Currently, around 96% of Australian women initiate breastfeeding after they give birth.
However, the percent of exclusively breastfed babies quickly declines as each month passes.
At 1 month, only 56% of babies are exclusively breastfed.
At 3 months, the number drops to 39%.
At 4 months, 27% of babies are exclusively breastfed.
By 5 months, only 15% of babies are exclusively breastfed.
Previous research and studies recommend infants be exclusively breastfed (no other food or water) until 6 months of age.
Babies should still receive breastmilk — or formula if you formula feed — until 12 months of age, despite the introduction of solid foods.
The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding to continue into the second year of life (or longer), if mother and baby are happy.
As far as solid foods goes, peak health organisations such as the World Health Organization and Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends the introduction of solid foods at 6 months of age.
Why Do Babies Need Solids From 6 Months?
It can be confusing when you see baby foods marketed on shelves as ‘from 4 months of age’. This is a greedy marketing tactic, because babies can get all they need from breastmilk (or formula if you formula feed) at that age. Not only that, but it goes against recommendations from many peak organisations and authorities around the world.
It's also important to realise that any form of introducing other foods or drinks is a form of weaning, and it may result in unintentional weaning sooner than you think. Waiting until six months, not four, gives your healthy baby the best nutrition.
Starting solids from 6 months of age:
- Helps meet the growing baby's nutritional needs
- Prevents the development of allergies to particular foods in the future
- Helps prevents iron deficiency
- Late introduction of solids (9-12 months) may result in baby not taking to solids as well
The Australian government recommends the introduction of iron-rich solids first, as around this age the baby’s own stores of iron tend to drop and need to be increased. Solids can then be introduced at a rate and taste preference to suit your baby.
Rice Cereals As Baby’s First Solids
Processed rice cereals aren’t healthy for your baby. Not only is there nothing nutritionally beneficial in rice cereal, but they are essenitally sugars. Although many rice cereals are promoted to be fortified with iron, it doesn’t mean that it’s better for your baby.
Iron from natural sources are much better for baby’s tummy. Just like in your pre-natal vitamins, iron can cause tummy upsets and constipation, when you can easily get iron in a more readily absorbed, healthy form.
Always remember: food before one is just for fun – for the first twelve months, breastmilk or formula should be the main source of food for your baby.
Should I Offer The Breast Before Solids?
Dr Jack Newman MD, FRCPC, says: “There seems to be considerable worry when a child is starting solids about whether to give the breast first or give solid food first. If breastfeeding and the introduction of solid foods both are going well, it probably does not matter much. Indeed, there is no reason that a baby needs both breast and solids every time he eats.”
Should I Give Baby Vegetables Before Fruit?
Dr. Newman advises that there is no reason to introduce vegetables before fruit. Breastmilk is far sweeter than fruit, so there is no reason to believe that the baby will take vegetables better by delaying the introduction of fruit.
Baby Food Made From Home Or In Jars?
Homemade foods are always so much better and healthier, as unlike store-purchased foods, homemade means no preservatives and no added sugars or salt, so you know exactly what your baby is getting, minus the nasties designed to extend shelf life.
Although it may seem to be one of the most unlikely things to give to baby as one of his first foods, meat is ideal, because when baby sucks on a piece of meat (all meal times should be supervised) he wil be able to get that all important iron.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association has these suggestions for first foods:
First Foods – Fruit
- Grated apple or other fruit
- Piece of banana or ripe avocado
- Pieces of melon or pawpaw (without seeds)
- An orange quarter, minus peel and seeds;
- Stone fruit with stone removed
- Peeled and cored apple or pear
First Foods – Meat
- A small amount of meat on a safe bone, for example a lamb chop
- Fingers of grilled or baked liver or kidney
- Rissoles or slices of homemade meat loaf
First Foods – Fish
- Homemade fish fingers or fish cakes
- Flakes of cooked fish with every bone removed
First Foods – Vegetables
- Cooked green stringless beans
- Cooked broccoli or cauliflower floret
- Fingers of cooked potato, carrot or other vegetable
- Grated raw carrot
- If baby has teeth, try a piece of raw celery or other salad vegetables
First Foods – Bread & Pasta
- White ‘high-fibre' or wholemeal (note that the type of fibre in wholemeal bread can be a little harsh on the digestive system of a baby under 9 months);
- Homemade rusks (bake thick slices or crusts in a very slow oven until they are quite crisp and dry)
- Toast, plain, buttered, or sometimes use a spread thinly
- Pasta boiled, cooled, pasta shapes, with meat/vegetables from a casserole
First Foods – Milk Products & Eggs
- Fingers of cheese; grated cheese
- Very soft cheeses and custard can be eaten by using other finger foods as dippers
- Pieces of hard-boiled egg yolk or whole egg; strips of omelette
Avoid foods like whole nuts which can be a choking risk. It is important for you to learn what to do if your baby starts choking – our first instinct is to panic but this may startle your baby even more and make things worse.
Solids At 12 Months Of Age
By 12 months of age, your baby should be eating foods form the five food groups, as recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines. This includes:
- Enjoying a wide variety of nutritious foods, preferably whole grain and/or organic
- Provide your child with a diet full of vegetables, legumes and fruits
- Provide plenty of whole-grain cereals, breads and pastas
- Eat lean meat, fish and poultry in moderation
- Provide a variety of milk, cheese and yogurt products
- Limit the amount of fat and salt in your child's diet
- Drink water and limit/eliminate juice products
The following guide can help you determine how many servings of each food group he/she should be eating per day:
- Fruit — 1 to 2 servings
- Vegetables — 2 to 4 servings
- Cereals and breads — 3 to 7 servings per day (personally I would give less)
- Meats — 1/2 to 1 serving
- Milk products — Full-fat products should be provided until age 2; 700mg of calcium is recommended for children under the age of 3
Providing the proper nutrition for your baby does not have to be difficult; you are already providing the best nutrition possible in the form of breast milk. However, preparing your infant for the world of solid food is important as well. Following these guidelines will ensure your child gets the best of both worlds.