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Expert Q&A: Meeting Your Baby's Nutrition Needs

An interview with pediatrician Stephen Parker, MD.
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When is a baby ready to feed herself?

When she’s ready and when she wants to can be two different things! Babies always think they’re ready. At 8 or 9 months, they will want to push the food in and make a mess. There’s nothing wrong with that. The baby should be allowed independence and a chance to try it, even as you’re spooning the food that you want to get in her. It should be a collaborative effort.

Promote that independence and fun and joy in eating for the baby; never discourage it. Early on, some babies may be really stubborn and not want the parents to feed them, and you may have to use subterfuge -- make noise and distract them. They think they’re good at it, but they’re not and they don’t get that much in. But even if they don’t, they’ll make it up in the milk. It’s very rare that it causes nutritional problems, just a few bumps along the road.

What foods should you absolutely not feed a baby under 1 year old?

The big controversy is peanuts. There is some data that says you should hold off until they’re at least 3 years old because peanut allergies are really scary. But there is a competing theory that says that introducing small amounts of them early is what we need to do to prevent long-term peanut allergies.

I haven’t shifted my position yet. I’m still going with what the orthodoxy says -- to hold off peanuts as long as possible -- because these allergies are so bad. Peanut allergies can be so devastating, it’s important to keep abreast of the issue. Hopefully more research will help clarify this area. And I would hold off on feeding your child anything you are allergic to until they are age 3 or older.

You should also wait past a year on honey, because of concerns about infant botulism.

What about whole milk? I recommend a year, but I’m not ironclad on it. Most babies could probably tolerate it at 6 months. In our culture we’ve arbitrarily said, boom, you’re ready at a year. Maybe some kids do better digesting it if you wait a little longer, but most who get it at 9 months don’t blink an eye.

If a parent wants to start it earlier, I don’t tell them not to do it. Just introduce it the same as you would any other new food: Don’t give another new food at the same time and watch for distress.

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Reviewed on July 08, 2010
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