Post No.: 0852
Infants from 0-4 months of age can only consume liquids. Breast milk is exclusively recommended at this age (either directly via the breast or pumped into a bottle) – breastfeeding carries many health benefits for the child and mother, including protection against common infections and better survival during the first year of life. But it’s important to note that these are only correlations – so factors such as parental socio-economic status, the mother’s health, baby’s birth weight or pregnancy/delivery complications could potentially be confounds. The correlation between breastfeeding and higher child’s IQ is more likely explained by the mother’s IQ rather than the breastfeeding because the practice of breastfeeding one’s child is predicted by the mother’s IQ, more so than by their socio-economic status, ethnicity or age.
Notwithstanding, there have never been any negative correlations found with breastfeeding and many positive ones. There is also currently no evidence to suggest that combining breastfeeding with formula milk has any negative correlations, thus this allows flexibility, such as the father can feed the baby too.
Parents should ideally be giving their babies solid foods from ~4-6 months of age – if you’re unsure whether they’re ready yet, see if they can sit up and support their own body or grab objects in their hands because this correlates with their coordination and ability to safely swallow food. Infants develop dietary needs at this age that cannot be satisfied with breastfeeding or formula milk alone, and it’s important to start introducing a variety of foods.
Once children can eat solid foods, they can largely consume whatever ingredients adults eat. Their portion sizes will obviously be different but there’s no need to cook separate meals for them and for the adults.
Until 8-12 months of age though, all solid food should be pureed because of the lack of teeth and the choking hazard. Ideally, foods should be presented one at a time, without mixing or adding ingredients, so that if they develop any reaction to a food (e.g. a rash, diarrhoea, vomiting) then you can easily identify the cause.
Some common foods and drinks shouldn’t be introduced until after 12 months of age, like cow’s milk, soymilk or honey. Alcohol and caffeine should obviously be avoided too! Some professionals also recommend that fruit juices shouldn’t be introduced until after 6 months of age because they’re high in sugar and contribute to diarrhoea – indeed, in general, any high-sugar or sweetness food or drink introduced when too young may reduce the reward that children associate with consuming less sweet, more healthful, foods and drinks, and one needs to watch out for tooth decay when teeth start to appear too.
Having said all that, different children have different food preferences and appetites thus one needs to be flexible and to trust one’s infant’s needs. The key is exposing them to a reasonable variety of different flavours and textures and to ensure they get a wide and balanced set of macro and micronutrients, including fats, proteins and vitamins – check out reputable government resources for the latest guidelines on what foods and drinks are recommended at what age.
The advice on peanuts has altered significantly in the past several years – now it’s believed that peanut allergies are significantly less likely if a child receives relatively early exposure to peanuts. So rather than avoiding allergy-prone foods, the current recommendation is to do extremely small tests to see if one’s infant has an allergy to them. Start this from almost the beginning of their solid food consumption. Begin with a skin contact test, then a very small amount of puree. Thin down peanut butter with breast milk or water first otherwise it’ll be difficult for them to swallow it. Aim for ~3 heaped teaspoons of peanut butter in total per week. If they seem fine then slowly introduce more and more foods like other nuts, milk, seafood, soy, grains, eggs, etc.. And sustain their consumption of these ingredients consistently for years.
So it’s now believed that allergies are generally less likely when infants receive early gradual exposure to a wide host of foods – the idea is that repeated exposure to potential allergens allows the child’s body to become slowly desensitised to them, thus making future reactions less severe or even non-existent. Above all though, before you begin – seek advice from your doctor to get the best-detailed and most up-to-date guidance on how to gradually introduce these foods. In general, try to keep up to date with the scientific research in this area, but be careful about being too quick in following any media hype or hysteria.
Like parenting fads, diets go through massive, often contradictory, fads based on both good and bad correlational data, as well as a huge dose of media hype and purported ‘experts’ who try to push ‘quick-fix’ and/or ‘cure-all’ solutions onto the public in the quest for self-interested fame and/or riches. Unfortunately, science and pseudoscience often cross paths to give us a murky and unhelpful literature on these topics. So if you want to experiment with a fad diet then it’s best to leave your child out of it until the scientific literature matures, settles and presents a much clearer view on each specific claim.
Employing the precautionary principle – if you think that some kind of diet or supplement is potent enough to offer important positive effects then it could also be potent enough to offer notable negative side-effects too. Scientific findings on diets conducted on adults may also not apply to children too, who are still building their bones, brains and muscles at a fast rate.
There are some health, environmental and ethical benefits for consuming less (particularly red) meat as adults. For children and their growing bodies though, a vegetarian diet requires even more careful planning since the various nutrients found in meat are more distributed across separate foods in a vegetarian diet (e.g. getting access to all of the essential amino acids requires a lot of variety of foods, but this can be achieved). A fluffy nutritional balance is particularly difficult to achieve if dairy produce and eggs are completely eliminated.
Plant-based foods are typically less calorie-dense than animal-based foods, hence this potential caloric deficit needs to be accounted for too. Plants aren’t particularly a good source of vitamin B12 (necessary for healthy brain development). Obtaining enough vitamin D from being exposed to sunlight in some places of the world at some times of the year can be difficult or virtually impossible, and even more so without fortified foods like milk – therefore vitamin D supplements may be recommended.
Well even a regular omnivore diet requires research, planning and vigilance; but restrictive diets, such as a vegetarian diet, need even more. Whatever the diet, a failure to provide a child a diverse range of foods and balanced nutrition runs the risk of nutritional deficiencies and excessive or insufficient caloric intake, and the risk of impairments to both physical and cognitive growth.
When it comes to the gustatory system, it must be noted that different individuals do possess different concentrations of taste buds on their tongues. Compared to adults – infants and children have a higher concentration of taste buds that are receptive to sweet tastes. This might be to make them more receptive to breast milk? It might however also make them appear like fussy eaters. But, barring any relevant eating disorders, they should grow out of that.
Between the ages of 40-50, adult’s taste buds will then start to decrease in number and size. So beware that you may end up consuming too much salt or sugar as you age without being able to detect it via your tongue. After the age of 60, you may even have trouble distinguishing between different particular tastes. Your individual genetics, personality and level of bravado (which may be culturally or peer influenced) may also play a role in determining the level of chilli hot or sour you’re willing to try. And of course your conditioned or learned associations with certain flavours, what your parents typically fed you when young, and how you were raised around food, will influence your taste and texture preferences too.
Independent of age, so-called ‘supertasters’ – who have a higher density of taste receptors on their tongues – prefer to stay away from bitter foods like broccoli, cabbage or even cucumber. Yet then how can some of them use that excuse to avoid apples, pears, sweetcorn and lots of other sweet fruits and vegetables? Some people, whether they’re regarded as supertasters or not, who dislike sprouts or other bitter vegetables manage to happily drink coffee, beer or eat dark chocolate!
If you think Brussels sprouts are bitter then try bitter melon (the clue is in the name!) If you think bones in salmon fillets are bad then try salmon heads. And so forth. It’s fortunate for many who live in the ‘developed’ world today because they don’t really face the toughest survival conditions – but, naturally, the most resourceful and best survivors in the animal kingdom are the least picky. Woof!
Post No.: 0752 covered the issues of co-sleeping and leaving your child to cry at night.
…What happens before a child is born will affect their life too. For instance, research shows that what happens when a baby is in utero (the 9 months whilst in the womb) can affect the risk of that child developing type 2 diabetes later in life if they’ll be born underweight or relatively light. It’s not a fate but it affects the probabilities.
So being ‘born with something’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s genetic. A mother’s diet can even apparently affect an unborn child’s preferences of tastes and foods through the amniotic fluid, and then via the breast milk. (Babies in the womb can even apparently start to learn to prefer the accents they’re most exposed to hearing in their surrounding environment.)
And the mother’s diet is within the mother’s control. This confirms that expectant mothers have a major responsibility for the development and thus future life of their children – like to not smoke or drink alcohol, and to consume the required balance of vitamins and minerals that’s appropriate for an expectant mother, when they’re pregnant. Epigenetic effects that affect how certain genes are switched on/off in the baby could be happening during pregnancy according to what the mother eats or does.
Expectant mothers should neither starve themselves and thus under-nourish, nor ‘eat for two’ (the baby inside is only about an extra one-tenth the size and weight of the mother anyway) or otherwise over-nourish, their yet-to-be-born children.
Obesity during pregnancy strongly increases the risk of the expectant mother developing diabetes, pre-eclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension), blood clots, miscarriages and stillbirths. The amount of fat around the body can mean serious defects in the baby can be missed when performing prenatal scans. Morbidly obese mothers may also need specially reinforced equipment, which places a strain on health services. It’s not healthy to crash-diet when pregnant though.
Overweight fathers and mothers are more likely to have children who’ll also become overweight, whether it’s to do with their genetics and/or parenting methods and environment. Obese diabetic expectant mothers have a higher insulin resistance, and this leads to an elevated supply of glucose nutrition reaching the baby via their linked bloodstream. And large babies are around twice as likely to grow into overweight adults. Obese mothers are also more likely to have children who are born with birth defects like congenital heart defects and digestive system anomalies, as well as lower IQ. Rates of foetal and infant death are also twice as high amongst those with obese mothers compared to normal-weight mothers. Sometimes large babies will need to have their bones broken in order for them to be delivered; although a baby’s bones are more likely to be accidentally broken if they have a low birth weight.
So parents will affect the potential trajectories of their children’s lives even before they’re born.