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FAQs

Gut Health

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What does baby need from solids to optimize growth and development?

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By 6 to 7 months, his nutritional needs can no longer be filled by milk alone and the inclusion of nutrient-dense foods [23] are a must. It becomes hugely apparent that capitalizing on the window between 5 and 6 months to prime his palate with a wide variety of healthy savoury flavors pays dividends [5]. To be able to hit the ground running at 6 to 7 months with him already accepting these nutritious foods will ensure his nutrient needs to optimize growth and development are met. Adequate nutrition to optimize growth and development will not come from apple puree and infant cereal! [11] Although milk remains an important component of his diet, so do nutrient-rich foods, high in iron [24] and zinc, and balanced in good sources of fats [51], proteins [26], and carbohydrates [27].

  • Vegetables [11] Vegetables are the most amazing whole food group. They are packed full of essential nutrients, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and even some fat, and provide the perfect slow release of energy. Instilling a preference for these powerhouses is one of the most fantastic gifts you can give to your child in terms of future health and wellbeing. 

  • Iron-rich foods [24] Infants are born with enough iron stores to see them through the first 6 months of life. Then, due to their rapid growth and development and very high iron requirements (a 6- to 24-month-old has a greater iron requirement per kilogram of body weight than any other time in their life), they must start receiving good sources of readily available iron from the foods they eat. Sufficient dietary iron is required to ensure proper weight gain, appetite, energy levels, a healthy immune system, and is essential for optimizing cognitive and behavioural development. Unfortunately, not all iron sources are created equally. The best sources of iron are the natural ones, in particular meat, eggs, and pulses. Although infant cereals claim to be good sources of iron, in reality, it is poorly absorbed. 

  • Fats [51] Babies need fat! Not only is it an important energy source, but it is also essential for optimal brain development, building strong immune systems, and the absorption of important fat-soluble vitamins. Yet, the sad fact is, most infant diets consist of watery cereals and fruit purees, which are very high in carbohydrates and devoid of any fat at all. So don’t be afraid of giving him healthy fat (fats that haven’t been artificially made or altered). It is, and should be their primary fuel source and is vital for metabolic health, now, and the future.

Good sources of proteins and carbohydrates [26, 27] Although both essential for overall health, they must be in balance. A diet too high in protein has shown a tendency for a more rapid weight gain (and propensity to obesity), and a diet too reliant on carbohydrates as the dominant energy source can be nutrient poor, especially if they are highly refined or over-processed.

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What time of day should I schedule baby's introduction to solids?

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Initially, until he gets the hang of it, he will only need one ‘meal’ a day. Mid to late morning or mid-afternoon are often good times to start. The morning milk feed is often his biggest feed of the day, so we don’t want to compromise this. Try and feed him roughly an hour after the first morning feed. This will give him time to process the milk, but be content enough to try a new experience. He has not yet made the connection that solid foods will satisfy hunger so he will be less accepting of solids if he is frantically hungry. 

It is important to make an infant’s introduction and first experiences surrounding food an enjoyable experience, so choose a time that is free of stress for both you and baby. 

Remember, eating is a sensory experience, so when it suits, sit him up to the family table at mealtimes. He will feel included and be more likely try new foods if he sees the family eat them. [62]

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What are good sources of protein?

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Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are all excellent sources of protein. Milk and milk products as well as pulses, legumes, and soy are also good sources of protein, however, milk should not be introduced as a drink before one year as this can interfere with iron uptake, and/or take the place of more nutrient-dense milk options (breast milk or formula, which is specifically manufactured to deliver nutrient needs). It is OK to use small amounts of full-fat milk in food preparation. Caution must also be applied when relying too heavily on pulses and legumes to meet protein needs. They are high in fiber, which is a good thing, but too much fiber can irritate an immature gut and provide too much bulk, limiting tiny tummies to other, more nutrient-dense [23] options.

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Why is gut health important?

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During the first years of life, an infant’s diet undergoes its biggest change from an exclusively liquid diet to one with a variety of complementary foods in addition to milk. This transition is necessary to support his increasing nutrient requirements, and to prepare for the cessation of breastfeeding or infant formula feeding. During this transition, an infant’s renal and gastrointestinal function must undergo significant change and maturation in order to process non-milk foods. So establishing a healthy microbiome in the gut is essential for the digestion and metabolism of food.

Infancy is a critical time as this is when an individual lays down the blueprint for how food is metabolized. Given the rise in metabolic disorders (obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease), this early stage of life is the prime opportunity to build a healthy microbiome, which in turn builds a robust immune system and enables the production of neurotransmitters that affect behaviour and cognitive function. 

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What are probiotics and does my baby need a probiotic supplement?

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Probiotics are living microorganisms, the ‘good bacteria’ that live in our gut. 

The colonization of the gut with microorganisms occurs naturally through the birth process (vaginal delivery), drinking breast milk, and everyday contact with the outside world. However, with the rise of cesarean sections (disrupting the transfer of beneficial microbiota from mother to infant), declining rates of breastfeeding (another source of beneficial microbiota), and the proliferation of antibiotic use (which can destroy the beneficial microbiota), many infants are on the back foot in terms of microbiome colonization. If this is the case, and given the importance probiotics play in overall health and wellbeing [32], a supplemental probiotic may be beneficial.

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What are prebiotics?

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Prebiotics are a type of fiber that the human body cannot digest. They serve as food for probiotics. In the newborn, both probiotics [33] and prebiotics are transferred through breast milk. On receiving solid foods these prebiotics are provided through vegetables and fruits. 

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My baby has reflux, are there any foods I shouldn’t give him?

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Generally, by 5 to 6 months reflux starts to improve as the gastrointestinal tract starts to mature. Sometimes, starting him on solids can actually help with reflux. However, to start off with you might want to avoid highly acidic foods such as citrus and tomato. Here are some more tips for a baby prone to reflux:

  • Always feed him in an upright position.
  • Do not lay him down directly after a feed.
  • Avoid dairy products, milk, cheese, and yogurt as well as high-acid foods.
  • Space out both solid and milk feeds.
  • Smaller more frequent feeds are better than fewer larger ones.
  • Offer single foods and wait a couple of days before introducing a new one. All babies react differently to different foods. You might find certain foods exacerbate his reflux so avoiding them for the time being can help. Remember to try again in a couple of weeks. As his gut matures he will most likely tolerate a wider range of foods.
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Should I give my baby infant cereal?

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Today, few pediatricians recommend that parents start with infant cereal. Dr. Frank Greer, former chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), encourages parents to stay away from infant cereals. Here’s why:

  • Eating infant cereal limits the opportunities to develop food preferences for healthy alternatives. [5] We know that the first 6 months of introducing solids is a critical period for learning and developing food preferences. Offering a bland overprocessed product instead of healthy wholefoods can lead to a preference and habit for these types of foods. 
  • Infant cereal is nutrient poor. Not only does baby rice/cereal offer nothing in the way of assisting preferences toward a healthy diet [14], they are also nutritionally poor [23]. Although fortified with iron, iron in this form is generally not well absorbed [24].
  • Infant cereal can lead to sore tummies. The developing gut, in the early stages, does not produce enough of the enzyme required to break down grains. As a result, grains can cause inflammation and irritation [57] of the digestive system if introduced too early.
  • Infant cereal is high in carbohydrates and low in fats and protein. Babies use fats [51], not carbohydrates, as their primary fuel source. A diet high in carbohydrates (infant cereals, refined sugar, fruit juice) and low in good fats and protein, will require high levels of insulin to process it. Over time this can have a detrimental effect on how the body utilizes foods as fuel in the future [14].
  • Infant cereal can cause constipation. Rice cereals in particular are very low in fiber and known to contribute to constipation [54, 90]. Wholegrains, on the other hand, are a good source of fiber, as well as many other health benefits, so should be considered in his diet, as appropriate [55].
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What are the signs my baby might be constipated?

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Some straining during pooping is OK. However, if coupled with the following symptoms, it might pay to have it checked out with your pediatrician.

  • Gone longer than 5 days without a bowel movement
  • Significant discomfort and off his regular feeds
  • Pellet-sized and/or dry hard stools
  • Firm, distended belly
  • Blood in stools or nappy (not to be confused with beetroot as it can look alarmingly similar!)
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What are the common causes of constipation?

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  • Immature digestive system. While his digestive system adapts to digesting solids, constipation and/or diarrhea can be common. Generally, this subsides as his body learns to process food, however, you might want to take it slowly on the solids until then, or try different foods [58]. 
  • Dehydration through too much solid food and not enough milk. Sometimes his eagerness to consume large amounts of solids can result in little room for his milk feeds. It is therefore important that, especially in the early phases of introducing solids, that the milk feed comes before his solid feeds. Remember, his solids should be complementary to his milk, not replacing it. You can also introduce a small amount of water in a cup at meal times.
  • Dehydration through illness. A recent tummy upset can result in dehydration, especially if he had been vomiting and/or had diarrhea. A common cold can also make it harder for him to breath and drink at the same time as well as decrease his appetite. Try smaller, more regular feeds to keep hydration levels up and if concerned, contact your pediatrician.
  • Some medications Iron supplements in particular are known to firm up stools. Note: It is important you discuss any discontinuation of medication with your pediatrician before you make assumptions and stop on your own accord.
  • Travel, heat, and stress. Increasing fluids during particularly warm weather can help prevent dehydration.
  • Lack of fiber. A diet limited to low-fibre solid foods (highly refined infant cereal, apple sauce, dairy products) can result in constipation. A diet rich in a rainbow of vegetables (and some fruits) and when appropriate, wholegrains [57], will provide the fiber necessary for normal bowel movements [60].

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How can you relieve and manage constipation?

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Providing there are no underlying causes, constipation can be quickly turned around without medical intervention. Here are some things to keep in mind:

    • Avoid constipating foods. Foods known to increase constipation include apple sauce, baby rice, white bread, pasta, and high-fructose fruits such as banana. 
    • Include high-fiber foods regularly in his diet. Most vegetables are high in fiber so make excellent first food choices! Fibrous green leafy vegetables and sweet potato are particularly good, as are many of the fruits beginning with ‘P’—prunes, pears, plums, and papaya. However, all fruit must be provided in balance with the rest of his diet.
    • Leg action! Lying him on his back and doing bicycle-leg actions can help, as can a warm bath (also great for leg actions). Giving his tummy a gentle massage can also encourage bowel movements.
    • Probiotics. If constipation becomes a regular occurrence, an infant probiotic [33] might be beneficial.

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Baby's stools have changed color—is that normal?

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You may notice a change in his stools when he starts solids. It is quite normal for them to change in color, consistency, and even smell. Typically stools will become more solid and stronger in odor. Peas and other green vegetables can result in green-colored stools while beets can make them red. Stools may also contain undigested pieces of food. This is normal as the immature gut needs time before it can fully process these new foods. If the stools are extremely watery or full of mucous, it may mean the digestive system is irritated. Try cutting back on the amount of solids but ensure he is still receiving the milk feeds. If it continues, consult with your pediatrician.

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When is it OK to give baby cereals and grains?

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In order for him to be able to digest cereals and grains he needs to make use of enzymes he produces to break these down to release nutrients. However, the particular enzyme he requires, pancreatic amylase, is not produced until the second half of his first year (6 to 12 months). Although there will be no drastic effect (in most children) in introducing grains before this enzyme is present, it will mean that the nutrients from the grains may not be well absorbed. Undigested product can also begin to irritate an immature digestive system, effecting the balance of bacteria and microbiota [32]. Therefore, the general consensus is to wait until at least 6 months before incorporating small amounts of cereals/grains, preferably wholegrain, [87, 89] into his diet. It is also important to offer a nutritionally dense [23] diet of varied flavors and textures to train healthy eating habits [1], and to limit highly refined and processed foods [50].

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Disclaimer: The information provided is the opinion of Good Feeding, it has not been evaluated by healthcare professionals, and is for educational purposes only.  Before starting any new foods or feeding practices, please consult your baby's healthcare professional.