frequently asked questions regarding infant feeding

In today’s modern age of technology, computers and the World Wide Web have transformed our world into a global village.  Gone are the days of pulling out a dusty encyclopaedia when you needed some information.  Today we are spoilt and by the click of the button, we have access to pages and pages of up to date information.  If you have the time, you can surf the internet for hours or even days and filter through the abundance of information. The question is however, how can we tell which information is credible and scientifically based or which isn’t?  How can we tell which information is recent and which is outdated?  In order to help along the way, here are some frequently asked questions relating to infant feeding which I hope will help all those special parents along the way.


Question 1 – At what age should solids be introduced?

The time old debate on when is the best time to introduce solids.  It is generally recommended to introduce solids between the ages of 4 to 6 months depending on the readiness of your baby.  It is important to not introduce solids too early (i.e. before 17 weeks of age) or too late (i.e. after 6 months of age).  The World Health Organisation recommends introducing solids at 6 months of age.  It is best to use the time line as a guide and to focus more on your baby’s cues if he or she is ready for solids during this time.  All babies develop differently and some are ready to go with food at 4 months whilst others are quite content on their milk until 5 or 6 months.

Here are some all-important signs that your baby is getting ready for solids:

  • Baby’s ability to hold up his head
  • His ability to sit well with support
  • Seems dissatisfied after milk feeds
  • Showing an increased interest in YOUR food at family mealtimes
  • Absence of the tongue thrust reflex i.e. pushing everything that is put in his mouth back out

Question 2 – Can babies eat honey?

Honey is deliciously sweet and although it makes a great addition to a cup of Rooibos tea, it is not recommended for babies until after 1 year of age.  We always recommend not introducing sweet or sugary foods to your baby or toddler.  In addition to this however, honey contains spores of Clostridium Botulinum which can cause botulism poisoning and due to this The American Academy of Paediatrics advised honey to not be introduced before 12 months of an age.  Botulism spores cannot be destroyed during household cooking methods and temperatures and therefore baked goods containing honey should also be avoided.


Question 3 – Can my baby drink fruit juice?

The best fluids to give to your baby is either breastmilk or formula milk, as they both contain important nutrients such as carbohydrate, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals to support growth and development.  Fruit juices are not a suitable drink for babies as they are high in sugar. Fruit juices are marketed as a fruit replacement and often labelled as a good source of vitamin C.  Don’t be deceived by this clever labelling. Fruit juices are not a substitute for fruit, but a high sugary drink which results in a quick release of too much sugar into the bloodstream. They also offer little nutritional value and are not a suitable replacement for actual fruit.  Babies exposed to fruit juice from a young age usually become accustomed to the sweet taste, making the transition to only water quite difficult.  Babies (when age appropriate) and toddlers that are introduced to water only and exposed to the family drinking water, learn to develop this behaviour and will usually continue to drink water as they grow older.  So it is recommended to save some pennies and scrap fruit juice from the house.

Question 4 – Can I add salt or spices to baby food?

It is always recommended for baby food to taste delicious and to offer varying flavour combinations. Adding spices such as curry powder or pepper are however discouraged, although many cultures introduce spicy foods to babies during the weaning process.  Baby tummies are very sensitive and the spices can aggravate their tummies and gut.  Salt should always be avoided.  Salt has become a household staple and it is often an automatic reaction before you eat to add salt (often before even tasting the meal).  So it is often asked by parents if salt can be added to baby food to make it taste better?  Due to the sodium content however, it should be avoided in babies.  Baby food should still be full of flavour and you can focus on using natural herbs such as basil, sage, thyme, rosemary to flavour foods, as well as gentle spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.

Question 5 – Will adding baby cereal to my baby bedtime bottle make him sleep through?

Any parent of a baby will understand how truly gruelling sleep deprivation can feel.  This is particularly true for parents of babies who prefer to rather play during the night then sleep or those babies who are cat nappers, and wake soon after going to sleep and mum just finished making a delicious cup of tea.  The pure exhaustion can make any parent desperate to find a miracle cure to make their little angels sleep through the night.  The time old tradition or myth: “Add some baby cereal to the bottle – your baby will have a blissful full night’s sleep”.  A simple solution and very tempting for any sleep deprived parent.

It is important to remember however that a baby’s sleep pattern is not only regulated by nutrition.  Yes a baby may in the night showing signs of hunger, then nutrition does play a role which may occur when a baby is transitioning from milk intake to needing solids.  There are however other factors that influence a baby’s sleep pattern and babies who are well fed, dry and perfect body temperature may still wake in the night.  Adding baby cereal to the bottle firstly provides empty calories that offer no nutritional value, which can result in over feeding and if introduced into a younger baby can contribute to discomfort and wind.

A study conducted by Macknin, who looked at infant sleep and baby cereal provided the following results:

We studied whether feeding infant’s rice cereal before bedtime promotes their sleeping through the night. One hundred six infants were randomly assigned to begin bedtime cereal feeding (1 tablespoon per ounce in a bottle) at 5 weeks or at 4 months of age. Caretakers recorded the infant’s sleep from age 4 to 21 weeks for one 24-hour period per week. Sleeping through the night was defined as sleeping at least 8 consecutive hours, with the majority of time being between the hours of midnight and 6 AM. The results were also reviewed changing the requirement from 8 hours to 6 hours. There was no statistically significant trend or a consistent tendency of one group to have a higher proportion of sleepers than the other. Therefore, feeding infants rice cereal in the bottle before bedtime does not appear to make much difference in their sleeping through the night.

It is therefore recommended to not use this method to try induce a full night’s sleep and to rather explore other avenues to help your little one to sleep more rested at night.

Be sure to stay tuned to part 2 for some further Q&A’s.

Macknin ML1, Medendorp SV, Maier MC. Infant sleep and bedtime cereal. Am J Dis Child. 1989 Sep;143(9):1066-8