Bread for Babies: What’s the Low Down?

A couple of question I get asked frequently by parents are “Can my baby have normal, sliced bread” and “Which breads are suitable for babies”?

Ideally we’d all be Mary Berry and make our own bread at home – this way we’d be more in control of exactly what goes into the bread and could minimise levels of salt for little ones too. However, that’s not always practical or realistic for us as busy parents!

Can my baby have bread?

Bread contains gluten, which is a potential allergen, and so the NHS say that bread can be offered to baby from around 6 months of age, but it’s a good idea to offer it in small amounts initially, as the only new food that day and to leave 2-3 days before offering another potential allergen, just to check for a reaction. I would recommend checking out the NHS page here if you have any questions on introducing allergens to baby.

Nutritious bread…

Bread contains plenty of nutrients and offers a good option for babies and toddlers as a finger food or as mini meals.

By law, white bread has to be fortified with various vitamins and minerals to ensure that it contains similar nutrients to wholemeal bread. This includes calcium, iron, niacin (Vitamin B1) and thiamine.

Wholemeal bread still tends to be slightly higher in fibre than white bread, as well as some other nutrients.

When it comes to feeding bread to babies and toddlers, there are a few pointers that really matter:

  • the fibre content
  • the salt content
  • the risk of choking

The risk of choking:

 It’s best not to offer babies bread which contains large seeds (or even lots of scratchy seeds on the outside), especially when they are young and new to weaning. Hard seeds in foods such as bread COULD pose a choking risk for babies. However, once your little one has really developed the ability to bite and chew foods properly, and has a few teeth, introducing bread with small seeds in should be fine.

Some people are also worried about bread as a finger food as it can get a little tacky in the mouth and form a sticky ball. To prevent this happening, there are some things can help:

  • Initially cut babies bread into thin finger shaped pieces for babies
  • Try to offer small amounts of wholemeal bread to baby as this is less ‘tacky’ than white bread, in my experience
  • Try lightly toasting the bread first, so it’s not too hard but also not quite so soft either
  • Avoid serving it with large amounts (a thin spread is fine) of peanut butter

The fibre content:

Many parents I speak to are also concerned about the fibre content of bread and have heard that babies shouldn’t have any wholemeal or wholegrains in their diet. This isn’t actually the case and, actually the NHS’s official advice is the following:

“You can give your child wholegrain foods, such as wholemeal bread, pasta and brown rice. But it’s not a good idea to only give wholegrain starchy foods to under-2s.”

So wholegrain foods are fine for baby, but as they are high in fibre, lots of them could fill baby up and therefore displace other foods/limit the variety of your little one’s diet. Additionally, wholegrains do contain some compounds such as phytates that can limit the absorption of calcium and iron. However as long as your little one doesn’t have ONLY wholegrains, doesn’t fill up on wholegrains and refuse other foods and is offered plenty of variety in their diet, then offering some wholegrains is perfectly fine from around 6 months of age.

Ideally mix up the carbohydrates you give to your little ones – wholegrains and white varieties – but also remember there are other starchy foods out there such as couscous, quinoa, pasta, buckwheat, potato, oats etc.

The salt content:

I’ve written about salt recommendations for babies before, so that blog might be relevant to anyone wanting to know a little more about salt in baby’s diet.

However, in the UK bread is a fairly big contributor to salt intakes and the 2009-2010 National Diet and Nutrition Survey indicated that bread was the single largest contributor of salt to the UK diet “providing almost a fifth (18%) of the salt intake from processed foods” (BMJ 2012)

In recent years the level of salt in bread has decreased from around 1.23g/100g in 2001 to 0.98/100g in 2011, which is a really positive change.

When it comes to bread for babies, I would mainly recommend surfing your local bread store and checking labels for the lowest levels of salt per 100g or per slice so you know which ones to opt for, based on where you usually shop.

High and Low Salt Levels

The NHS suggest the following as “high” and “low” amounts of salt in general labelling terms, not specific to children:

High: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g

Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g

It’s very difficult to find breads that would be considered as “low” in salt, which is one of the reasons why many parents are worried about offering bread to babies, but many breads in the UK are labelled as “medium” for salt intake (between 0.3g and 1.5g/100g) and so it’s ultimately best to go for breads with salt levels toward the lower end of the medium spectrum.

UK Bread Salt Levels:

Table 1 & 2 show breads from the UK with the highest levels of salt (table 1) and the lowest levels of salt (table 2) from a survey conducted by the World Action on Salt and Health group in 2017-2018.

UK Bread Salt Levels

Based on these findings, I would advise looking for breads to offer babies and young children that have salt levels of 0.75g/100g and under, as they are easily accessible and offer lower levels of salt. Please note that some of these in the table above such as the seeded loafs and the malted loafs might not be suitable for babies, sourdough might also be a little tough to chew for babies new to weaning.

Other Points to Note:

When it comes to “novelty breads” such as sourdough, artisan breads, rye bread and ancient grains, they CAN often have higher levels of salt, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on those and, as ever vary the types of bread you offer to little ones.

Do check levels of sugar too as often sugar is an added ingredient in bread. Check the ingredients list and ensure that any bread you offer to babies has minimal added sugar (sugar is far down on the ingredients list) and or ideally opt for breads without any added sugar.

Conclusion:

 If you’re offering your little one a balanced diet with lots of variety, including a variety of carbohydrates, you don’t need to worry too much about the fact that they will be having added salt in their shop bought bread. Try to check labels and opt for breads which have the lowest amount of salt per 100g. Ideally go for a mix of wholemeal and white varieties and avoid seeded bread for young babies too.

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