Unsafe foods to avoid during your baby’s first year

Read on to see which foods you should avoid giving your baby during his or her first 12 months and which you can cautiously include.

Unsafe foods to avoid during your baby's first year
 When it comes to weaning, let your baby guide you.

Breast milk or formula is all your baby needs for the first few months to satisfy their hunger and support their growth and development. However, breast milk or formula will no longer be enough to satisfy your baby after the age of five or six months, and you’ll have to start supplementing your tot’s diet.

So, which foods should you avoid giving your baby during his or her first 12 months?

We chat with Catherine Day, a qualified dietitian and certified lactation consultant located in Cape Town, for her expert advice.

When to start solids

When starting your baby on solids, it’s important to practise responsive feeding (RF). This simply means following your baby’s hunger cues and responding to them. “Every child is different, and not all babies will drink the same amount of breast milk or eat the same amount of solid foods. Let your baby guide you as to how much food he needs and when his hunger is satisfied,” says Catherine.

Expert advice for starting solids

  • Start on a weekend, because you’ll have more time to feed your little one and get him used to the process.
  • Start with one to two teaspoons of smooth, pureéd or mashed food. Start with one meal per day.
  • The type of food you start with is not important, rather focus on offering variety once your baby learns to manage solid food.
  • When he is eating larger quantities (more than two teaspoons), add a second meal until you eventually progress to three meals per day.

Avoid these foods when starting solids

Chocolates

Chocolates are high in sugar and do not contribute to growth and development. They should be avoided at all costs during your baby’s first year.

Raw carrots

Raw carrots shouldn’t be given to babies younger than 12 months and are a major choking hazard. Only give them to older children who don’t gag easily and who can tolerate other raw foods like pieces of raw apple.

Honey

Babies younger than 12 months old shouldn’t be given honey, because it can contain spores of a bacterium called clostridium botulinum. This can infect a baby’s immature digestive system and cause infant botulism − a form of food poisoning that can be fatal and requires emergency medical care.

Grapes

Grapes are choking hazards for all children. In fact, whole grapes are the third most common cause of death among children who die in food-related choking incidents. However, seedless grapes can still be offered if cut into small pieces. If you do give your little one grapes to eat, you must watch him the whole time and he must sit still when eating – often, the distraction of something far more interesting than eating or chewing is why choking occurs.

Popcorn

Only give popcorn to your baby after his first birthday. However, each case needs to be assessed by the parent. Children who tolerate raw foods like apple would probably be able to chew and swallow popcorn. It’s important to watch your baby very carefully when he tries any new foods for the first time.

Nuts and peanuts

Whole and chopped nuts and peanuts are choking hazards and should only be offered when your little one is over a year old. Again, these foods need to be offered when a parent is watching and certainly not when he is on the move.

Babies who are at high risk of developing a peanut or nut allergy, based on family history, can be introduced to peanut/nut-containing foods between four and six months of age as this may reduce the risk for developing an allergy. This should be done in consultation with your paediatrician as he may want to do controlled allergy tests first.

Good to know: Peanut butter can be very stodgy, so it’s best to mix it with a little plain yoghurt so it’s easier to swallow. If your baby has mild or moderate eczema, peanut foods can be introduced after solids, at around six months of age. Again, it’s best to consult your doctor.

Hot dogs

White bread and white rolls are sources of refined carbohydrates that should only be offered on occasion. A better option would be to offer a wholewheat or brown roll. Viennas are also high in salt, so are not recommended before your little one’s first birthday.

Crisps

These snacks are high in salt and contain no nutrients that are useful for growth and development.

Cow’s milk

While cow’s milk can be introduced between six to seven months in small amounts (a teaspoon at a time), it should never be used as a replacement for breast milk. Continued breastfeeding after six months protects against allergic reactions when solid foods are introduced in small amounts.

Good to know: Cow’s milk is a poor iron source and provides excess protein, fat, and energy when used in large amounts, and should never be offered as a main drink before 12 months of age.

Be cautious of these foods

Green leafy vegetables and beetroot

If you’re introducing solids before six months of age, be cautious about giving your baby green leafy vegetables and beetroot as the nitrate contained in these is too high for your little one to process. While it’s true that green leafy vegetables and beetroot contain nitrates, it doesn’t mean you can’t offer your baby these foods. Large amounts of nitrates can negatively affect the blood counts of your baby, but this is more likely to be an issue if your water supply is too high in nitrates as opposed to the amounts found in food.

According to the World Health Organization, solids should be offered from six months. If you follow these recommendations, the risk for nitrate toxicity is reduced. Babies who are under the age of three months are particularly susceptible to nitrate toxicity. However, after six months of age, your baby’s stomach acids have further developed and he becomes less at risk for problems.

You can introduce beets to your little one’s diet from around six months, but only in small portions. Start by pureéing the beet, then mashing it with a fork, then grating it, and eventually move on to cutting it in cubes when he can tolerate finger foods. Beets are a good source of fibre, potassium, and vitamin C.

Good to know: If you offer your baby a variety of foods, it’s unlikely that nitrates would be a problem as your little one will not be eating beetroot three times a day.

Citrus

Citrus fruits are good sources of vitamin C, but they must be given to your baby in the right way. Always peel the fruit first and separate the segments before giving it to your baby.

Berries

Berries are a good source of polyphenols. They can be offered to your little one as pureé once you start introducing solids. Only give your little one berries cut in pieces when he is between eight and nine months old as they can be a choking hazard.

Salt and sugar

The addition of extra table salt to complementary foods is not recommended, but you shouldn’t exclude salt from your baby’s diet altogether. Iodised salt is an important source of iodine, which is necessary for the growth and mental development of infants. However, don’t offer your baby snacks like crisps and drinks that contain large amounts of added sugar and salt during the first year.

Good to know: Know nutrient-dense liquids, such as tea and coffee, energy-dense sugar-sweetened drinks, an excessive intake of fruit juice and high-fat and salty snacks exacerbate poor nutrient intake and displace nutrient-dense food in the diet.