When it comes to babies and food, everyone has an opinion, whether it’s your mom, your best friend, or your neighbour across the street. And it gets trickier when you discover that even the experts disagree. “There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about what foods to introduce to your baby and when,” says Jennifer House, a registered dietitian in Calgary and owner of First Step Nutrition.
When Cindy MacCormack started researching how to introduce solids to her daughter Molly, now one and a half, the Fergus, Ont., mom was amazed by the number of differing opinions she discovered. “You can read one thing in one book and a completely different thing in another,” she says. Here are five common food myths you might encounter in your baby’s first year.
MacCormack overheard women in her moms group talking about how starting solids can help babies sleep longer, but her pediatrician told her otherwise. “There’s no scientific evidence that if you feed a child solids she will start sleeping better, so that shouldn’t influence when one starts,” says Dr. Jeremy Friedman, chief of pediatric medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and co-author of Canada’s Baby Care Book (Robert Rose). “The current recommendation for when to start is about six months of age.” If you introduce solids too early, your baby may not be physiologically ready to swallow or digest the food. Signs she may be ready include whether she can sit with support and hold her head up, shows an interest in what you’re eating, or seems hungry after nursing or bottle feeding.
“There is some concern that because fruit is usually sweeter than vegetables, it’s more appealing and, if introduced first, will lead to refusal of vegetables,” says House. “But there is no evidence that shows a benefit to introducing one before the other.” Most people follow the standard recommendation, which is to start with cereals, move on to fruits and vegetables, then meat, says Dr. Friedman. “When it comes to fruit and vegetables, there’s no right or wrong — some babies may prefer vegetables to fruits and vice versa, so it’s best to introduce a variety of both.” The main thing is to start new foods one at a time so that you can determine if your child has an allergic reaction to any of them.
“The age of introduction of allergenic foods is an area of ongoing research and controversy,” says House. Until recently, the recommendation was to wait to introduce peanut products until two to three years of age. “Now, the theory is that if you’re going to get an allergy, you’re going to get it,” says Dr. Friedman. “So, if you and your child are not at high risk for food allergies, you can start introducing foods such as peanut butter, seafood and egg whites any time after one year.” You only need to delay introducing these foods if you have a family history of severe food allergies.
“I’ve had a number of clients who introduced goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk, although studies do not show that it’s less allergenic,” says House. Goat’s milk can be deficient in several nutrients. “It’s mandatory in Canada to fortify cow’s milk with vitamins A and D, and it’s also higher in folic acid, but it’s optional to fortify goat’s milk with these nutrients, so you have to read the label.” Milk in general shouldn’t be introduced until nine to 12 months, because younger infants are unable to digest milk proteins.
“There’s no scientific evidence to show that homemade baby food is actually healthier than jarred,” says Dr. Friedman. “With homemade, the advantage is that you know exactly what’s going in the food, but it’s really more of an individual decision than a health decision.” In the end, MacCormack decided to make her own baby food. “Overall, it seems everybody has their own theory about what you should feed your baby, and you just have to pick and choose according to your comfort level.”
Sydney Loney is a Toronto-based freelance writer and mom who finally understands the rule on introducing peanut butter to her toddler.