Pregnancy and weaning

Pregnancy

What dietary role does red meat play for a woman during pregnancy?

Lean beef and to a lesser extent lamb, pork, chicken and fish are the best sources of iron for pregnant women. The type of iron found in red meat (haem iron) is more easily absorbed and used by the body than the iron in plant foods such as pulses, nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables (non-haem iron).

Although the increased requirement for iron during pregnancy is normally met by increased absorption, reduced losses and maternal stores, those stores have to have been adequate at the start of pregnancy and a good dietary intake maintained to ensure this is achieved.

Furthermore, lean red meat, along with poultry, fish, nuts, peas, beans, eggs, milk and dairy products, is rich in protein. Protein is required for the growth and development of new tissues.

In addition, vitamin D is needed to improve the absorption and use of calcium, which is particularly important for pregnant women.

Is it safe to eat meat during pregnancy?

It is safe to eat meat during pregnancy, although liver should be avoided. Good food hygiene practices should be maintained.

Why should pregnant women be advised to avoid eating liver?

Liver should be avoided during pregnancy as it has a very high vitamin A content. Vitamin A is an important nutrient found in foods of animal origin but some studies have shown excessive intakes can lead to foetal abnormalities.

As liver is a good source of iron, it is important to ensure that iron is provided by other sources (e.g. lean beef).

Weaning

At what age should parents be advised to introduce red meat into their child's diet?

Beef is a source of iron and along with puréed fruit and puréed vegetables well-cooked puréed lean meat can be introduced when baby is about 6 months old. Cooked meat juices can also be added to puréed potato and vegetables when weaning starts. Lumpier textures such as lean minced meat can by introduced from about 9 months.

If you do decide to introduce your baby to solid food before six months stick to offering them puréed fruits and vegetables and baby rice.

What types of meat should parents be advised to give when weaning?

1st Stage - 6-9 months
Baby should have one serving each day of either soft cooked meat, fish, eggs, tofu or pulses.

2nd Stage - 9-12 months
Baby can now enjoy family meals, aiming for three minced or chopped meals a day. Meat may also need to be minced or finely chopped.

3rd Stage - from 12 months
Ffood can now be adult texture and a variety of foods should be provided 1-2 servings of lean meat, fish, eggs or alternatives (e.g. lentils and beans) should be offered.

Is it important to control the fat intake of young children? How is this relevant to red meat?

Babies grow more rapidly than at any other time. So they need a diet which is relatively high in energy and nutrients, but provided in meals of small portions from a wide range of nutritious foods. Whilst excessive amounts of fat should be avoided, reduced or low-fat foods are not appropriate for children under two. Red meat is a good example of a nutrient-dense food, providing a useful number of nutrients in a small amount of food. Meat is therefore a valuable part of a balanced diet for small children.

Is it essential to include meat in a child's diet?

A variety of foods from the five food groups should form the basis of a child's diet. This includes fruit and vegetables; meat, fish and alternatives; milk and dairy foods; bread, potatoes and other cereals. If you decide that your child should not eat meat you need to think carefully about which foods could replace the important nutrients found in meat to achieve optimal nutritional intake.

What if my child does not like meat?

It is very common for toddlers to be fussy about the types of foods they eat and meat is no exception. Meat provides a number of important nutrients and so if not eaten ought to be replaced by foods in the same food group (see balanced plate in resources section). Young children's tastes change as they try different foods and textures, so even if a food is refused at first, it should be re-offered at another time. It is important to progressively increase the variety of foods your child samples and accepts.