It seems like only yesterday when I started my little guy out by introducing baby food. He was just over 6 months old, getting more mobile and losing that sweet newborn squishiness. O was filled with wanderlust, reaching for, moving to, and exploring new things. He was just barely starting to sit up independently, and our hearts sang when he said his first word, “Lyla”; his big sisters name. Yet, despite his beginning independence, he still needed his momma snuggles and milk. However, the biggest milestone Oliver reached, was when we helped our baby start eating baby food.
One of the most exciting parts for me as a mother is introducing my kids to new things, and that includes introducing baby food.
I’m not trying to shame anyone who started their babies eating purees “early”, but one of my pet peeves as a childcare professional is hearing about infants being given cereals or baby food too soon. Not all doctors are up to date with the latest research. For example, my doctor told my husband and I that there are really no extra benefits to full term breastfeeding with my daughter (nursing her past 1 year). So much research supports delaying solids with infants,and it’s backed up by many leading health organizations, worldwide. If your doctor does recommend beginning your infant before six months, I encourage you to discuss the research with him or her before making a final decision about starting solids.
When you know better, you do better.
3 Reasons You Should Wait Before Introducing Your Baby to Eating Purees
1. Before 6 months, infants have an open gut.
From Birth to about 6 months of age, infants have what is referred to as an open gut. This allows whole proteins and pathogens from breast milk to enter your infants bloodstream easily. That is wonderful news for breastfed babies!
Unfortunately, it is also the same reason why you should not start solids before 6 months. Open gut, when introduced to solid foods, allows disease causing pathogens that their body is not ready for to move into the bloodstream. That is why it is so important to only breast (or bottle) feed the first 6 months. Breast milk helps to coat the babies digestive system, which aids in preventing illnesses as your baby grows. Infants younger than 6 months should be exclusively bottle or breastfed.
2. Infants are developmentally more prepared to swallow purees after 6 months of age.
According to Kelly Mom, baby must meet these certain developmental milestones to begin starting solids:
Sit up well without support.
Lose the tongue-thrust reflex which pushes food back out of their mouth.
Be ready and willing to chew.
Begin developing a “pincer” grasp. (Essential for baby led weaning.)
Be eager to participate in mealtime, shown grabbing food and trying to put it in his mouth.
Show an increased desire to nurse unrelated to any illnesses, teething pains, or growth spurts.
Some of these milestones, particularly number 6, can be hard to identify, particularly the last one. Every mom knows that guessing game of “what’s going on with my baby?”. That is why it is important to look at all the milestones as a whole when deciding if your infant is ready to begin solid foods.
3. Relax, your baby’s nutritional and caloric needs are met through breast milk.
There are several adages that help exhausted nursing mothers remember tips and tricks. “Breast is best”, “nipple to nose” (for latch), and “food before one is just for fun.” Breast milk truly is a perfect food for babies, particularly those under six months. For the first six months, a baby’s dietary and nutritional needs are met through breast milk (or formula), there is no need for supplementing it with solids. The World Health Organization says
Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants… A recent review of evidence has shown that, on a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants.
I’ve heard a lot of moms say “well my baby was just so hungry, they needed to start “real food”‘, but the fact is, ounce for ounce, breast milk is more calorie rich than solid foods, so you have nothing to worry about!
Tips and advice for introducing baby food:
1. Avoid Rice Cereal
Many pediatricians now recommend introducing baby food with fruits and vegetables first, completely skipping grain. Many moms begin with vegetables first, as sweet fruit may keep babes from enjoying veggies. Others prefer baby led weaning. However, it is no longer recommended to feed your baby rice cereal.
Dr. Frank R. Greer, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Committee on Nutrition, says that
Complementary foods introduced to infants should be based on their nutrient requirements and the nutrient density of foods, not on traditional practices that have no scientific basis.”
Other notes on inorganic arsenic levels in infant rice cereal from the AAP:
“The AAP recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for about six months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced. At around six months, infant cereals can be gradually introduced. Rice cereal fortified with iron is a good source of nutrients, but it shouldn’t be the only source, and does not need to be the first source,” said Dr. Dreyer.
2. Introduce a variety of flavors AND textures
Make sure baby gets a variety of flavors AND textures. One big mistake many new parents make is relying heavily on grains, and not ensuring baby gets enough meat in their diet. Try to strike a balance with your fruits, vegetables, and meats. Better yet- infants are more likely to eat the foods they see their parents eating! Try a little baby led weaning or throw your meat and veggies into a blender to help keep a variety for your baby (and getting those fruits, veggies, and healthy meats into your diet is a great way to practice a little self care!)
3. Don’t give up
One of the biggest ways parents create picky eaters is through labeling the child as picky. Event the AAP reminds parents that it may take up to 12 times introducing baby food for your baby to get used to a certain texture or taste.
4. Let Your baby try to feed themselves
Babies have an innate ability to self-regulate their food intake. Not pace feeding, forcing a baby to “finish” his food, stems a lot towards childhood obesity. A wonderful way to allow baby to self-regulate their eating is by practicing the self feeding technique, Baby Led Weaning.
5. Don’t forget the sippy cup!
You can start encouraging your baby to stay hydrated and get them accustomed to using a sippy of water, breast milk, or formula as early as 6 months of age. I love the ones with handles, which allow for easy handling. Most Lactation Consultants and dentists recommend using a straw cup, as the suction is better for the suck pattern and facial muscle development.