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Nutritional Advice
Courtesy of Catherine Gould DipN (Inst NH), a nutritionist based in Harare, except where indicated otherwise


Between seven and twelve months, a baby needs 700-900 calories a day. No real consensus exists among experts regarding when and how to introduce solid foods and when to start weaning. It is important not to rush your baby, but to take one step at a time. If he or she will not eat a particular type of food it could simply be that he or she does not like it – like adults, babies dislike some foods.

Pay attention to nutrition labels if you are buying ready-made food for your baby: they can be high in salt or sugar. When pureeing vegetables at home, do not add salt.

In terms of drinks, offer your baby occasional drinks of water. Experts feel that there is no specific need for juice in a baby’s diet, but if you do decide to give your baby, do not give more than 180ml of diluted 100 per cent fruit juice per day, and its best to serve it at meal times.

See Further Advice on Weaning
Unsafe Foods for Babies

Certain foods may put your baby at increased risk of illness or allergies, so during his first year, it is best to avoid the following:
• Citrus fruits and juice
• Egg whites
• Honey
• Peanut butter
• Wheat (if you have a family history of gluten allergy)
• Cows’ milk (you can give him yogurt and cheese from around eight months if you have no family history of cows’ milk allergy or intolerance).
Finger Foods

Choose finger foods that are easy to eat; dissolve in baby’s mouth; and that won’t break into pieces which may cause choking.

By 10 months most babies are ready to feed themselves some foods. This is an important step in physical development and learning to eat – Encourage this!

  • It’s easy to feed baby good foods if you have healthy, balanced meals for the rest of the family.

  • Always stay with your baby while eating, ready to help if needed. They are still learning to chew and can choke when trying to swallow bites that are too big. If your baby begins choking, stay calm and pat your baby’s back lightly. If your baby seems to choke often, wait a few weeks and then offer finger foods again.

  • Be patient and let your baby get messy with the food served. Playing with food is part of the way babies learn about different foods. Manners can be taught when your baby is older.

  • Babies still need to eat often (5 or 6 times a day) so they will get lots of practice while they are learning to feed themselves.

  • Good Choices for Finger Foods: cooked macaroni or noodles (try whole grain pasta); small pieces of soft-cooked vegetables; soft, ripe fruit; small slices of cheese; crackers, teething biscuits or dry cereal.

    Foods to Avoid: large chunks of food, raw carrots, raw celery, raw green beans, cherry tomatoes, grapes, raisins, nuts, seeds, popcorn, peanut butter, chips, gum, hard candy, jelly beans.

    Solid foods can’t replace all the nutrients provided by breast milk or iron fortified formula. Babies 9-12 months old should still be breast fed or formula fed on demand or 27-32 ounces per day. Wait to offer whole milk until around age 1.
    What's the Difference Between a Food Intolerance and a Food Allergy?

    A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. It can cause a range of symptoms. In some cases, an allergic food reaction can be severe or life-threatening. In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and are limited to digestive problems.

    If you have a food allergy, even a tiny amount of the offending food can cause an immediate, severe reaction. Digestive signs and symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, cramping and diarrhea. Other signs and symptoms can include a tingling mouth, hives, and swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat. A life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis can cause breathing trouble and dangerously low blood pressure. If you have a food allergy, you'll need to avoid the offending food entirely. Common foods that cause allergies are nuts, eggs, fish and shellfish.

    Food intolerance symptoms however, generally come on gradually and don't involve an immune system reaction. Causes of food intolerance include:
    • Absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food. Lactose intolerance is a common example.
    • Irritable bowel syndrome. This chronic condition can cause cramping, constipation and diarrhea.
    • Food poisoning. Toxins such as bacteria in spoiled food can cause severe digestive symptoms.
    • Sensitivity to food additives. E.g. sulfites used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods and wine can trigger asthma attacks in sensitive people.
    • Recurring stress or psychological factors. Sometimes the mere thought of a food may make you sick. The reason is not fully understood.
    • Celiac disease. Celiac disease has some features of a true food allergy because it does involve the immune system. However, symptoms are mostly gastrointestinal, and people with celiac disease are not at risk of anaphylaxis. This chronic digestive condition is triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains.

    If you suspect your child of having a food intolerance, keep a food diary of what your child is eating every day and any reactions they experience. Do this for 4 to 6 weeks, and you may be able to recognize foods that cause symptoms, such as eczema or abdominal pain.
    How and When Food Allergies Develop

    The first time you eat a potentially allergenic food, you do not usually have any symptoms, but your immune system mistakenly prepares to protect you against it. The next time you eat that food you release chemicals that cause symptoms such as eczema or life-threatening anaphylaxis.

    Food allergies usually begin in childhood and may be lifelong, however some, such as milk allergy, can be outgrown. People with a food intolerance are not able to digest or process specific foods properly in the body, resulting in bloating, abdominal pain, wind, vomiting or diarrhoea. The problem usually involves a defect or deficiency in an enzyme necessary to digest some foods. Unlike food allergies, intolerances are usually not dangerous.

    Food allergies are common in people who are susceptible itoeczema, hay fever, or asthma. It is estimated that 5 to 8 percent of all children may develop a food allergy by the age of two years, although studies suggest that babies with a family history of allergies may be 2 to 4 times more likely to develop an allergy or intolerance. Since infancy is an especially vulnerable time for food allergies to develop, allergy prevention efforts must be started immediately after birth to be effective. Compared to babies fed cow’s or soya milk formula, babies who are exclusively breast fed for a prolonged period develop less eczema and wheezing in the first year of life.
    Preventing Food Allergies in Babies

    We now know how food allergies develop, some babies with a family history of allergy may be made allergic to certain food allergens when they are ingested in minute amounts in their mother’s breast milk. Babies at risk for allergy may also become allergic to cow’s milk and soya proteins in infant formulas.

    It is recommended that mothers with a history of nut allergy should avoid eating nuts or foods that contain traces of nuts whilst breastfeeding. The peanut protein is secreted into breast milk, which may sensitize a baby who is at risk for developing a food allergy. If your child is at risk for allergies, speak to your GP, midwife or a nutritionist about using hypoallergenic infant formulas to supplement breast feeding. This can help your baby’s risk of developing a cow’s milk allergy and allergic eczema. The introduction of solid foods in a food-allergic or allergy prone baby should be delayed. Waiting at least 6 months to introduce solid foods to a high-risk baby is critical, with dairy products delayed until he or she is a year old, eggs until two, and peanuts, nuts and fish until he or she is three years old. This may sound over cautious, it is better to overstate the risk.

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