Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a baby’s life is the most natural way to feed your baby. But the first 1 000 days of your child’s life are also important and bring extraordinary growth and development.
So, dear moms and dads, you are going to have to beef up on those food sources, says registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, Estelle Strydom. She says while parents are encouraged to continue breastfeeding, they are also advised to introduce small amounts of soft, nutrient-dense foods as complementary feeding.
“A 2018 review of complementary feeding practices in South Africa revealed that the diets of many older infants do not meet the criteria for a minimally acceptable diet. In addition, it was reported that many babies between six months and one year are regularly given processed meats, soft drinks, sweets and salty crisps, which are all nutrient-poor foods that are not suitable for babies.”
Registered dietitian Professor Lize Havemann-Nel notes that your baby’s nutrition is a vital part of a foundation for a healthy life. Nel is also a researcher in the Centre of Excellence for Nutrition at North West University.
Child growth and development is a window of opportunity to set your child on the path to good health, she says.
“It’s important to get the timing right by introducing complementary foods from six months onwards. It’s also vital to know what foods are appropriate, so that you are providing your little one with a variety of nutrient-dense meals and avoiding harmful practices.
Awareness is key
Registered dietitian Mbali Mapholi emphasises the importance of parents’ awareness of the accepted complementary feeding guidelines.
She says, “Parents and caregivers need to understand what nutrient-dense foods are suitable for their babies. The transition from only breastmilk to suitable complementary foods, along with continued breastfeeding, works well if the food offered to baby is soft and easy to digest, which is why the first solid foods are usually pureed and mashed.
“We start out with mashed, soft foods, and as they develop, the food becomes more textured and soft finger foods can be offered.”
An important guideline is that meat, fish, chicken and eggs should be offered daily.
Mpholi says, “These foods are high in protein which is essential for growth and development. They also contain important vitamins and minerals that support the immune system and healthy body functioning. Eating these foods every day prevents deficiencies of important nutrients such as iron. Plant protein sources such as soya, beans, peas and lentils are affordable and are also important to include in the diet regularly.”
Another important nutrition guideline is making dark green leafy vegetables and orange-coloured fruit and vegetables available daily to your baby.
“Spinach is easy for us to grow in our gardens or in pots so that we can harvest the leaves we need each day, while the plant keeps on growing and providing more,” says Mpholi. “Vegetables such as butternut and carrots, and fruits such as citrus, paw-paw and mangoes are good sources of vitamins A and C that help to maintain your baby’s good health. It works out well to buy seasonal fruit and veg because it’s more economical.”
For a toddler between 12 and 36 months, you need to provide five small meals per day with starchy foods in most meals. Dairy such as milk, maas and yoghurt should be consumed every day, 500ml is recommended so that your child gets sufficient calcium intake for strong bones and healthy teeth.
Mpholi shares a list of nutrient-poor foods that parents and caregivers need to stay clear of:
- Avoid tea and coffee as these drinks contain caffeine
- Avoid sugary drinks and juices which are high in sugar.
- Avoid highly processed and high fat foods.
- Avoid salty foods.
Food effects on health
Registered dietitian Carey Haupt adds, “Under 12 months of age, a baby’s kidneys are not yet fully developed. These types of unsuitable foods can put strain on the kidneys. Foods that are high in sugar and fat can lead to overweight and childhood obesity, which is an increasing problem in South Africa.”
She suggests the use herbs for flavour instead of adding salt. “Substitute clean water in place of juices and soft drinks that are high in sugar and can damage new teeth.”
Weaning should not be overthought and complex. “It makes good sense at this very young age to let your baby play with their food. Picking up a stem of broccoli enables them to look, feel, smell and taste. By letting them explore and interact with new foods, you may avoid picky eating later on.”