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Tuesday, 27 July, 1999, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Q&A: Baby feeding
Babies should not be given solid foods in the first four months of life
BBC News Online asked Mary Daly, of the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association, for some simple, practical advice on the dos and don'ts of baby feeding.


How long should parents feed a child entirely on breast or formula milk?

For the first four months of life, nothing but breast or infant formula milk should be given to a baby.

Not even cow's milk should be given until after one year, as it contains higher levels of salt and less fat.

How will parents know if a baby is ready for some form of solid foods?

After four months, and usually before six months, babies start showing signs that they are ready for solid food.

They may simply not be satisfied with milk, perhaps wanting to be fed more often.

They might drool when near to food, or start to chew or put their fingers in their mouths.

The appearance of teeth doesn't matter. It normally happens at between five and six months, but even if it happens earlier than four months, it isn't a sign that babies need solid foods.

What sort of solid food should be given?

Even when a baby is ready for solid food, the mainstay of the diet will still be breast or formula milk.

Common first foods include baby rice, which can be bought ready-prepared for babies.

At first, a baby is only learning the skills of eating, so large quantities are not needed - three tiny meals a day should be enough.

You could also give pureed fruits, then perhaps go on to pureed vegetables, or manufactured first foods specifically for babies.

The vegetables should be cooked without additional salt - it is not needed.

Is it easy to tell if a baby needs more fluids?

If a baby is eating a lot of food and still crying, it's worth considering that the baby may be thirsty.

Babies can be given ordinary tap water, boiled and then allowed to cool right down.

Obviously, there are warning signs that a baby has become dehydrated, such as dark urine, but parents should concentrate on giving enough fluid in the first place rather than looking out for signs first, as a baby can deteriorate very quickly.

What sort of foods should not be given?

The danger foods are highly processed adult foods such as cereals or instant mashed potato. Even things like baked beans, bread, or tinned tomatoes can be high in salt unless it says otherwise.

Parents must be extremely suspicious of all processed foods.

What problems do too much salt cause to babies?

Salt is far more toxic to young babies, particularly those under the age of four months, because their kidneys are immature and cannot excrete enough salt into the urine.

Too much salt in the diet causes the baby to become dehydrated, which can lead to organ damage in extreme cases.

A baby does need a certain amount of salt in its diet, but this will be amply provided by breast and formula milk, and, after four months, from unprocessed foods such as rice, fruit and vegetables.

Is there anywhere else I can go for advice?

The obvious source of information is a health visitor - any parent worried about baby feeding should contact them for advice and encouragement.

There are a number of good booklets available on the subject of introducing solids. One is called "weaning with family meals", and it can be obtained free of charge from:

The British Meat Nutrition Education Service, PO Box 44, Winter Hill House, Snowdon Drive, Milton Keynes, MK6 1AX. Telephone (01908) 234423. (nutrition@mlc.org.uk)

See also:

27 Jul 99 | Medical notes
Salt
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