Ask the expert

CAFFEINE IN PREGNANCY

Do I need to avoid coffee during pregnancy?

Caffeine is a stimulant which can be mildly addictive. Caffeine is found naturally in foods and drinks such as coffee, tea and cocoa (which is found in chocolate and chocolate flavourings). It is also used as an additive in soft drinks, energy drinks, some chewing gums and medications. Women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should take no more than 200mg of caffeine per day. Research has shown that high intakes of caffeine, defined as greater than 400mg per day, during pregnancy can be harmful to the developing foetus. Though exact amount of caffeine will vary according to cup size, brewing methods and the brand of tea or coffee, on average a cup of instant coffee contains 78mg of caffeine, freshly brewed coffee can contain between 100 and 200mg caffeine, and a cup of tea contains between 40 and 120mg caffeine. Caffeine levels in chocolate are not as significant with a bar of milk chocolate containing approximately 11mg of caffeine, and a bar of dark chocolate containing approximately 31mg of caffeine. Therefore, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should restrict caffeine intake by restricting caffeine-containing drinks to no more than 2 cups of instant coffee or 1 cup of freshly brewed coffee or 2 cups of tea per day.

 

FINGER FOODS

My 7 month old is doing really well with spoonfeeds so now I want to introduce some finger foods. What foods are suitable?

Introducing finger foods will help to promote the skills of biting, chewing and self-feeding. Finger foods should be large enough for your baby to pick up, easy to hold and should not contain stones, pips or bones. Hard foods (e.g. raw carrot, whole grapes, nuts, popcorn, crisps, sweets, lollipops) should be avoided as they may cause your baby to choke. You should never leave your baby alone while eating. Various finger foods are listed below. You should introduce the softer options at first until your baby gets used to biting (or “gumming”), sucking, chewing and swallowing these types of foods.

Batons or “sticks” of soft cooked vegetables e.g. carrot, broccoli, parsnip, cauliflower, turnip, courgette, baby sweetcorn, green beans. Vegetables should be washed, peeled and cut to the appropriate size and shape and then can be boiled or steamed or roasted

Batons, “sticks” or slices of soft ripe fruits e.g. pear, apple, banana, apricot, melon

Batons or “sticks” of cucumber or avocado

Mandarin segments, torn in half

Fingers of buttered toast, pitta bread or wrap

Cracker with soft cheese

Breadstick, can be dipped in natural yoghurt, hummus, guacamole

Piece of scone, bagel, brioche or pancake with butter or spread

Cheese – grated, or in cubes, sticks or slices

Well cooked pasta pieces

Bear in mind when choosing foods for your baby that sugary foods and salty foods are not suitable. If you feel your baby is not quite ready for finger foods, a feeding net or mesh can also be used to allow your baby to taste foods without risk of choking. These consist of a small net or mesh pouch on a handle. You put a small amount of the food into the pouch and attach the handle and your baby holds the pouch to his or her mouth to taste the food. There are various brands available in pharmacies and supermarkets.

 

FIBRE FOODS

My 14 month old suffers from constipation. I have been advised to increase her dietary fibre intake. Which foods are high in fibre?

Dietary fibre has an important role in both preventing and treating constipation, and for overall gut health. It works by trapping water in the stool to make it softer and by making the stool more bulky which helps it to move along the gut more efficiently. There are 2 types of fibre, soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Both types should be included in the diet. Soluble fibre is found mainly in fruit, vegetables, including pulse vegetables such as peas, beans and lentils, and oats. Insoluble fibre is found mainly in cereal foods such as wholemeal bread, wholegrain cereals, wholegrain pasta, wholegrain crackers and brown rice. So by including a fibre rich breakfast cereal, possibly oat based, wholemeal bread, pasta or rice, and several servings of fruit and vegetables on a daily basis, your child’s diet should promote normal bowel habit. It is also important to encourage a good fluid intake to treat or prevent constipation. There are factsheets on drinks for children of all ages, which include information on how to gauge if your child has an adequate fluid intake, available on www.indi.ie. Be aware that fibre can be very filling, and if fibre intake is excessive, it may reduce your child’s appetite for other nourishing foods. Also too much fibre can interfere with absorption of some nutrients. A Paediatric Dietitian can give further advice on getting the balance right.