Should We Feed our Kids the Same Way We Were Fed?
Common Myths of Infant Nutrition
When you have a baby, everyone is full of advice about how you should feed your new family member. Often, the recommendations of health professionals are different than family advice. Read on to find out what is myth and what is fact.
Myth - It is safe to switch a baby from breastmilk (or formula) to homogenized milk at 6 months of age.
Fact - Homogenized cow's milk should not be introduced to an infant's diet before 9-12 months of age.
According to the Health Canada Guidelines, "Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants," offering cow's milk to very young infants can lead to iron deficiency anemia. This is because cow's milk is a poor source of iron, and the small amount of iron present is poorly absorbed. Homogenized milk has much less calories and much less fat than breastmilk (or formula) does, therefore homogenized milk will not satisfy babies as much as breastmilk (or formula) will.
Myth - There are no risks to feeding pablum to an infant at 2 months of age.
Fact - There are nutritional and other health risks to feeding pablum to very young infants.
The action used by the tongue for drinking and nursing is very different from the action used to manipulate pureed or solid foods. Most babies cannot hold their head upright or sit up straight by themselves before 4 - 6 months of age. As well, until this age, most babies cannot yet move their tongue side to side. If a baby is given solids and they are not able to do these things, food will pool at the back of their mouth, even after you think they have swallowed everything. Most babies fall asleep and are laid down after feedings, so there is a high risk that the pooled food will run down the back pharyngeal wall and into the airway. Aspiration of food into the baby's airway can occur which, can lead to 'asthma-like' symptoms, bronchitis and ultimately to pneumonia. So when introducing solids to an infant, it is much safer to wait until the infant is at least 6 months old, able to support themselves in a sitting position, and then to keep the baby in an upright position for about 8-10 minutes after a feeding is done. Finish the meal with a drink from Mom, a bottle or a sippy cup.
Myth - Feeding pablum will help baby sleep through the night.
Fact - Babies will sleep through the night only when they are developmentally ready to do so, whether you give pablum or not.
Babies are supposed to wake up through the night - it is adults that are supposed to sleep all night long. When pablum is offered before bed, some babies will sleep through the night - but this is purely coincidence. If a very young baby is not sleeping well and they are offered solid foods, this can actually make things worse. Young babies cannot digest pablum or other solids very well, so it can lead to an upset stomach, which means that babies may actually wake up more through the night.
Myth: Solid foods will help very young infants gain weight.
Fact: Solid foods may take the place of breastmilk (or formula), and lead to lower energy intake.
If it is feared that an infant is not gaining enough weight, offering solid foods such as pablum or pureed vegetables or fruits probably will not help. An infant only has so much room in their stomach to hold food - about the size of a walnut. So if it is filled up with solids, there is not much room for breastmilk or formula. So they will actually be eating less calories and less fat than is needed to help them grow and gain weight.
When in doubt, check with a Registered Dietitian, Public Health Nurse, or your physician. Make sure you look to different reliable sources for information about your baby's nutrition.
For more information on infant nutrition, contact the Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit's Health Action Line at 1-800-660-5853 or 613-345-5685 and ask to speak to a Registered Dietitian.
Written by: Dianne Oickle, MSc, RD
Registered Dietitian/Public Health Nutritionist
Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit