Today I lead a wonderful discussion with a group of Mum’s who had babies aged 6 – 8 months and had started solid foods.
I never really know where the discussion will turn to with these chats as every baby and their families are all different. There is only one key message which I love to explain each time: when introducing your baby to solid foods, there is no right or wrong way to do so, there is no one size fits all policy which must blanket every Mother and every baby. How can there be? We have a huge range of different cultures in Auckland, some babies are slow to take to solids while some shovel food down, some babies have undiagnosed upper lip tie which prevents them from having a good relationship with food (and breastfeeding, if this sounds like you get baby checked as it can also lead to speech problems), some babies prefer to feed themselves and others prefer to be spoonfed. They’re all vastly different.
Figuring out which approach to take with introducing solids can cause Mummas a wee bit of anxiety. What should be an exciting time of simply introducing baby to different smells, textures and tastes becomes a little overwhelming for some. There is a lot of advice out there. Plunket have a one size fits most policy (they do not endorse baby led weaning and suggest formula top ups for babies who are deemed small).
Then there are older relatives with well meaning advice but are a little behind on the times. Up until one generation ago, GPs told Mothers to start solid foods at exactly four months and to start with farex, or from a bland list of purees/a funky food combination – avocado and pumpkin mush, anyone?
Then there are cultural battles; in Rarotonga the done thing is to give baby coconut water from birth, some cultures wouldn’t bat an eyelid at giving a baby garlic and spicy food and others use rice as a first food.
There is also the new research to take into account, some research suggests not to give baby farex for a number of reasons including that it is so highly processed (read: empty carbs sprinkled with artificial micro nutrients) that it spikes baby’s blood sugar levels sky high before they plummet back down again, apparently linked to a greater likelihood of diabetes in adult life.
The research against grains suggests that babies do not have the enzyme in their saliva (saliva being the first stage of digestion in humans) to start breaking down grains such as rice, oats etc until they are one. This research often favours Mum chewing the rice first before giving it to baby.
The research against soy suggests that there are three big reasons never to give baby soy, they are the content of phytic acid, trypsin inhibitors and phyto estrogen. These three things (separately) block digestion and absorption of vital nutrients such as zinc, phosphorus acid and calcium which, in studies done on rats, leads to slight retardation in brain development. Especially something to consider when you take into account that a baby is born with a brain size 25% of an adults size then it grows to 75% of an adults brain size in the first year. Even slight impairment could have big effects on baby’s rapidly developing brain. Phytoestrogen is thought to damage hormones and bring on a range of effects including early puberty and affected fertility.
There is also research against adding sugar, salt and alcohol to babies meals/bottles. This last point sounds like a no brainer but actually it was the done thing for many generations to give baby a little whisky on their gums for teething, a little sugar in the bottle to encourage them to finish it and salt to stop food from tasting bland. Thank goodness we have better education these days than that.
The New Zealand ministry recommends that baby does not have honey until age one due to possible infant botulism, baby can get very sick from honey, it states it on the back of some of the honey jars in the supermarket, and also to hold off on dairy until 7 or 8 months.
It is not recommended to give baby salt, sugar or alcohol.
The importance of nutrition is not be understated. Our bodies are made up of trillions of cells and each cell has a specific function in the body. Each function is fueled by a certain macro or micro nutrient (macro nutrients are things we require in large amounts such as fat, carbs and protein, micro nutrients are things which are required but in smaller amounts such as iron, vitamin c, magnesium etc). Baby is growing and developing very rapdily, all those cells are multiplying and making copies of themselves – you are what you eat, literally. So make sure baby is breastfed or formula fed until at least age one. The world health organization recommends breastfeeding until age two. Solid foods will supplement a baby’s diet.
Hold off until six months until giving food. Baby’s immature gut is developing, a valve which works only when it is closed, will be open at birth and close somewhere between 4 – 6 months. Because we cannot see inside babies gut, we don’t know if it is closed at 4, 5 or 6 months. Just hold off until six months even if you believe food is magical fairy dust which will make baby sleep through the night or that baby is big so they must want food etc. it is always better to wait.
Note: For more on myths around starting solids early, google kellymom.
So. You may be thinking “Great, this organization is telling me this, relatives are telling me that, you’re telling me that certain research suggests negative outcomes – what am I supposed to do then?” And you might be thinking a few swear words too.
Remember to relax Mumma, food under one is just for fun! There are recommendations and guidelines but no one can tell you exactly how to go about meal time with your baby.
The best thing to do is educate yourself and make your own decisions based on the knowledge you have at hand.
Personally, I did baby led weaning and smoothies (because I ate smoothies for breakfast so I shared them with baby) and I plan on doing it again for baby number two. No farex, no soy, grains soaked overnight like overnight oats…
That’s just me though!
For more on baby lead weaning, I recommend checking out http://www.babyledweaning.com.
You feed your baby however you are comfortable feeding your baby. Avocado mush is fantastic as are avocado slices (this is essentially the difference between purees and baby led weaning, mush or slices). If you think research around certain topics sounds like alarmist bullcrap, that’s your decision to make.
If you like the one size fits most policy or plunket then follow it.
If your culture suggests rice and curry from 6 months, then don’t worry about what others think.
If your baby has allergies and you look like a weirdo giving your baby bone broth and quinoa, then you rock your weirdo status! You are doing what you believe is right for your child, that’s what being Mum is all about.
(I am that weirdo haha).
As with all things parenting, no matter what you do – someone is going to judge you for it.
Just remember to nuture baby with the solid food of your choice. As there are only recommendations and guidelines, I recommend a range of real food items, this is anything that grew in the soil or had legs and walked on earth, as this will absolutely provide you with all the nutrition your baby needs.
Edit: when to not chill and go to a Dr/specialist, if baby is failing to thrive and not meeting milestones or is losing weight, if baby appears to have allergies.
Common sense, get some help for baby.