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Baby-food basics

Adding new foods to a baby's diet too early can increase the chance that an infant will develop allergies.
Adding new foods to a baby's diet too early can increase the chance that an infant will develop allergies. Jules Frazier / Getty Images file

How do you juggle breastfeeding, bottles and baby food? An infant's diet can greatly influence the risk of health ailments later in life, so it's important for parents to know what foods to give and when to give them. Making sure a baby is ready for more than just breast milk or formula can benefit both a mother and child. In this week's Nutrition Notes column, Karen Collins discusses some basics about infant nutrition.

Q: Does adding cereal to a baby’s bottle help him or her sleep through the night?
A: Doctors and experts on infant nutrition discourage adding any cereal or solid food to a baby’s bottle. Solid foods such as cereal are generally not recommended in any form until a baby is five or six months old.

Adding new foods earlier increases the chance that a baby will develop food allergies. Before this age, their digestive systems are not mature enough to properly handle these foods. For these early months, stick to breast milk (the preferred choice), formula and water.

Besides, cereal does not make babies sleep through the night. Young babies have such small stomach capacity compared with their nutritional needs that they need calories coming in every few hours. For babies that display true wakefulness at night, experts recommend feeding with dimmed lights and without any playfulness to help your little one settle down.

Q: How long should I breastfeed my baby?
A: While any breastfeeding is better than none, mother and baby benefit most from an extended duration.

The ideal situation for most babies, according to the American Dietetic Association, is to feed a baby only breast milk for the first six months of life. Then, while adding other foods, breastfeeding should continue until the baby is a year old.

The longer a baby is breastfed, the lower the chances of allergies developing, which is particularly a concern in families with allergies of any kind. Extended breastfeeding also passes more immune benefits to the baby, lowering the risk of ear inflammation and infection, as well as digestive system upsets.

Your pediatrician can best help you judge what is right for your baby. Keep in mind that mothers also benefit from continuing to breastfeed. Studies suggest that breastfeeding may lower the risk of premenopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Q: Does it matter whether I give my baby plain meat baby food or the baby meat “dinners?"
Once your baby’s doctor advises you to start your baby on meat, you should use plain meat products. The dinners are diluted with other ingredients.

Because babies grow rapidly and begin to consume less breast milk or formula, iron deficiency can become a real concern. Ounce for ounce, pure meat products are higher in protein and iron.

Vegetables, fruits and cereals are also important for your baby, but you should provide them separately.