Baby feeding practices differ greatly across countries, cultures and even within families. In Singapore, new mums are often at odds with the older generation’s take on feeding.
You would think that this only starts when the baby begins eating solids. After all, what could be so complicated about feeding the baby milk? It’s not rocket science is it?
Or so you think.
Within the first few weeks of the baby’s life, many mums here are close to tearing their hair out due to differing opinions on baby feeding practices. However, not all the practices advocated by the older generation might be the best.
Healthy baby feeding practices include exclusive breastfeeding where possible, feeding within limits and delaying the introduction of complementary foods, among other things.
Many of the practices that are passed on over generations are based on personal experience, cultural beliefs and even socioeconomic status. They are not always based on research and science.
We have compiled a list of common mistakes we make when it comes to baby feeding practices. We sought the opinion of Dr. Natalie Epton, SBCC Baby & Child Clinic, Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, to clarify our doubts and provide better alternatives for baby feeding practices in Singapore.
Dr. Natalie is a passionate advocate of breastfeeding. Her area of specialist interest includes early childhood development and childhood nutrition.
Revisiting common baby feeding practices in Singapore
1. Do babies need water?
Every other Singaporean mum has someone telling her to feed the baby water. Is it really necessary though? Dr. Natalie affirms that water is absolutely not needed for exclusively breastfed babies.
Breast milk is predominantly water, so there is no need for water. Breast milk is more advantageous than water which has zero calories and no other nutrition. “It’s a hot day? Baby is thirsty? Give them more breastmilk!” says Dr. Natalie.
Even when introducing solids, mums don’t have to worry. When solids complement breast milk, it is unlikely for babies to have constipation. As long as you see enough wet diapers, you don’t have to worry about water.
How about formula fed babies then? As long as your child’s stools are soft, you can delay introducing water.
A good time to start them on water would be when you start introducing solids. Sips of cooled, boiled water is the way to go. At least for the first six months, your baby does not need water.
2. How about cereal for a good night’s sleep?
“Mix some cereal with the baby’s milk. Baby’s tummy will be full. Baby will sleep through the night.” Sounds familiar? Definitely. It’s one of the most common occurrences in baby feeding practices here in Singapore.
Parents usually start mixing cereal with milk when the baby is four months of age. Some even start as early as three months. However, Dr. Natalie strongly advises against doing this.
“Sleeping well at night has everything to do with routine, not a full tummy,” says Dr. Natalie.
Mixing cereal in the milk, or topping up the night feed with formula milk does not ensure good sleep. “There is no study that suggests that adding cereal into the milk helps the child to sleep longer,” she adds.
Additionally, adding cereal has some drawbacks. Bottle-feeding your baby a mixture of milk and cereal increases the risk of choking. It is energy consuming as well, for sucking through the teeth is ‘jolly difficult!’ as Dr. Natalie puts it.
In the long run, bottle-feeding cereal leads to the child having difficulties with eating from the spoon. This is because the necessary oral techniques were not built right from the start.
And of course, falling asleep while sucking on the bottle is known to cause tooth decay.
If uninterrupted sleep is a priority for you, then go ahead and start a good routine as early as you like. You can start as soon as you get home from the hospital. A warm bath, snuggly sleepsuits, bedtime stories and lullabies are some things you can do to form a nighttime routine.
3. Are we starting right?
With access to a plethora of information online, Singaporean mums these days are breaking away from traditional baby feeding practices. They are increasingly practicing baby-led weaning.
But grandparents and even many infant care centers still stick to more conventional practices – variations of store bought cereals.
What does Dr. Natalie have to say?
Firstly, be careful when it comes to white rice cereal. Store bought white rice cereal is likely to contain salt, sugar and added flavour. You don’t want your baby to be exposed to any of these!
Don’t forget that the main ingredient in white rice cereal is processed white flour. There are vitamins and minerals but those can easily be obtained in other ways. White cereal is almost tantamount to feeding your baby sugar.
Babies under twelve months of age should not be given salt or sugar. Their kidneys aren’t trained to process salt. Sugar is simply not good for them.
Brown rice is a better choice as a first food. If possible, get a packet of organic brown rice and make your own cereal. If you are buying if off the stores, Dr. Natalie stresses that you check the ingredient list. It should be brown rice. Full stop. No added preservatives, flavour, sugar or salt.
Dr. Natalie advocates brown rice only as a stepping-stone to teach babies texture. She suggests mixing it with breast or formula milk for familiarity. After a few days, when your baby is able to handle the texture of the food, you can move on to fruits and vegetables.
When introducing pureed fruits and vegetables, remember to start with one ingredient at a time. Observe the three-day rule to check that your child has no allergies or adverse reactions to the food.
If your child is comfortable, you can start mixing the fruits and vegetables, gradually increasing your child’s repertoire. A personal tip from Dr. Natalie is to add some cumin to roasted carrots. It’s absolutely delicious she says! Sugar and salt is not good but a little spice won’t hurt.
After four to six weeks of pureed fruits and vegetables, you can start introducing meat.
For more comprehensive information on how to go about weaning your baby, how to deal with picky eating and even recipe suggestions, do visit Dr. Natalie’s blog.
4. Fruit juice sounds like a good choice, no?
Fruit juice is not necessary at this stage. It is easy for babies and toddlers to have too much of it simply because it tastes good. This may subsequently affect their food and breast milk intake.
Dental problems may arise due to fruit juice consumption at this early stage. We all know that fruit juice is loaded with sugar, even if you squeeze it yourself. Prolonged exposure to sugar may contribute to dental caries.
When you do start giving your children fruit juice, if you must, do ensure that it is in a sippy cup. Never let your children drink fruit juice from a milk bottle. And do remember, too much fruit juice may lead to dental problems, malnourishment and even obesity.
5. Thoughts on porridge?
Porridge is a whole lot of rice with a little bit of meat and vegetables scattered in it. It is somewhat a game of hunt as Dr. Natalie terms it. Mums, do remember that good baby feeding practices pave the way to lifelong healthy eating habits.
Does the healthy plate model ring a bell? This model is a ubiquitous guide to how we should portion our food. In our culture, it is common to eat more rice. Equal amounts of carbohydrates, protein, vegetables, and fruits it what we should aim for, advises Dr. Natalie.
6. Less formula and goodbye to the bottle, please!
An important aspect of good baby feeding practices includes less emphasis on formula milk. We all know the power of marketing. Formula milk is a need that has been created. Many Singaporean parents feed their children formula milk well into their pre-teen years.
Once the child turns one, Dr. Natalie says formula milk is unnecessary. They should be drinking whole milk. In addition, parents should concentrate on planning their meals around a healthy and balanced diet.
Along with stopping formula, please mums, take that bottle away. Train your babies to use the sippy cup. “Singaporean babies have too much attachment to their bottles” states Dr. Natalie.
Frequent drinking of anything other than water from a bottle can lead to tooth decay. Studies also show a correlation between prolonged bottle usage and obesity.
We know it’s hard, especially when your child is attached to her bottle. Don’t abruptly take it away. That could be rather damaging. Instead, work on a plan to gradually get rid of the bottle.
7. No pressure, go with the flow!
A common problem with our Singaporean baby feeding practices is the constant pressure for the child to finish either their milk or food. Especially in our Asian culture, food wastage is largely frowned upon.
Of course, we do not condone food wastage. But when the child is starting out, we need to follow their cues. Pressuring the child to finish the milk in the bottle even when they seem satisfied, or have lost interest, is counter-productive. It is also linked to increased risk of obesity in the long run.
On this note, please do not park your child in front of the television with a bottle in his mouth. We need to aim for a responsive feeding style. This involves us looking out for signs that the baby is satisfied to know when to stop feeding.
Good baby feeding practices has got a lot to do with not over-feeding!
Also remember mums, when you start your baby on solids, don’t worry too much about them finishing their meal. It can be overwhelming for a baby to suddenly be exposed to so many different textures, smells and tastes. Be patient with them.
If they make a mess, that’s fine. If they don’t finish everything, that’s fine. If they don’t like something you are introducing, that’s fine. In fact, nutrition experts believe that it can take up to 20 tastes before a child can appreciate a new flavor.
The bottom line is, don’t sweat the small stuff and keep trying. Inculcating good baby feeding practices is all about acquiring the right knowledge, a whole lot of patience, and the will to persevere. Good luck mums!
RELATED: Baby Food 101: The Basics