The Truth About Feeding Your Baby

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The Truth About Feeding Your Baby

How to raise a healthy, happy eater by Gina Bevinetto Feld

Reality: Not necessarily. While rice cereal has traditionally been recommended as an ideal first food because it’s low-allergy and a good source of iron, it’s fine to offer other foods first. “You don’t have to do cereal, then vegetables, fruit, and meat last,” says Nancy Krebs, M.D., pro-fessor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver.

In fact, the latest research shows you may want to consider meat for your baby’s first bites. It’s a particularly rich source of iron and zinc, both of which breast milk doesn’t provide enough of, and your baby’s stores of them become depleted by 6 months of age.

Reality: Not true. Cow’s-milk formula is the best alternative to breast milk because its protein is closer to that in breast milk. “Soy protein is completely different from animal protein, and human infants are made to grow on animal protein,” says Frank Greer, M.D., chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s (AAP) nutrition committee.

Soy formula is safe, but usually not needed. For instance, parents often switch gassy babies to soy formula in the hope that they’ll be more tolerant of it, but soy isn’t easier to digest than cow’s milk. For babies who have a confirmed cow’s-milk allergy, soy is an alternative, but a better bet is hydrolysate formula, in which cow’s-milk proteins have been broken down so as not to cause a reaction. Soy formula is generally only advised for healthy, full-term babies who are being raised as vegans and aren’t breastfed, and babies with galactosemia, a metabolic disorder that makes them unable to digest a sugar in cow’s milk.

Reality: They don’t. Infant formulas contain as much iron as they do because it’s not well absorbed. The amount babies get is not enough to cause constipation — and it’s sorely needed, since iron is crucial for your baby’s physical and mental growth. In fact, some formula companies have recently discontinued their low-iron formulas.

Reality: Unlikely. Despite what you may have heard, newborns don’t wake up throughout the night only because they’re hungry; they wake up because they’re not developmentally ready to sleep for longer stretches. “By four months, most babies are able to sleep for five to six hours or more,” says Laura Jana, M.D., coauthor of Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed With Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup. “It’s in part due to a maturing of the central nervous system.” Weight and size may also be a factor. “My experience has been that as babies get bigger, they sleep longer — and bigger newborns often sleep through the night faster, too.” One reason for this may be that smaller babies have to eat more often to catch up in terms of weight gain.

So don’t rush solids. Experts recommend that you wait until 4 months at the earliest, and ideally until 6 months. And don’t be tempted to add rice cereal to the bottle at night. This will cause your baby to take in unnecessary calories and increase her risk for obesity — and it won’t help her sleep any longer.

Reality: When babies first start eating solid food, they don’t tend to take in enough calories and nutrients to replace either type of milk just yet. Breast milk or formula should still be their most important source of nutrition throughout the first year. Even as your baby eats more solids, he’ll still need at least 20 ounces of breast milk or formula a day until he’s 1. If he isn’t drinking enough, offer the breast or bottle first at meal-times, when he’s hungriest.

Gina Bevinetto Feld is a health writer whose toddler loves green vegetables.