Ask the expert: Why did Health Canada change its recommendations for baby's first food?
By Dr. Sheila Innis
on April 19, 2013
I read recently that Health
Canada has changed its
baby’s first food from rice
cereal to meats and meat alternatives. Why is that?
Answer from Dr. Sheila Innis, Director, Nutrition
& Metabolism Research Program,
Child & Family Research Institute at
BC Children’s Hospital:
In September 2012, Health Canada
provided updated guidelines for feeding
infants from birth to six months of age.
These guidelines continue to recommend
that infants should be breastfed until
about six months of age and that the first
foods introduced should be foods that
are rich sources of iron. This is because
although healthy term infants are born
with a good body store of iron, this
becomes depleted by about six months of
age. Although the iron in mother’s milk
is highly available, the amount is not
sufficient to support the continuing rapid
growth of infants in the next six months
Introducing good sources of iron
prevents infants from developing iron
deficiency anemia, a problem that has
been linked to poor brain development.
Health Canada recommends meats as
first foods because meats are good sources
of iron and the type of iron is highly
The advice from Health Canada to
include meat and meat alternatives as
good first foods dates back to 2004. Other
sources of iron, such as iron-fortified
infant cereals, legumes and tofu can also
be given. However, the iron in these foods
is not as available as the iron in meat and
more may be needed.
Ensuring high nutritional quality in
the foods that are offered first is very
important because young infants of about
six months only consume very small
amounts, just a couple of tablespoons per
feeding. A good approach is to include
highly nutritious foods two or more times
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May/June 2013.