In last week’s introduction to this series (Bon appétit, bébé!), I shared some of the questions I am most frequently asked with regards to feeding babies. So, I’ll begin by letting you in on the little journey I have been on for…oh, about 15 months now.
Once upon a time, when the babies were two months old…
I began dreaming of the day when their nourishment was not dependent entirely upon me. This was mainly due to the immense challenges I faced with breastfeeding all three babies and supply issues (you can read our journey on breastfeeding here). I read somewhere that babies often begin cereal at four months old so I figured I’d better get on this if I’m going to do it right! …Right? I began doing some research and talked with my pediatrician who encouraged me to wait until around six months. I was disappointed but was willing to wait – what harm could there be in waiting?
And so I did more research. (Seriously, how do you do mommyhood and not do research? This mom thing is confusing!)
I discovered two major things:
- Babies don’t need solid foods for the first year of their lives.
- Cereal (aka, grain) is empty, nutrition-less and potentially harmful for babies at this point!
We’ll discuss the second point next time. But the more I read, searched and asked questions, the more I realized that babies really will tell you when they want to start food – and it’s very rare for this to happen before six months (though we all tend to think our baby is the exception, right? =).
Maybe you’ve heard the saying “food before one is just for fun.” It’s really true! Babies get everything they need from breastmilk (even if the baby is on formula, the bulk of his nutrition is coming from the bottle). The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization even recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life (or bottle-fed for all my mommy friends who aren’t able to breastfeed <3).
So how, then, do you know when your baby is ready?! Great question! Here are the current recommendations:
- The baby can hold her head up and can sit unassisted. This is very important because there is much less likelihood that the baby will be able to handle and control the eating process safely.
- The tongue-thrust reflex has disappeared. If this reflex is still present, the baby will be unable to swallow foods and could potentially choke. This reflex is God-given to protect the baby from choking hazards and usually disappears between 4-6 months.
- The baby is able to chew. Yep. This most likely will mean a delay in the eating-adventures… again, probably after the six month mark.
- The baby has a decent “pincer” grasp. Can the baby pick up small objects or food with his thumb and forefinger? Or is she still trying to pick items up with her fingers and the palm of her hand?
- The baby tries to eat food off your plate. It is actually not uncommon for the baby to watch your every move at a mealtime. But, remember, the baby is curious about everything and may not be showing actual signs of readiness for eating.
All of the above should be in place prior to beginning solids. In some cases this will mean readiness before six months, but in most cases it will mean the baby is not ready till after their half-birthday. (I know a few one year olds who showed no interest in food!)
Not Signs of Readiness
Some signs that do not (alone) indicate when babies are ready for solids include:
- The baby is waking up more during the night. There is no proof that feeding the baby solids will enable him to sleep better (or longer) during the night. The baby is simply not yet consuming enough solids (ever fed a baby and watched how most of the food ended up everywhere except in the baby’s tummy? =). The baby may simply be going through a growth spurt (which will end, mama!) and need some extra time breastfeeding.
- The baby has reached X amount of weight (sometimes it’s recommended by the time he’s doubled his birth weight). This is especially untrue for babies born prematurely! If I had followed this recommendation, my 3 lbs. 12 oz. babies would have been eating solids at six weeks old!!! Even for infants born full-term, though, this recommendation makes no sense. KellyMom states, “It’s the maturity of the digestive tract and baby’s developmental readiness that makes the difference, not baby’s weight.”
- The baby is too small. Nope. Solid foods are quite inferior to the calories found in the same amount of breastmilk! Food simply cannot compare to the quality of nutrients she is receiving from breastmilk…even into the toddler stage!
- The baby needs more iron than is found in breastmilk. Possibly. An easy way to determine this is through the blood test done at most pediatricians’ offices around six months. If the baby is, in fact, iron deficient, there are wonderfully iron-rich foods that can be given to the baby. But most breastfed babies do not have low levels of iron until well past the six month mark!
At this point in my research, I knew I did not want to start the babies on solids until they were exhibiting the signs of readiness above. They were about seven months old when I finally gave in and introduced solids. Little did I know what lay in store for me: babies eating solids = mess!
Baby-led Weaning or Purees?
If you’re unfamiliar with baby-led weaning (BLW), it simply means “letting your child feed themselves from the very start of weaning.” (BabyLedWeaning.com) I would encourage you to check this method out to determine if it is for you and your baby.
I, however, chose to do mostly pureed foods with elements of baby-led weaning (which actually works gloriously, in my opinion! =). And there were several reasons that went into my decision to begin with pureed foods. Our schedule was such that we didn’t eat meals at the same time that the babies did so I would have ended up preparing food twice anyway. And we were in a season where David and I weren’t eating the way I prefer we eat because of…well, having three babies to care for! I wanted them to eat better than we were (no Kraft macaroni for them! =) And, because there were three, I wanted to know exactly what they were eating – to watch for any adverse reactions by spoon-feeding them. So for me it ended up being easier to puree foods for a while.
What I didn’t do was follow a recipe book. I took one look at them and decided that was not for me – no combining broccoli and apple to sneak the broccoli in. (More on this next time!) So I just usually “mushed up” something in bulk for the babies. The time spent preparing foods really wasn’t bad, either. I could make a serious amount of food in a very little amount of time. (I promise I’ll show you how!) And with none of this peeling stuff! Nope. If I could eat the peel, the babies could, too! (Of course I modified how the food arrived to them for safety, but that was way easier than peeling, say, an apple for applesauce!)
So, what did they eat? Well, stop on by next week and we’ll chat about that… ‘cause it’s a very long list!
The poll on making babyfood is currently still open: :nom, nom, nom:
Note: Always check with your pediatrician and do your own research to determine what is best for you and your baby.