Why Doctor – At what age should we start food diversification in a baby?
Food diversification should begin between 4 and 6 months. Never before because there are more or less significant risks of food allergies: the child is not yet mature on the digestive level. And not after 6 months either because there are risks of deficiencies, especially in iron because the mother’s milk is no longer sufficient to meet these needs in particular. And even if the child is fed infant milk in which iron is added, this is really the window of age for introducing new foods.
After for the exact age, it depends a lot on the baby, his tone and his desire. But if he really doesn’t want to eat other foods, you may want to see a healthcare professional to see if everything is okay.
Food diversification: “You always have to go gradually and at the child’s pace”
Any advice on how to gradually implement it?
The National Health Nutrition Program (PNNS) tells us that there is no order to introduce foods, that everything can be offered without any particular problem. However, it is good to structure this stage to help the child learn the taste of each thing. It is therefore advisable to do vegetable by vegetable, then to try the fruits, and if all goes well, the proteins.
When the child does not like a new flavor, do not hesitate to offer the food 8 to 10 times. But above all, you must always go gradually and at your own pace, considering that babies have their own satiety: some will immediately eat half a small jar while others will only need two teaspoons to start.
After one year, can growing-up milk be replaced by cow’s milk?
Growing-up milk is much more suited to the nutritional needs of young humans, which is not the case with cow’s milk, which is suited to those of young calves. This milk is too protein and does not contain enough iron, with mainly saturated lipids. However, at this age in particular, the child has significant needs for iron and polyunsaturated fatty acids which are good for neurosensory development. It is therefore necessary to continue growing-up milk for up to three years, which makes it possible to cover a good part of these needs. It is recommended to offer 350 to 800 ml maximum per day.
Lipids: add oils rich in omega-3 and 6 to the baby’s plate
The Nutri-Bébé study by the French Children’s Food Sector (SFAE) also reveals that many babies do not consume enough fat. What are their daily needs?
The daily lipid requirements correspond to 40% of the calorie intake. They are mainly ensured by dairy intake (from the mother or infant milk) and by vegetable oils. So we advise up to one year to add to the plate of vegetables, at noon, or even in the evening also if the child consumes it at dinner, rapeseed or walnut oil (which are oils rich in omega -3 and omega-6). Olive oil is less interesting for the toddler because it is richer in omega-9. From time to time, it is also good to replace the oil with butter to have interesting dairy lipid intakes. Finally, oily fish also help to meet lipid needs, at the rate of one serving per week.
And how do I know if my baby is eating enough to cover his needs?
A child who is breastfed, regardless of the number of feedings per day, we know that he will cover his needs. To supplement with lipids from the food diversification, it is a teaspoon of oil added to the plate until one year, then two spoons after.
A vegetarian diet before the age of 3 does not present a health risk
How much protein should you give your child?
In France, children eat too much animal protein (meat, fish, eggs). However, you have to be very careful because it is not good for their health and their growth to give them too much. Today we recommend 10 g of animal protein per day and per year of age. We can also think of vegetable proteins with legumes, because the more the child will go in food diversity, the better he will be.
Is a vegetarian diet suitable for children under 3?
There are almost no problems with the vegetarian diet because these children generally have good nutritional intake if they eat eggs, dairy products and always consume infant formula. Moreover, for parents who do not wish to give an infant milk based on cow’s milk for ethical reasons, there are vegetable infant milks based on rice proteins that are perfectly balanced to meet the needs of the child up to at the age of three.
For vegans (who exclude any product of animal origin), it is more complicated because there is a risk of deficiencies, especially in vitamin B12, iron and zinc. So in this case, it is absolutely necessary that parents be accompanied by health professionals to have food supplements adapted to children, by regularly carrying out nutritional assessments.
The Ipsos Nutri-Bébé 2022 study of the French Childhood Food Sector (SFAE) gives us a snapshot of the food practices and consumption in France of children under 3 years old as well as their evolution. In particular, it reveals that:
- The breastfeeding rate is down: “55% of children are breastfed or have been breastfed, while 62% were in 2013”. However, “it should be noted that mothers who breastfed continued this practice longer than those who did in 2013”.
- Babies would consume non-specific cow’s milk too early: “1/4 of babies in the survey between 1 and 2 years old and almost 50% after 2 years”, while growing-up milk (or 3rd age milk) is recommended by pediatricians up to 3 years.
- Toddlers eat more and more in front of screens: “It is during breakfast that the screen is most present (42% of children occasionally eat breakfast in front of a screen).”
- The pediatrician remains “an essential compass for parents of young children”: “52% of primiparous mothers cite the pediatrician as the first source of influence, while 57% of multiparous first mention their instinct.”
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