Tip #1: Introduce Allergens Carefully
Eight foods are responsible for 90 percent of food allergies: milk, wheat, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, seafood, and fish. Berries, citrus, seeds, and corn can also be problematic. While you might feel inclined to avoid these foods altogether, Rachelle Lessen, a registered dietitian and clinical nutritionist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, recommends introducing them under careful supervision as early as 6 months, when the immune system is developed. Watch for adverse reactions and cross foods off the "danger" list as you tackle them. Keep detailed notes about what your baby is eating so you can discuss problems with a doctor.
Tip #2: Watch for Gluten Intolerance
Gluten intolerance and celiac disease are on the rise. An intolerance indicates that the digestive system is unable to process a substance, in this case gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. Gluten also makes its way into countless processed foods. Watch for reactions to any of these foods just as you would when introducing the top allergenic foods. While an intolerance is different from an allergy (which involves an auto-immune response to a particular food), it can seriously impact your child's growth and should be discussed with your doctor.
Tip #3: Beware of Choking Hazards
Anything that has the potential to get lodged in your baby's throat should be added to the choking hazards list: nuts, hot dogs, chunks of fruit, raw vegetables, grapes, hard candy, gum, popcorn, raisins, dried cranberries, peanut butter (it's too sticky for little mouths to manipulate), hard or chewy meat, whole berries, and too-big pieces of cheese are several. As Baby starts to grasp finger foods, he'll become more apt to explore, so make sure these temptations are out of sight.
Tip #4: Avoid Food-borne Illnesses
Babies are especially susceptible to food-borne illnesses because of their fragile and just-developed immune systems. Raw or undercooked eggs can expose Baby to salmonella. Unpasteurized milk and veined cheeses can harbor Listeria. Shellfish could play host to Vibrio bacteria. Honey is not recommended for babies under 12 months because it can contain Clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that can be managed by most developed -- but not immature -- immune systems.
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Tip #5: Skip Added Sugars
Babies don't need extra sugar mixed into homemade food or big doses of sugar often found in processed foods. Exposing them to sugar early on may only develop a wicked sweet tooth to be contended with later. Natural sugars in fruits and vegetables provide plenty of sweetness for babies' brand-new palates. Beware of processed foods, especially some jarred baby foods and baby biscuits, with added sugars.
Tip #6: Hold Back on Salt
Don't add salt to jarred baby food or any you make at home, and check for high sodium levels in processed foods -- including smoked fish, meats, and cheeses -- that you may be feeding your baby. Too much salt can be difficult for tiny kidneys to process and can cause dehydration. If you feed Baby the same food the rest of the family is eating, hold off on seasoning it with salt until after you portion out her share.
Tip # 7: Exclude Additives and Preservatives
Babies -- and adults -- should avoid food additives and preservatives, which is tough to do when relying on processed foods. Feed your baby homemade food as often as you can, and read labels carefully when you opt to buy packaged foods instead. Artificial sweeteners can be included on this list of substances to avoid since they are chemicals that Baby can do without.
Tip #8: Choose Full-Fat Dairy Products
Growing babies need fat and calories. Low-fat dairy products don't offer enough and nonfat options often call on additives and preservatives, sugars, and salt for texture and flavor enhancements. While your baby won't start drinking cows' milk instead of breast milk or formula until his first birthday, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese are excellent options for first foods. Choose the full-fat version even if your personal stash is skim.
Tip #9: Monitor Fiber Intake
Fiber is generally a good and necessary nutrient; it helps keep the digestive system moving and internal balance in check. Too much fiber, though, can deplete Baby of other nutrients, which get pulled out of the system with the fiber cleanse. It's unlikely that a child under age 1 will consume too much fiber, and a little gas from beans at lunch shouldn't be taken as a fiber overdose. But keep an eye on food combinations as your baby eats more solids.
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