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 recommendations for 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 of life.

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 bioavailable.

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 per day.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May/June 2013.

By Dr. Sheila Innis| April 19, 2013

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