Baby food in groceries not the best option for infants: Experts
Exclusive breastfeeding is WHO's long-standing recommendation.
No brand of baby food is good enough for babies under six months, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has reiterated as it cautioned mothers against "a high proportion of baby food products" that are falsely marketed as suitable for newborns.
Exclusive breastfeeding is WHO's long-standing recommendation. However, in cases where supplementary nutrition is necessary, local experts advised mums to stick to extra milk, instead of any other food.
"With the hot climate, it is very important that infants get sufficient amount of fluid rather than a particular food. Parents often ask me if they should give their child under the age of six months any extra fluid, such as tea, water or juice. I advise against it as this extra fluid do not provide energy for the baby," said Dr Anton Tan, consultant paediatrician at American Hospital.
"I think it would be better to offer extra milk to ensure that hydration is adequate. Older children can be offered any extra fluid, ideally sugar-free. So-called energy drinks should also be avoided as they contain sugar and caffeine, which can be damaging to the children's health."
For various reasons - which are not the mother's fault - some newborns have to be fed formula milk. And for working mums, breastfeeding for two years and beyond can be a "luxury". At some point, the right kind of solid food must be introduced.
Both the WHO and The National Health Service UK suggest that the best time to offer solid food is from the age of six months, whereas the American Academy of Paediatrics says that it is possible to start at four months.
"The usual recommendation is to start with simple foods that do not contain salt or sugar. Introduce one new food every three to five days and observe any possible allergic reaction, such as rashes or swelling before offering further food," said Dr Tan.
"The advice to avoid possible allergenic food - such as eggs, seafood or even peanuts - until the child is over 12 months old might be wrong, based on a recent UK study. The study showed that offering such food items earlier can protect children from developing food allergy. This result, however, has not yet been translated into an official advice."
In the UAE, there is a tendency to start weaning or introducing supplementary food earlier but this is discouraged, especially if the growth of the baby is normal, doctors have said.
Dr Abudul Majeed, specialist for paediatrics and neonatology, Aster Hospital, Mankhool, said: "The introduction of supplementary food should be initiated with items that have only one ingredient that is mashed well, like baby cereals, fruits or vegetables.
"Babies don't need extra sugar or salt in their food. Fruits and yoghurt are good options. It's also advisable to start giving them plain water when they start eating solids. In hot climates, parents and caregivers must ensure that babies are hydrated well."
Another expert from Zulekha Hospital Sharjah pointed out that commercially produced baby food may contain high amounts of both sugar and salt, which is not recommended.
Michelle Buari, deputy director for nutrition and lifestyle management at the hospital, said it is best to give babies home-cooked food.
"If you're buying baby food, check the list of ingredients to ensure there is no sugar added. Look out for fruit juice concentrates, syrups, fructose and products that are labelled as 'sweetened'. Remember, babies do not need any sugar or salt added to their food," she said.