“Food diversification begins between 4 to 6 months. Some babies are attracted to new tastes from 4 months. Other babies are interested in it later, at 5 or 6 months. Don’t worry: everyone has their time! We simply remember that after 6 months, milk alone is no longer enough”thus Public Health France evokes food diversification on the site 1000 Premiers jours.fr. Holder of a doctorate in health nutrition from the University of Montpellier and mother of two young children, Julie Carillon has brought together a team of professionals specializing in infant nutrition to support parents in the food diversification of their baby, everywhere in France, since 2019: Hamstouille.fr She tells us about her approach…
What observation about the diet of young children prompted you to create this site?
When I started the food diversification of my first son, I realized that the information shared by the pediatrician, the family, the friends, the colleagues… were all very different and sometimes even surprising! As a doctor of nutrition, I was disappointed to see the lack of support from parents during food diversification. And when I saw the baby products on the supermarket shelves I understood why the children around me ate so much sugar! I also understood my own food difficulties and that’s when I decided to embark on the project Hamstouille. I really had the (very ambitious) desire to change the diet of toddlers.
What age groups is it aimed at?
3 years ago, I created a first platform for babies and their food diversification. And last July, we launched a second platform to support children from 1 to 6 years old.
How do you compare with the recommendations of pediatricians and doctors?
The majority of pediatricians and doctors do not at all have the same approach as us on child nutrition. They are formed with very different values from mine and those of my team. But the recommendations of the health authorities begin to take into account the important points on which we are working daily. And I’m sure that in a few years we will be much more in tune with health professionals on the diet of toddlers.
the role of the adult
is to choose foods
adapted to the abilities
and the needs of the child”
What are the “traditional” bad habits to avoid?
I think there is one thing in particular that we must avoid: feeding our children, doing things for them… Learning to eat should be done independently, like all other child development. We don’t walk in place of the child, we hold his hand and encourage him to take his first steps. So why should we ourselves put a certain amount of food in the mouth of the baby who begins the food diversification?
The parent naturally positions himself as a companion when his child gets up to walk: he secures the space and gives the child the means to progress on his own. It should be the same for food: the role of the adult is to choose foods adapted to the capacities and needs of the child. And the child can eat alone by listening to his feelings.
How often should the baby’s diet be diversified?
You should start introducing complementary foods (other than milk) between 4 and 6 months, when your child is ready. Next, each child goes at their own pace. We can offer two to three meals from the start, depending on the availability of the child. A baby who is autonomous in his diet will perfectly balance his milk intake and his meals according to his needs as he discovers them. The babies we follow eat everything, or almost, four times a day between 10 and 12 months for the most part.
Is there a link between poor childhood diet and future adult health?
Sure ! Eating behavior develops from the start of food diversification, and even before, during pregnancy and lactation.
Studies have shown that babies who are introduced to a wide variety of foods and textures during their first year will find it easier to incorporate them into their diet later on. Unfortunately, today food is not considered a fundamental point in the course of care for the child… As the sleep moreover, and it’s a pity, because these are the pillars of good health.
Do social inequalities in food have a significant influence? And if so how to fix it?
Yes, precisely today to be accompanied by infant nutrition professionals you have to pay. We have built our business model so that families can benefit from reimbursement from their mutual. But unfortunately not all families have mutual insurance and not all mutual insurance covers dietary benefits.
I think all parents should benefit from support like ours, covered by Social Security in the classic child care pathway. In the meantime, I offer free video workshops every week to inform as many people as possible about the basics of baby food. I do my best on my small scale.
How did you put together your team?
For our support of babies, I surrounded myself with nine dieticians specialized in infant nutrition. Between us, we are competent in infant nutrition, breastfeeding, breast-feeding, digestive disorders, food allergies, oral disorders, restrictive mouth brakes… And we continue to train ourselves regularly on the various subjects encountered in the field.
I built the toddler platform with a pediatric eating disorder dietitian and speech therapist, a psychologist, and a child rhythm and sleep consultant. Indeed, the diet of children from 1 to 6 years old is very strongly influenced by various factors. And I am convinced that multidisciplinary work is the most effective because each professional has his skills and sensitivities. I learned a lot about my job by working daily with all its professionals for 3 years.
Video follow-up, is it really effective?
When I started the activity Hamstouille I thought it would be a drag, but with the onset of covid it was the only viable option for us. Finally today I wouldn’t change anything because video allows a much simpler and more natural exchange with families. We accompany dads and moms who have just had a child, who are tired, and who have very little energy to spend on useless journeys. Our evening and weekend video slots are reserved several weeks in advance. Both parents can thus be present (often there is one of the two who manages the baby while the other is focused on the consultation).
It’s not uncommon to see parents in their bed, or in their pajamas on their sofa with a sandwich in one hand and baby in the other during our discussions and I think that’s great! The link between the parents and my team is often stronger than in the office and this allows families to talk about their difficulties without any filter, and therefore my colleagues to support them with much more relevance.
Which audience is most affected by your site?
I thought at first that only new parents would be interested in our services. But ultimately we have as many parents of first children as parents who already have several children. I regularly talk to parents who tell me they don’t want to reproduce the “errors” made with their first child. In the beginning we had a majority of wealthy families, but today our services are prescribed by many doctors and we regularly accompany parents who see this as a real long-term investment.
As parents, we should
put all our energy
to allow our children
to become conscious eaters”
We have families who are helped by their loved ones to finance our support and some parents save several months before calling on our services. And as surprising as it may seem, we also have quite a few healthcare and early childhood professionals who trust us with their child’s nutrition.
What is the “essential point” on which do you want to press about the diet of young children?
I think that the most important thing is to understand that the first years are crucial for the development of the child’s eating behavior and panel. And autonomy is the key to respecting needs and sensations. Our role is not to feed our children according to specific rules or quantities. Our role is to support our children in their learning about food by offering varied and healthy foods and letting them eat according to their needs and feelings. As parents, we should put all of our energy into helping our children become conscious eaters.
Interview by Philippe MOURET
See as well the government website eat move, Young children from 0 to 3 years old, from milk to diversification.
Some parents practice child-led diversification (DME), which consists in directly offering pieces of well-cooked food to the child without having given mashed potatoes or compotes or food with a spoon beforehand so that he discovers the food with his hands, this in the optics to promote his awakening to taste and the pleasure of eating. This is possible from about 6 months, as soon as the child knows how to sit well and knows how to catch and put in the mouth. But beware, this is an accompanied discovery. Parents have a fundamental role in observing what the child feels and enjoys, encouraging and reassuring him, and ensuring that the child swallows well. (source : Eat Move.
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