You've consulted books, logged onto Websites and asked your friends - but you've still got niggling questions about feeding your baby safely that no one seems to know the answer to - until now. To help you sort through the confusion, we rounded up top pediatricians and baby safety experts to answer some of your most burning baby food questions. Bonus: Their answers might even save you money!
Q: Is it safe to put a partially eaten jar of baby food back in the fridge for next time?
A: You can stash it in the fridge for later as long as you haven't fed your baby from the jar (or yogurt container). If that's the case, toss it. Harmful bacteria from your baby's mouth can grow and multiply in the jar. If your baby typically doesn't eat a full jar, spoon a portion into a bowl and put the jar in the refrigerator for later, but keep in mind that the clock is ticking. Opened jars of fruits and vegetables will keep for up to three days in the fridge. Meats are good for one day. You've got two days, tops, for meat and vegetable combos. Date open jars with a permanent marker so you'll know what went into the fridge when.
Q: How long can I leave infant formula or pumped breast milk out?
A: You can leave prepared infant formula or pumped breast milk out of the refrigerator (without a cold pack) for two hours. If it has been sitting out longer than that, you'll need to throw it out. That includes other perishable items, too, like baby food, dairy products and meat. But play it safe and throw them out after an hour.
Q: Are there any special dietary recommendations for breastfeeding, like there are when you're pregnant (such as avoiding soft cheese and raw fish)?
A: There are, but not many. When you're breastfeeding, you'll need to continue avoiding fish high in mercury, just as you did during pregnancy. Don't eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. And if there's a family history of serious food allergies, such as peanuts or shellfish, you may be advised to avoid both, even if it's your partner who is allergic. “Otherwise, you can go ahead and eat your normal diet,” says Jennifer Trachtenberg, M.D., pediatrician and author of Good Kids, Bad Habits.
If you've heard that avoiding drinking milk yourself can prevent your baby from becoming gassy, or that sticking to a bland diet prevents colic, don't believe it. They’re not true, Dr. Trachtenberg says. Similarly, you don't need to avoid soft cheeses like feta, Brie and Camembert, or sushi or sashimi like you did during pregnancy because the bacterium that may be found in these foods that could cause infection, Listeria monocytogenes, doesn't transfer to breast milk. Caffeine and alcohol also aren't off limits if your baby is healthy and not preterm or past due, “but moderation is the best thing,” she says. Ask your baby's pediatrician for advice if you want to consume either.
Q: Do I need to shell out for a bottle sterilizer or is the dishwasher good enough?
A: The dishwasher will do the job, especially if you have city (not well water), which is chlorinated, says Charles Shubin, M.D., a director of pediatrics. (Chlorine kills harmful bacteria that may be present.) Just wash your bottles in the top rack of the dishwasher. Or wash bottles in hot tap water with dishwashing detergent and then rinse them in hot tap water. If you have well water or nonchlorinated water that doesn't meet current safety levels, talk to your pediatrician. Instead of relying on the dishwasher, you'll probably be advised to use a sterilizer or boil bottles in water for five to 10 minutes before using them.
Q: What's a great way to save money on baby food?
A: "Make your own," Dr. Shubin advises. The main difference between baby food and regular food is that it's pureed, but a small hand grinder or a blender can take care of that, he says. If you do buy jarred baby food, which is especially convenient when you're traveling, you'll save by choosing single-ingredient meats, vegetables and fruits, then mix them to your baby's liking instead of buying ready-made combos, like herbed chicken with pasta.
When your baby is ready for 'solid' food (typically around four to six months), always introduce one food at a time and wait three days. Start with iron-fortified infant cereal mixed with breast milk or formula. Then, slowly introduce pureed vegetables, fruits and meat according to your pediatrician's timetable. If your baby doesn't get a reaction such as diarrhea or a rash, the coast is clear. Go ahead and add another food to your baby's menu. Don't spike your baby's food with sugar or corn syrup, and no honey for the first year.
Also during your baby's first 12 months, steer clear of foods loaded with fat and sugar, such as bacon, lunch meat, hot dogs, French fries, creamed veggies, pudding, cookies, candy, cakes and sweetened drinks, such as iced tea and soda. And don't give your baby hot dogs, peanuts, whole grapes, berries, raisins, hard candies and popcorn (radar: choking hazard).
Q: Besides infant formula or breast milk, what else can my baby drink during their first year?
A: You'll need to keep feeding your baby formula or breast milk through the first year, even when your baby starts eating solid food. But when your baby is six months old, you can add 100 per cent fruit juice (check the label to make sure) to your baby's repertoire. Go easy, though. The AAP recommends limiting 100 per cent fruit juice to no more than 4 to 6 ounces per day from six months to six years of age, and making it part of a meal, not a snack. Too much juice can cause diarrhea and gas, contribute to tooth decay and fill your baby up so that they have less room for more nutritious foods. To limit juice, offer 1 to 2 ounces at a time in a sippy cup, not a bottle. The juice should be pasteurized (flash-heated to kill pathogens). Fresh-squeezed juice isn't pasteurized. And keep in mind that juice fortified with calcium isn't a substitute for formula or cow's milk, which your baby can have after their first birthday.
Q: How can I help my baby switch from infant formula to cow's milk?
A: After your baby's first birthday, it's safe to make the switch from infant formula or breast milk to whole cow's milk. But if your baby's not buying it, try introducing whole cow's milk gradually. Over several weeks and months, add a little whole milk to the formula you prepare and slowly increase the proportion of milk to formula until your baby is drinking straight cow's milk. Don't buy low-fat milk, thinking it's healthier. A baby's rapidly-developing brain thrives on the high percentage of butterfat whole milk contains. Just think: A child's brain grows to 80 per cent of its adult size by age three and much of that development happens by age two. After your child's second birthday, brain growth begins to subside. That's when it's time to switch to foods low in artery-clogging trans and saturated fat, such as low-fat and nonfat milk and yogurt.
For more information on what to feed your baby, visit www.kidseatright.org.
Sandra is the mom of two and a freelance writer who specializes in health and nutrition. For more information, visit www.sandrajgordon.com.
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