Guidelines for infant nutrition have experienced significant back-and-forth over the years. For many experts, it's clear that new official recommendations concerning infant nutrition are sorely needed. Guidelines are once again shifting, and it can often be challenging for parents to keep up.
Three main areas that seem to get a lot of attention currently include rice cereal, the age at which babies should start solids, and pureés vs. baby-led weaning.
In many developed countries, iron-fortified baby rice cereal is still an official recommendation as a first food for baby, however, critics have begun to question why - given that it does not naturally contain iron and contains relatively high levels of arsenic.
Arsenic isn't the only concern when it comes to rice cereal.
"For years we’ve been starting babies not just on cereal but iron-fortified cereal and instead of recognizing that cereal doesn’t have the nutrients a six-month-old baby needs, we’ve fortified it," said Gill Rapley, a public health nurse and a leading expert on baby-led weaning. "It doesn’t make any sense."
Natasha Murray, Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, agrees that there are much better iron-rich options - such as meat, for example.
"Meat is a great first food for babies and it can be ground down," she said.
When To Start Solids?
Across the board, experts agree that up to 12 months, milk or formula should be a child’s main source of nutrition. Many say that six months is an ideal time to start solids. At this age, babies are generally developmentally ready, their iron and zinc stores begin to decrease, and their energy needs start to increase.
Although the age for starting solids has changed (from four to six months), generally, the guidelines for what and how they eat have not.
"A jump from four to six months is a huge leap," said Rapley. "That’s time and a half the child’s age and yet the information stayed exactly the same about purees and spoons and nobody thought to update it."
Rapley added that compared to a four-month-old, a six-month-old has different nutritional needs and abilities, and this needs to be taken into account.
Purées VS Baby-Led Weaning
Finally, when it comes to spoon-feeding VS finger foods, Rapley believes that giving control to the child and allowing them to feed themselves is the best way forward.
Baby-led weaning allows little ones to interact with their food, which gives them an opportunity to learn about food and work on their development at the same time. Rapley also believes that baby-led weaning contributes to less fussy babies in the long run.
All in all, she says parents should do what makes them the most comfortable, but also pay close attention to their baby's development.
"If they are reaching for your food off your plate, as long as it’s not a choking risk and as long as you’re supervising them, let them go for it," she said.