You’ve probably heard from some people that food before one is just for fun, but is that really correct advice? There are generally two camps of people, those that are of the opinion that food before the age of one is optional, and those that believe it is an essential component of development.
Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, breast milk or formula feeding remains essential for children at this age, and will continue to make up the vast majority of your child’s calories. Let’s face it, weaning foods such as pumpkin and carrot are pretty low in calories.
Ideally, introduction of solids should not happen before 6 months of age. It’s important to note that solid foods should never be introduced early due to a failure to thrive or because your baby is not gaining weight. Breast milk is the most calorie dense and easy to digest option.
Let’s have a look at some reasons why introducing food before one is not just for fun but an essential tool in your child’s food journey.
Food before one is needed for iron and zinc stores
Iron and zinc stores (which can be high when a baby is born depending on the mothers nutrition during pregnancy) start to deplete between 4-7 months. For iron this can vary between babies, with many at risk of iron deficiency around the age of 6 months. Higher depletion occurs in boys than in girls.
While iron is transferred from the mother in utero during pregnancy, breast milk unfortunately does not provide any iron post birth. The same can be said for zinc which is essential for the developing immune function of your child. Guidelines suggest that, particularly for breast fed infants (as many formulas are fortified with iron), complementary feeding of iron rich sources such as meats, eggs, greens (broccoli and beans) is required from 6 months of age.
Food before one is needed to reduce risk of allergies
Research suggests that a child’s risk of developing allergies is highest when solids are either introduced before the infant is 4 months old or after 7 months. This would suggest that introducing some foods around the 6 month mark is ideal. It is also recommended to slowly start to introduce key allergen foods (nuts, eggs, fish) in the second half of an infant’s first year to identify and/or potentially reduce the risk of a potential allergy.
Food before one is needed for sensory and motor skill development
Babies start to figure out the world around them by putting things in their mouth. And what better way to channel this curiosity than by food exploration and play. Solid food play is important for babies to develop oral motor skills and get used to different textures and tastes and for sensory development. By introducing your infant to a wide range of food textures and tastes at an early age you reduce the risk of food aversion and fussy eating as they grow.
Food before one is needed for socialising
I’m sure we can all agree that eating is a social activity, particularly within the family environment. It is a fantastic way to get your child involved in meal times by giving them small (baby-sized) portions of what the rest of the family is eating. This can help develop your infant’s connection to food based activities and the role of family mealtimes.
If you are looking for support with complementary solid feeding for your infant why not book an initial consultation today.
For more information on introducing solids to your baby have a read of this article I wrote when is the right time for starting solids here.