At last! The long awaited infant nutrition post! Here goes....
Breast milk is all baby needs for the first six months of life. Human milk is perfectly formulated for human babies, and will ideally be babies only food for the first half of their first year. Although breastfeeding can be challenging, help is readily available. If you are having problems, contact your local La Leche League leader, a public health nurse, or even a friend who has breastfeeding experience. Some great resources are The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, The Breastfeeding Book, and any Jack Newman book.
If breastfeeding is absolutely not possible, then the baby should be fed formula exclusively for the first six months. At this time, I do not know of any vegan infant formulas, as even soy formulas contain lanolin, a derivative of sheep's wool.
Beginning solid foods is a very exciting time for parents and babies! It is best to wait until the baby is 6 months old before starting solids, but some babies can start earlier. If you think your baby is ready to start foods earlier, discuss it with your naturopath, or pediatrician.
The best foods to start with are fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are structurally similar to breast milk, and are easy for baby to digest. These foods will also help baby develop a taste for healthy foods. Juicy fruits and vegetables are best to start with (such as cucumber and pear). Lightly steam, then puree each food before serving, mixing with breast milk or water to thin, if decided. A handy trick is to make large batches of a particular item at once, and then freeze in ice cube trays, making perfect baby-sized portions that are easy to thaw and gently heat.
It is common to give baby a fortified infant cereal at six months, but grains are harder to digest, and can be rough on baby's sensitive tummy. The reason that infant cereal is often suggested as a first food, is that baby's iron stores begin to deplete around six months of age. If you are concerned about iron, steamed and pureed greens (such as kale, spinach, and chard) are great iron-rich foods.
Note: Tomatoes, strawberries, corn and citrus are common allergens, and should be avoided until 1 year of age.
Note: Foods should be given in a 3-day block, meaning that after each new food is introduce, do not introduce another new food for 3 days, to see if baby has a reaction. This holds true for all new foods, not just fruits and vegetables. Some reactions may include rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, irritability, congestion, eczema, and diaper rash. Consult your naturopath or pediatrician if you have a history of severe allergies, or are concerned about your babies reactions to certain foods. Do not mix a new food with any other foods until you are sure that the baby does not have any allergies or sensitivities to the foods.
At nine months, it is safe to introduce lentils, split peas, non-gluten grains, and nuts and seeds.
Lentils, split peas and grains (non-gluten grains include rice, quinoa, amaranth and millet) should be cooked, and pureed until baby seems ready for different textures.
Nuts and seeds should initially be ground, and mixed with breast milk or water to create a paste. Always use raw, unsalted nuts, such as flax seeds, almonds, sunflower seeds, and hemp seeds. If your family has a history of allergies, you can delay the introduction of nuts and seeds until 18 months or later. Peanuts are a common allergen, so their introduction should be delayed until at least one year of age.
Around 10 months, once baby has a few teeth, he/she may be interested in trying finger foods. Finger foods should be soft enough for baby to "gum". Good finger foods include small pieces of banana, avocado, or steamed, cooled fruits and vegetables or gluten-free pasta. Kamut and rice puffs are easy to eat, and are still a favorite for Quinn.
Once baby is a year old, it is a good time to introduce legumes, soy, and gluten grains, as well as the allergenic fruits that were avoided at 6 months.
Although it might be tempting to treat baby to a sugary birthday cake, it is best to limit the intake of sugar. A quick internet search will lend you plenty of sugar-free cake and treat recipes that are easy to veganize.
Other important points:
- Babies are much more sensitive to toxic pesticides than adults, so it is important to buy organic whenever possible.
- Breastfeeding should continue until at least two years of age. If it ceases before that time, it is important to supplement with DHA fortified formula, or integrate a DHA oil into the baby's diet.
Some good resources for feeding infants and young children are Raising Vegetarian Children, the New Vegetarian Baby, Disease-Proof Your Child and the infant feeding section found in Vive le Vegan.
If I left out anything, or you have a specific question, please feel free to ask in the comments, and I will try my best to answer as soon as possible.