screen for levels of nitrate and there is no Federal (U.S.) regulation or mandate requiring them to screen.
Again, nitrates are naturally occurring in the vegetable itself and even the folks at Gerber/Beechnut/Heinz et al. cannot remove nitrates.
So to sum up the first of many posts on baby food:

1.) Solids are scary! There is far too much to know but I'm trying to learn as much about it as possible.

2.) There are very few reasons to start feeding your child before 4 months or after 6 months. There is an optimal time for the introduction of food based on the research by the NIH and AAP and I'm going to go ahead and follow that advice.

3.) When you do feed them, it's perfectly fine (and healthier but I'll get into that in my next post) to feed your child homemade baby food. Don't let commercial food companies use scare tactics and tell you that your children will get nitrate poisoning. Unless you're starting before three months old, it isn't an issue.

Whew! Now that was a mouthful.

So much to learn, so much to share. Until next time...

Mama A

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