When the little one finally gets to eat solid food, the parents face one very acute challenge: what to feed her? Generally, this might be easy enough, considering all the recipes available online, as well as the advice of our own friends and parents.
But anyone who digs a bit deeper into it might find that giving just anything to the little one isn’t going to cut it. Babies less than one year old are still in a transition period where they’re basically “training” to eat adult food.
For babies that are breastfed, the standard is to rely on breastmilk as the primary source of nutrition until the little one is about a year old. And, whether or not the baby is breastfed, anything that goes into his or her mouth during the first year must be soft or mashed.
This is because during this period, the kids just aren’t physically ready for the real thing. They are still adjusting to life outside the womb, after all. And baby anatomy doesn’t exactly lend itself well to your standard turkey dinner or fast-food takeout. Aside from giving their digestive system time to adjust to new things, babies don’t have teeth, and those are pretty much a necessity for most adult foods.
But different foods might be restricted for other reasons. Today, we’ll cover the top fifteen foods that are commonly a cause for concern with babies and run through all the science-based justifications that they should not be given to the little one.
15 Delectable Honey
To adults, honey may seem to be the perfect sweetener. It is decidedly natural, or at least not processed sugar, it’s readily available at the local grocery and it’s delicious. But anyone who knows anything about babies will tell you to wait until the baby is a year old or more before giving him any.
This is because honey might contain spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum (yes, the very one that causes botulism.) For anyone above a year old, these spores are no danger. This is because these spores are extremely vulnerable to both stomach acids and the normal flora of the intestines. As such, we can chomp down on foods containing honey without having to worry about it. In babies, however, this mechanism isn’t as strong. In them, the normal flora hasn’t yet established itself and so it’s easy for the spores to enter the bloodstream and multiply, causing immense harm.
14 High-Mercury Fish
As far as meat goes, fish is pretty healthy. It’s rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. It is decidedly less fatty than pork or beef, and even particularly fatty fish contain the good kind of fats rather than the artery-clogging variety. In addition, fish is generally softer than meat and therefore easier on the growing baby.
It is important, however, to do some research on the particular kind of fish that the parents want to give to the baby. Many factories spew out mercury, which pollutes seawater, and in combination with the tiny amounts of naturally-occurring mercury, it can find its way into seafood. But most fish don’t retain as much mercury in their systems as others. Predatory fish such as tuna, marlin, swordfish and shark, however, do have high concentrations of it. Considering that elemental mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin and can easily build up in the baby’s small body, it’s probably better to stick with safer fish.
13 Salty Foods
Don’t get us wrong: the baby does need salt in her diet. But relative to us adults, she only needs a very minuscule amount of it. If you want to be specific, babies generally need only about 0.4 grams of salt per day – barely a pinch! And since sodium naturally occurs in many foods, moms and dads probably don’t need to add any extra. So it won’t do to add some of it to the little one’s food for “flavor.” She won’t mind that it’s bland, we promise.
But this also means that parents should avoid giving their babies food that is high in salt. It’s more abundant in prepared packages of food so it’s always best to check the label for sodium content, where possible. Too much salt in the body is dangerous as it can cause renal overload when the kidneys have to filter it out and flush it out through the urine.
12 Anything With Caffeine
To many of us, it might seem preposterous to give the baby coffee, if only for the fact that we really do want her to sleep whenever she can. It might be surprising to learn, though, that in some cultures this is common practice. Sometimes, it’s even used to treat constipation! Despite this, giving the little one coffee, or anything with caffeine in it, really, isn’t a great idea.
One main reason is that coffee is a diuretic. That is, it encourages urination. For the adult, it may not have a huge effect, but for a baby who has a relatively smaller body, it can be dehydrating. It’s also easier for a little one to have too much caffeine. And we all know what happens when someone drinks way too much coffee: the heart starts beating faster, possibly causing palpitations, and if the buzz is strong enough, the little one might get a really bad headache.
11 Hard Candy
Both candies and babies are sweet. And some parents do like giving their little ones candies as a bit of a “pacifier” to keep the little one’s mouth busy. Even though babies don't have teeth that can get cavities yet, this still isn't a great idea. Hard candies, in particular, are a double strike. For one thing, they contain a lot of sugar. Empty calories, at that, as they won’t exactly have anything but sugar. And, as we all know, too much sugar can damage the baby’s teeth and gums, and cause a multitude of serious, even chronic health problems like diabetes.
In addition, hard candies also pose a major choking hazard. They are, after all, just the right size to lodge into the little one’s airway. And given that babies may reflexively attempt to swallow anything that’s in their mouths instead of waiting for it to melt off, this happens all too often. Besides, why give the baby candy when there are so many other better, healthier options?
10 Nut Butters
Don’t get us wrong: introducing nut butters to the little one is probably alright, if there is no family history of nut allergies. In fact, researchers suspect that the increase in kids who are allergic to nuts may have something to do with the fact that parents avoid giving them to their babies, and so the kids’ immune systems don’t recognize them as familiar. And, indeed, studies have shown that kids who were given peanut butter or other peanut products during infancy are far less likely to develop allergies. But all that is a whole other discussion that we’ll save for another time.
The thing with nut butters is that if you must give it to the little one, spread it thinly on toast or a cracker. Never give it straight off the spoon, a very common mistake amongst new parents. This has less to do with allergies than it has to do with the fact that nut butters are, surprisingly, a common choking hazard.
9 Any Kind Of Soda
Everyone knows that soda, delicious and refreshing as it is, is bad for the health. For babies, in particular, it can be very damaging for a multitude of reasons. For one thing, it contains large amounts of sugar, and some even contain caffeine - two things babies should definitely not be consuming. Soda is also acidic, and considering that the baby’s stomach already has acid and is sensitive, it can give the little one stomach pains or, in large amounts, can even cause ulcers!
Fun fact: in the 1950s, there was actually an Ad campaign that claimed that soda was “so pure, so wholesome” that you could give it to babies. Yes, complete with an illustration of an infant guzzling soda straight out of the bottle. There is a very good reason why you’d never see this Ad today.
8 Non-Formula Cow’s Milk
A curious parent might wonder: if infant formula is made from cow’s milk, why not just skip it altogether and go directly to the real stuff? After all, non-formula cow’s milk is very accessible - and cheaper, at that. Yet, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the little one avoids cow’s milk until she’s about a year old. And this is for one very stark reason: cow’s milk was made especially for, well, cows.
It’s pretty easy to see how the nutrients required for a developing cow may not be the same as those required for a developing human. Cows, for instance, require more protein in their diet than humans. And humans require more essential vitamins and minerals such as iron, copper and vitamin C. In addition, a human baby might find that cow’s milk is more difficult to digest and may cause a great deal of discomfort for baby such as gas and cramping. We’re talking about an animal that eats and digests grass, after all! Infant formula, however, has been supplemented and tweaked to meet baby’s needs.
7 Fruit Juices
Truth be told, experts are on the fence with this one. Most say that it’s a bad idea to give fruit juice to a baby less than a year old. Others, however, might say that it’s perfectly fine, but only if it’s diluted and in small amounts. But they do agree on one thing: if the little one can have milk, it’s probably better to give her milk over fruit juice.
One reason for this is that, as with any food or drink, fruit juice can fill up the little one’s tummy. However, as it is not as nutritious as breastmilk or formula, the baby is essentially getting fewer nutrients per gulp. As such, babies who drink too much fruit juice might be prone to malnutrition. In addition, many commercial fruit juices have inordinate amounts of sugar or other sweeteners. These can cause tooth decay, increase the baby’s risk for obesity or cause gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea or gas.
6 Under Cooked Meat Or Unpasteurized Dairy
Cooking is a wondrous thing. It unleashes the nutrients in food by breaking some of the chemical bonds, making them much easier to digest. More importantly, however, heat kills potentially harmful microorganisms in the food. This is why humans who have adapted cooking as a survival strategy have, over the years, better been able to endure the challenges of the world.
Cooking is especially important for infants as, during the first year of life, they are particularly vulnerable to infection. Baby immune systems aren’t quite mature, after all, and cooking is one of the lines of defense they have. And while mom and dad can probably give the little one a raw fruit or vegetable, as long as it’s washed and cut into the appropriate size pieces, there are some hardline restrictions. Raw or undercooked meat and eggs, as well as unpasteurized dairy, are all dangers as they potentially contain very harmful microorganisms that the baby’s immune system cannot fight.
5 Round Or Chunky Foods
Round or chunky foods that are just about the right size are a danger to babies everywhere. This is because the baby can easily choke on these foods. Considering that the little one will not be able to chew her foods as well as an adult, she is prone to just swallowing it whole. However, there is a possibility that instead of falling into the esophagus (aka the food pipe) it might find its way to the connected trachea (aka the windpipe).
This poses a very big danger because a blocked windpipe can mean that the little one will not be able to breathe properly. Smaller choking hazards might not impair breathing, but they can lodge in other places in the airway and cause infection. Common offenders include whole grapes, popcorn, nuts, seeds and chunks of fruits or vegetables that are cut too big. As such, it’s important to make sure to avoid choking hazards or, at least, cut them very small.
4 Chewing Gum
Babies – and even toddlers – do not yet understand that it’s possible to chew something and not swallow it. After all, instinct dictates that anything that goes into the mouth must be something for nourishment. And so it’s best to avoid things like chewing gum.
While cases of swallowed gum in children are usually harmless, as it can safely pass through the digestive tract, the same can’t be said for babies. After all, their gastrointestinal systems are significantly smaller than that of children, and so it’s far easier for something to get clogged in there. Also, gum can pose a choking hazard since it's usually the right size to lodge in the throat and block the airway. Since it’s also quite sticky, it can be difficult to dislodge once it’s in. Finally, most gums just have plenty of sugar. And with all that sugar in the mouth for long periods of time, it’s a recipe for tooth decay!
3 Cakes, Cookies And Ice Cream
Speaking of tooth decay, it’s a terrible idea to give the little one sweets like cakes, cookies and ice cream. We understand that even babies have a sweet tooth. In fact, babies have a preference for sweet things, as this to them indicates that the food has plenty of much-needed calories. This instinct is great for the good old days where food was scarce. But, nowadays, as calorie-dense food is more readily available, this probably isn’t the best thing to do.
For one thing, eating sweets can make the little one feel full sooner. As such, she won’t be able to get her daily share of the vitamins and minerals that she’d normally get from eating healthy food. And then there’s tooth decay. It’s understandably a legitimate concern, causing pain, discomfort and difficulty to the little one! But it gets worse: if left untreated it can result in serious infection.
2 Raw Carrots
It may seem, by now, that vegetables are the perfect baby food and can do no harm. But don’t be fooled! Sometimes, even these healthy, wholesome things can be a danger. Hard vegetables such as carrots can pose a choking hazard. This is especially when they’re cut into large pieces that could possibly lodge in the baby’s throat. This is compounded by the fact that they’re quite hard to chew, and so the baby has a higher chance of swallowing carrot chunks whole.
The danger goes away, though, if the carrots are cooked as this makes them soft and friendlier for the baby. And cooked carrots are actually more nutritious than raw carrots! But if mom really wants to bypass the cooking stage, she might want to opt for grating them or, perhaps, throwing them into a food processor and mixing them with milk or other vegetables.
1 Processed Meat
In families that aren’t vegetarian or vegan, it’s best to introduce meat at about six to eight months of age. Meat is a great source of protein and vitamins, as well as great for a varied diet! However, the line must be drawn with processed meat. Sausages, ham and any other deli meat, therefore, are off limits! As a general rule, the meat given to the little one must not have been cured or come from a can. Ideally, any meat served should be prepared at home rather than bought elsewhere. This is in addition to cooking it well and cutting it into small, baby-friendly pieces.
This is primarily because processed meat often contains salt and a lot of other preservatives. And while these are alright for adults when consumed in small amounts, it’s not great for the baby in any amount. These additives can not only cause damage to the little one’s kidneys, some of them can also trigger severe allergic reactions.