There was an article in the newspaper, the Toronto Star, this week stating that Health Canada has changed its stance on baby's first food. Previously, they recommended that babies start with a bland infant rice cereal. They are now recommending that at 6 months, babies should receive meat or a meat substitute as their first food.
The reason. Iron.
I blogged about baby's first food quite a while back. For a baby who does not have any health concerns, like anemia (low iron), my opinion is to start with fruits and vegetables. A vegetable like sweet potato or butternut squash is going to be easy on a baby's developing digestive system. It is slightly sweet, like breast milk, and is packed with nutrients. Meat, on the other hand, puts an adult's digestive system to work for many hours. Imagine your 6-month old's body digesting a steak. Granted, that's not entirely true because Health Canada recommends pureeing that steak.
Back to their reasoning for recommending meat and meat substitutes. Iron. A baby is born with iron stores courtesy of that kind lady who carried him/her. For most babies, there is no concern about iron levels until the second half of their first year. A baby's iron stores start to diminish (not disappear entirely!) at the 6 month mark. This doesn't mean that baby is iron deficient, it just means that he/she needs to start eating some iron-rich foods. It is also important to note that if Mom's iron levels are sufficient and she is still breastfeeding, baby is receiving iron in that way. While the amount of iron in a steak is far greater than the amount in breast milk, breast milk's iron is far more absorbable.
I'm not opposed to giving a baby meat, but I do not agree with it being given as a first food. I believe that meat should be giving to infants closer to the age of one. My girls began eating non-meat protein, such as beans and legumes, at about 9 months old. They tried chicken and tofu at about 11ish months.
Green vegetables, such as kale and spinach, are fantastic and very absorbable sources of iron. Add some fresh lemon to your greens because the vitamin C will help your body absorb the iron better.
I recently started giving the girls organic nettle tea (a herbal tea) with raw, local honey and a bit of fresh lemon. My reason will have to wait for another post :) However, I bring it up now because nettle tea is a fantastic source or iron and has been used as a natural remedy for anemia (low iron). So, if you do suffer from low iron, it might be something to consider*.
Personally, I feel like Health Canada's new guidelines might scare new parents into giving their 6-month old a ribeye or risk having an anemic child. In the 6-12 month period, breast milk or formula should be baby's primary nutrition source. If baby's diet is supplemented with lots of nutrient-rich foods, there is no reason that meat can't be introduced at closer to a year.
*Disclaimer: The information included on this blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Prior to beginning any alternative treatment, please seek the advice of a naturopathic doctor.