8 Baby Food and Feeding Tips for New Parents
First-time parents devote more time to feeding their baby than just about any other parenting task throughout the baby’s first year. Feedings are among the best opportunities parents have to bond with their child, but feedings can be highly stressful events as well.
Here are eight tips to help encourage positive food and feeding experiences for new parents and their babies.
- Trust your instincts. First-time parents can be their own harshest critic. It is normal to feel unprepared because you don’t know everything about taking care of a baby. You can’t know everything, and it is impossible to prepare for every situation. No parent feels totally prepared, but each day you will learn a great deal just by observing your baby. Your baby will teach you about which foods they like and how to know when they are hungry, and you will learn to trust your instincts.
- Preparation pre-empts stress. As a new parent, you will quickly develop a clear sense of your baby’s preferences and patterns related to hunger and feeding. As a general rule of thumb, babies from birth to four months typically require eight to 12 feedings per day, or about every two to three hours — including several middle-of-the-night feedings during parents’ usual sleeping hours.
Night-time feedings can be much less stressful when parents prepare everything needed during their normal waking hours, such as right after finishing the last daytime feeding. It is recommended to do night-time feedings as close to where the baby sleeps, and with as little light as possible or using a nightlight; this will make it easier for you and your baby to fall back to sleep. Cuddling and keeping your baby warm helps as well.
- Alternative diets require extra attention. New parents who are vegetarian or follow another type of diet often ask whether the same diet is acceptable for their baby. The short answer is: it depends. [This does not apply to adult diets that restrict certain foods as a means to address a medical problem — hypertension, for example.] Vegetarian diets, for example, can serve as nutritious alternative to diets that include meat.
But vegetarian diets without eggs and dairy products sometimes fall short in protein, vitamins and minerals, all of which are important to a baby’s healthy growth and development. Consult your pediatrician before starting your baby on a new diet or food regimen. He or she can discuss the relative benefits, recommend supplements in case of nutritional deficiencies, and monitor your baby’s growth in weight and height to ensure they remain in a healthy range.
- Babies’ eating patterns can change. Newborns don’t always eat the same amount of food every feeding or get hungry at the same time as before. Growth spurts typically result in babies eating more during each feeding or wanting to be fed more frequently. So be adaptable and build some flexibility into your baby’s usual feeding schedule.
- Babies benefit from food variety. Serving a variety of foods helps ensure babies get a full range of vitamins and nutrients from their diet. Variety also exposes babies to a wide range of food tastes and flavors at an age when babies are already forming food preferences that will stay with them. When your baby rejects a new item — something that tends to happen with bitter-tasting foods — try offering it at another feeding blended with one or more foods they already like.
- Breastmilk beats drink variety. Variety is good for baby foods, but for baby drinks, breastmilk beats variety. No other drink, fruit juice or water included, comes close to the nutrition contained in breastmilk, which also boasts no added sugar or empty calories. So for the first 6 months after birth, breastmilk feeding is recommended.
- Thailand is well-suited to making your own baby food. Expatriates often note Thailand’s smaller selection of store-bought baby foods compared to their home country. That is partly due to Thai parents’ preference for making their own baby food. The selection of reasonably priced fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and fish makes that a much more viable option for non-Thai parents, too. Along with supermarket chains, local markets stock fruits and vegetables that arrive fresh daily from local farms, which typically use fewer chemicals and preservatives compared to western countries.
Protein food sources such as egg, seafood and shellfish are among the more common food allergies common to babies. As most food allergies are potentially inherited, parents with food allergies should consult their pediatrician before adding the particular food item to their baby’s diet.
- Organic fruits and vegetables are worth considering. The availability and quality of organic foods has improved in recent years. As a result, a growing number of parents are including organic foods in their baby’s diet, for the benefit of the environment and to alleviate concerns about chemical exposure. The most compelling organic items to consider for babies are fruits and vegetables. Whether you choose organic or non-organic, I recommend washing fruits and vegetables using baking soda or salt instead of soap.
No parent has all the answers when it comes to making healthy decisions about baby food and baby feedings. If you have questions or concerns, talk to your pediatrician, who has the relevant expertise and first-hand experience looking after your baby’s health.
Pithaporn Thadamatakul is a clinical dietitian at Bumrungrad International Hospital.