Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Thoughts on Starting Solids and Why

I know I'm in the minority.  My baby is 6 1/2 months old and I've not fed her a single spoon of baby food.  Nor do I plan to.  Let's face it.  This is my 4th kid.  I KNOW what comes out the other end when you start "solids".  (Which by the way, who coined this term to call watered down stuff spooned to baby's solids?  If an adult ate that it would be considered a liquid diet.  LOL)  Plus, I also have first hand experience that feeding babies is a messy job and one I'm just not too excited to jump into!  Sticking to just breastfeeding for right now is truly just the easiest and most convenient thing for me to do.

Aside from that, I do have a few other reasons for holding off.  I'll touch on them in a bit.  What we probably WILL do however, is to let her eat whatever she can pick up and put in her mouth all by herself.  More than likely, that will be something prepared fresh from our own organic garden that we are having for dinner as well.

Two weeks ago I started letting her sit in the highchair at the table with us at dinner time and let her play with toys and occasionally try to pick up a piece of food to lick and play with.  She has yet to actually chew or swallow anything though.  Prior to that she sat in my lap as we all ate dinner together.  She would sometimes nurse, sometimes play with anything she could reach.  Yes, I've had food dumped into my lap!  :)

It seems that there is a lot of really BAD information out there about starting solids with babies.  In a nutshell, breast milk is THE perfect food for your baby and it CAN provide ALL of his/her nutritional needs for the first year.  The first year!  The ENTIRE first year, even.  If no food ever touches your baby's lips until after their first birthday but they are breastfed on demand, I assure you, all will be ok!  According, a highly regarded resource for breastfeeding moms, babies should still be getting the majority (around 75%) of their calories from breastmilk at 12 months and that many babies will even still be exclusively or almost exclusively breatfed at 12 months. (emphasis mine)

Don't get me wrong!  I'm not saying you SHOULD wait til a year to give foods!  What I AM saying is 1)  it's best to wait the minimal 6 months, and 2) don't fret if your baby isn't really into foods under a year. It's ok to start foods before then and current research says to start introducing foods around 6 months.  Not 4 months!  Not 4-6 months, not 6 weeks.  No rice cereal in a bottle at night!  Your aunt and grandma are feeding you bad advice if they say so.  Just smile and nod and then keep on doing what you know is right.  Even still, at 6 months to a year, solids are really more for experimenting with different tastes and textures than any actual nutrition being derived from them.

Where did all of this bad advice come from anyway?  Well, basically, it all started with the introduction of formula and the decrease of breastfeeding.  In the 'old days' there were no baby food manufacturers or formula companies  It was common practice to breastfeed until the baby was old enough to eat what mom and dad and the rest of the family were having.  Granted, they didn't start off eating a handful of raw nuts or meat off the bone, but they most certainly did not have anyone catering to them by pureeing foods and spoon feeding them.

In the 1800's formula was considered a lifesaver for children who were misplaced and orphaned and who would have otherwise starved to death.   It was never considered as a replacement for human milk (info from here).  In the first half of the twentieth century there was a dramatic shift away from breastfeeding as formula companies emerged.  There could be lots of contributing factors.  The war taking more husbands away from the home leaving mothers to work, the great depression causing mothers to seek out jobs, etc.  who knows exactly WHY formula companies started popping up and falsely advertising themselves as an adequate replacement for breast milk.  But they did.

What happened as a result is that formula was/is no where near as nutritious as mother's own breast milk and it caused malnutrition in babies after just a few weeks.  Doctors then decided additional supplementation was needed.  The solution was early solids.  Highly processed cereals and pureed foods given to tiny babies before they could chew in hopes of bridging a gap for the deficiencies.  Solids were started as early as 6 weeks old!

Formula companies have come a long way since those days.  They have added many necessary vitamins and minerals and are able to provide better nutrition than a hundred years ago, but they still do not even come close to comparing to the nutritious perfection of breast milk. Not my words!  But those of   Dr. Sears' Comparison ~ and Nutrient By Nutrient  As long as you are breastfeeding, your baby is getting plenty of nutrition!

What do the experts say about starting solids?

The World Health Organization says "Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.  Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond."

UNICEF says "Exclusive breastfeeding is the perfect way to provide the best food for the baby's first six months of life......adequate complementary feeding from 6 months to two years of age is particularly important for growth and development"

The American Academy of Pediatrics says "Introduction of complementary feedings before six months of age generally does not increase total caloric intake or rate of growth and only substitutes foods that the lack the protective components of human is recommended that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months and for as long thereafter as is mutually desired"

The Canadian Paediatric Society "Recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life for healthy term infants.  Breast milk is the optimal food for infants, and breastfeeding may continue for up to two years and beyond."

Now, if you know me personally, you know that I don't really give much of a hoot about what the AAP or WHO, etc. recommends, really.  My point in sharing the above statements is to show you that ALL of the major health advisers agree that NOTHING other than breast milk is necessary in the first 6 months and that by giving additional foods, supplements, or solids actually takes away from the baby getting the best and most nutritious 'food' possible.  Which is your breast milk. 

Some of the common things I hear from people who do start feeding before 6 months and what I think is really going on with the baby are:

But my baby wants to eat!  She's grabbing my plate!

Your baby wants to play!  Not eat! :) All she really wants to do is mimic what she sees you doing.  You could put a block in front of her and she'll grab it and try to stick it in her mouth.  A piece of paper, a pen, a wrapper, a fork, you name it, all she really wants to do to ANYTHING is to grab it and stick it in her mouth.  Not because she wants to eat it, but because it's her way of exploring her surroundings.  To touch it, taste it, lick it, drop it.  It's all part of the process.  WebMD writes that a normal development for babies aged 4-6 months is to: "Reach out for and grab objects (watch out for your hair), and manipulate toys and other objects with her hands".  Therefore, reaching for what you have means they are on par developmentally.  Not exactly that they want your food to eat as much as to maybe play with and discover whatever they can get their hands on!

She just stares at me while I eat and follows my every move with her eyes!

Of course!  What you are doing is fascinating to her!  She's watching your every move to learn what you are doing and I bet she's really thinking how much she'd love to get her hands on that funny shiny thing you are sticking in your mouth and see what it tastes like.  She sees you sticking it in your mouth several times a day.  It's gotta be something good!

My baby isn't sleeping well and solids will help keep them full longer.

The research says the exact opposite.  In fact, babies sleep less at night due to upset tummies and indigestion caused by starting solids or adding formula too early.  Babies are born with a sterile gut.  Adding anything other than breast milk changes the PH balance and lowers immunity allowing the wrong kinds of bacteria to grow before the baby is ready or able to digest additional foods.  See Solids for Sleep for more information.  In fact, sleeping through the night is not "normal" until 2-3 years old.  Seehereherehere and here for more info.

She wants to nurse all the time.  I don't think my milk is enough.

Well, it's typical for them to go through another growth spurt somewhere around 5-6 months.  The main thing is to make sure that YOU are getting adequate nutrition and rest so that you can keep up with the demand and your body can supply. If supply has not been an issue thus far, it's unlikely that you can't keep supply for your baby's demand at this point.  Another thought is that I've also noticed that around this time, my baby starts wanting more in depth interaction with me.  She's starting to get bored and I need to actually be intentional about entertaining her or else I end up nursing because she's fussy and I think she's hungry.  Some of my babies have been very easy, laid back, and are simply along for the ride each day while others seem to need me to be more purposeful in involving them in what I'm doing.

Well, it's just rice cereal.  It's not a big deal.

Actually, it IS a big deal!  Rice cereal has been bleached and stripped of pretty much any nutritional qualities and it has about the same benefits of feeding your child a spoonful of straight sugar.  Add to that, that your child's gut is not ready or able to digest grains of any kind until almost 1 year old when their gut closes.  What many people (including doctors) think babies should eat as a first food is just flat out wrong.  It comes from years of misinformation being passed down the line.  Rice cereal is essentially junk food for babies.

More info is available at -  Say no to rice cereal!  as well as info about the importance of delaying solids to allow the gut to close and allergy prevention here.

The doctor said my baby needs iron fortified cereal.

Your doctor is most likely wrong.  Sorry.  MOST healthy, full term, breastfed babies do not need any kind of iron supplements at all. The BEST source of iron for your baby, is your breast milk.   Babies are born with plenty of iron stored up for at least the first 6 months.  Current research suggests that baby's iron stores should last between 6-12 months.  Depending on the baby.  Furthermore, iron from breast milk is more readily absorbed and usable than any other form of iron.    If you want to make sure your baby's iron levels are fine, then make sure you eat a diet rich in iron so it's passed to your baby through your milk.  I have a lot more I could say but am trying to keep each section short.  SeeKellymom for more information.

So then when SHOULD I start solids?  And what do I feed her?

Sometime AFTER 6 months.  Not before.  If your baby is tired of playing with the spoons and forks while you eat and is able to pick up food, put it in her mouth, chew it up and swallow it, then she's good to go!  Share with her whatever you are having that is soft foods.  No need for special baby foods, pureed foods, or cereals.  The more natural and healthy the better! La Leche League International suggest this progression for feeding your baby solid foods after 6 months of age:

  • Ripe banana, avocado, yam, or sweet potato (sweet like breastmilk)
  • Meats
  • Whole-grain breads and cereals (rather than baby cereals)
    [wheat and corn are usually delayed until baby is 9-12 months old]
  • Fresh fruits
    [citrus fruits are usually delayed until baby is 9-12 months old]
  • Vegetables
  • Dairy products after 9 months
    [cow's milk is usually delayed until baby is 12-18 months old]

I'm not 100% on board with those recommendations as I don't think grains and meats should be introduced before vegetables.  But that's just my opinion.  I have no research backing me up on that.  There are actually almost as many different recommendations of what to introduce and when as there are foods to try.  The important thing is to not worry too much if your baby doesn't seem very interested in eating .  It's not uncommon for a baby to have only breast milk until 9 months or later.  There is truly nothing wrong with that!  Your baby knows what she needs and how to get it!  Often times, following the baby's lead has proven essential to preventing food allergies as well!  The earlier you start solids, the more risk you are taking at the baby developing a food allergy.  It's possible that your baby's gut knows better than us what it needs after all!  Please seeKellymom for more information on food allergies and what to watch for.

So, having all of this research and info in my brain, I can't ignore it and start feeding pureed baby foods before 6 months.  I just can't.  I'm a researcher by nature.  Rarely do I make a decision without researching it to DEATH.  :)  You should have seen the stuff I read about birth and breastfeeding before THOSE decisions were ever made!  LOL

For now, my little missy seems quite happy playing with her spoons and forks and the occasional piece of food during dinnertime. Being an experienced mom does have it's perks!  I've been there done that and the novelty has worn off.  I know she'll want to start eating sooner rather than later and along with it comes more dirty laundry, stinkier diapers, and lots more baths and dirty floors.  :)  I'm happy waiting until I can't put her off any longer!

I hope that by reading this, you too will know there is freedom in this decision as well!  That you don't HAVE to go along with what everyone else does or even what you've done in the past!  I've changed in this area with each additional child.  Who knows, a couple more kids and I may be sending them out to the garden to graze when they're ready for real foods!  LOL  I'm teasing!  A tiny bit.  :)


  1. I agree with everything you say except giving your baby whole grains before a year.

    Humans need an enzyme called amylase to digest grain and most humans don't fully make it until after they're a year old.

    Skip the cereals!

    1. Thanks for your comment! I absolutely agree with you! ;) I don't think I encouraged offering grains. Did I? Apart from quoting LLL's suggestions, which I said I didn't agree with. ;)

  2. New Diet Taps into Pioneering Idea to Help Dieters Lose 15 Pounds within Just 21 Days!

  3. Join EverydayFamily today and you will receive stage based pregnancy and baby newsletters, offers and weekly coupons as well as a wide range of free baby samples, coupons, baby magazines & much more.

    New Members Can Win Free Diapers for a Whole Year!