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Baby food is any food, other than breastmilk or infant formula, that is given specifically to infants, roughly between the ages of four months to two years. The food comes in multiple varieties and tastes, can be produced by many manufacturers, or may be table food that the rest of the family is eating, mashed up. A common trait of the many different baby foods is that they are designed for ease of eating; either a soft, liquidy paste or an easily chewed food. This is because infants lack teeth and experience in eating.
Babies typically move to consuming baby food once nursing or formula is not sufficient for the child's appetite. Babies do not need to have teeth to transition to eating solid foods. Teeth, however, normally do begin to show up at this age. Care should be taken with certain foods that pose a choking hazard such as undercooked vegetables, or food that may contain bones. No salt should be added to baby food as it may damage the babies' kidneys and babies can not taste salt. Babies should begin eating liquid style baby food, sometimes mixed with rice cereal and formula, or breast milk. Pureed vegetables and fruits are an example of liquid style baby food. Then as baby is better able to chew, small, soft pieces or lumps may be included. Care should be taken, as babies with teeth have the ability to break off pieces of food but they do not possess the back molars to grind, so concerned parents should carefully mash or break baby food into manageable pieces for baby. Around 6 months of age, babies may begin to feed themselves (picking up food pieces with hands, using the whole fist, or later the pincer grasp- thumb and forefinger) with help from parents.
It is often recommended to give baby solid food at around 6 months of age, but babies differ greatly. The only good way to know when to introduce baby food is to watch for signs of readiness in the child. Signs of readiness include the ability to sit without help, loss of tongue thrust and the display of active interest in food that others are eating. Baby may be started directly on normal family food if attention is given to choking hazards, this is referred to as baby-led weaning. Because breast milk takes on the flavor of foods eaten by the mother, these foods are especially good choices.
If there is a family history of allergies, one may wish to introduce only one new food at a time, leaving a few days in between to notice any reactions that would indicate a food allergy or sensitivity. This way if baby is unable to tolerate a certain food then it can be determined which food is causing the reaction.
In the 20th century, it was common to start infants on solid food from 4+ months onwards – however current research and WHO/UNICEF "Baby Friendly" guidelines recommend only breast milk until at least 6 months of age.
As a global public health recommendation, the World Health Organization recommends that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Six month old infants are physiologically and developmentally ready for new foods, textures and modes of feeding. Experts advising the World Health Assembly have provided evidence that introducing solids earlier than six months increases babies' chances of illness, without improving growth.
One of the health concerns associated with the introduction of solid foods before six months is iron deficiency. The early introduction of complementary foods may satisfy the hunger of the infant, resulting in less frequent breastfeeding and ultimately less milk production in the mother. Because iron absorption from human milk is depressed when the milk is in contact with other foods in the proximal small bowel, early use of complementary foods may increase the risk of iron depletion and anemia.
From Cookery for Children, Sarah Josepha Hale, 1852:
|“||Food for a young infant — Take of fresh cow's milk one table-spoons full, and mix with 2 table-spoonsfull of hot water; sweeten with loaf-sugar as much as may be agreeable. This quantity if sufficient for once feeding a new-born infant; and the same quantity may be given every 2 or 3 hours—not oftener—till the mother's breast affords the natural nourishment.||”|
In most cultures, pastes of a grain and liquid were the first baby food. In the western world until the mid 1900's baby food was generally made at home. The industrial revolution saw the beginning of the baby food market which promoted baby foods as convenience items. Commercially prepared baby foods in the Netherlands were first prepared by Martinus van der Hagen through his NV Nutricia company in 1901. In United States they were first prepared commercially by Fremont Canning Company in 1928. The Beech-Nut company entered the U.S. baby food market in 1931. The first precooked dried baby food was Pablum which was originally made for sick children in the 1930s. Some commercial baby foods have been criticized for their contents and cost.
The demand for organic food began to grow throughout the '60s, '70s and '80s there were no companies producing completely organic baby food until Earths Best Baby Food was founded in 1987 by twin brothers Ronald and Arnold Koss. Since this innovation many larger commercial manufacturers have introduced organic lines of infant food.
Around the world
Baby food varies from culture to culture. In the United States babies are usually started with bland cereals and then move on to mashed fruits and vegetables. In China and other east asian countries, home made baby food is common and babies are started on rice porridge called Xifan then move on to mashed fruits, soft vegetables, tofu and fish. These various foods are usually added to the porridge babies eat. In Sweden, it is common to start with mashed fruit, such as bananas. Oatmeal and mashed vegetables are also recommended. In Western Africa, maize porridge is often the first solid food given to young children. For many cultures, an infant's first bite of solid food is ceremonial and holds religious importance. An example of this is annaprashan, a Hindu ritual where the infant is fed a sweetened rice porridge, usually blessed, by an elder family member. Similar rites of passage are practiced across Asia, including the Bengal region, Vietnam, and Thailand.
In Canada, the most commonly used first food is iron-fortified infant cereal. Meat and alternatives are iron-containing foods that can also be introduced at this stage. The foods in this group include meats, fish, poultry, cooked egg yolks, and alternatives such as well-cooked legumes and tofu. Iron from meat sources is better absorbed than iron from non-meat sources.
Baby food is available in dry, ready-to-feed and frozen forms, which are prepared by the caregiver or parent in small batches and fed to the child. Dry baby food, such as rice or oatmeal cereals, are mixed with a liquid until reconstituted. Also all baby food is partially digested. This is achieved by attaching enzymes to many beads that are strung together and then passing the food over it, therefore the end product does not contain the enzyme.
Frozen baby food is a form of heat processed baby food that enables lower cooking temperatures by finalizing the product in a frozen, rather than the more traditional jarred, form. Frozen baby food is made by cooking, pureeing and freezing fresh fruits and vegetables. Frozen baby food is an alternative for parents who make baby food at home and freeze it in ice cube trays. Some nutritionists believe that freezing gently cooked ripe produce could be even healthier than cooking under-ripe produce. While major baby food companies have yet to venture into a frozen product, they have been galloping toward organics. Sales of organic baby food have shot up 58 percent in five years, 16 percent in the last year alone, according to ACNielsen.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 
- ↑ 
- ↑ Feeding America
- ↑ The Food Timeline-baby food history notes
- ↑ Nutricia
- ↑ " ". http://www.gerber.com/About/Gerber_Baby.aspx. Retrieved 2008-11-28.
- ↑ Our Company, Beech-Nut website, accessed November 30, 2008
- ↑ Cheating Babies: Nutritional Quality and Cost of Commercial Baby Food
- ↑ FW-91 - Homemade Baby Food: Fast, Frugal, and Fun | www.japaninc.com
- ↑ 
- ↑ http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/pubs/infant-nourrisson/nut_infant_nourrisson_term_6-eng.php
- Infant nutrition information from Seattle Children's Hospital.
- Introducing solid foods: What you need to know from the Mayo clinic.
- Knowing What’s Best for Baby To Eat from the USDA.
- Article on maize contamination in Western Africa