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Babies up six months of age should be fed breast milk exclusively, but what should they consume when they grow older?
An infant’s first year is a period of rapid growth and changes in food requirements and feeding abilities. The World Health Organization and Singapore’s Health Promotion Board recommend exclusive breastfeeding up to six months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
Physician Yang Wei of the Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic @ Punggol, located in Punggol 21 Community Club, advises parents who are inclined towards traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to refrain from self-diagnosis and treatment.
“Although we always talk about the ‘heaty’ or ‘cooling’ nature of foods in TCM, infants do not really have to avoid eating any particular type of food apart from overnight food,” Physician Yang explains. “If nothing is unbalanced and you try to enhance something, it may result in imbalances.” This includes giving babies tonics at a young age. “If there is any deficiency, I would advise them to seek medical treatment,” she says.
The baby’s age is to be taken into account when choosing the types of food and how it is to be prepared. Here’s our handy guide to give your little one the best start in life:
Start introducing smooth, pureed foods once or twice daily with fruit, vegetables, rice cereal and oats. Ms Vanessa McNamara, Founder and Lead Dietitian of The Traveling Dietitian, advises caregivers to look for the following signs, which indicate that the infant is ready to explore the switch from liquid to solid: • Holds head steady
• Stays in a sitting position
• Gets hungry more readily
• Shows an interest in your food
• Loses the tongue-thrust reflex that makes him stick out his tongue
“The first 15 months are important for infants to be exposed to as many different flavours and textures as possible,” emphasises McNamara. “These are formative months in developing taste preferences, and also developing the oral motor skills to be able to deal with different textures appropriately. Even if a child refuses a food, continue to offer it regularly as their tastes change so quickly.”
At this stage, many infants are now ready for foods they can pick up; some would already have started to feed themselves soft, cooked carrot or pea. Mothers can start feeding their infants mashed foods with soft lumps three times a day, and encourage self-feeding with soft foods for them to play and explore.
Your infant is really ready to venture into solid food if he displays these signs:
• Picks up objects with thumb and forefinger
• Puts everything into his mouth
• Imitates adult eating habits
• Grabs the feeding spoon
• Mimics chewing patterns
• Able to sit up with support
• Opens mouth when he sees food approaching
Nutrients that are crucial at this stage include:
• Protein: needed for the formation of new muscles, connective tissues and bones. Food sources rich in protein include meat, tofu and egg yolk.
• Calcium and Vitamin D: essential for bone formation and mineralisation. Food sources rich in Vitamin D include fatty fishes (tuna, mackerel, salmon) and egg yolk. Food sources rich in calcium include breast milk, iron-fortified milk and dark-green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach.
• Iron: essential for making haemoglobin, the oxygen carrying component of red blood cells. Baby cereals and mixed vegetables are good, iron-rich foods.
• Vitamin K: for normal blood coagulation. Newborns have low stores of this vitamin at birth. Food sources rich in Vitamin K include dark-green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, turnip greens, collards). Alternatively, there are Vitamin K jabs available.
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock. This article first appeared in NATURA magazine issue No.12.
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