BABY-LED WEANING — PART I

Can you believe that I’ll be four months old next week?!

As Oliver approaches four months old, our thoughts are starting to turn toward the introduction of solid foods. To be clear, all major health organizations (including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Health Canada and the American Academy of Pediatrics) advise exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of babies’ lives; but regardless, there is no shortage of companies marketing baby foods to parents of babies as young as four months old.

Even one generation ago, parents were still being instructed to begin feeding solids at around four months of age with the introduction of single-grain (e.g. rice) cereals. It was thought that the addition of cereal to a babies’ diets would increase satiety and therefore help babies sleep through the night. We now know that this is not true. We also know that adding rice cereal to a baby’s bottle is useless at best, and a potential choking/aspiration hazard at worst. Parents could subsequently introduce single pureed fruits and starchy vegetables at six months of age, followed by mixed pureed vegetables/fruits and pureed meats at around nine months of age.

Now, parents are advised to wait to introduce solids until babies are capable of sitting unsupported (approximately six months), but can begin feeding pureed fruits, vegetables and meats in any order. Commonly allergenic foods such as egg whites, tree nuts and cow’s milk, however, are not recommended to be introduced until babies reach a minimum of one year old.

I thought that these new guidelines would make rice cereal a thing of the past, but apparently this is not the case. Highly-processed rice cereal is still the most commonly suggested first food for babies. Why on earth, I wondered, anyone would recommend that babies be fed something so completely devoid of nutrition? It turns out that there are two reasons: 1) because it is bland; and 2) because it is fortified with iron.

Conventional wisdom still holds that babies’ first foods should be as bland and inoffensive as possible in order to minimize the potential for allergic reactions. Babies who begin solid foods before their digestive systems have sufficiently matured are more likely to develop food allergies; however, this is a result of premature introduction of solids, and not a result of the order in which the foods are introduced.

The argument for introducing iron-fortified cereal stems from the fact that babies are born with only enough iron stores to carry them through approximately the first six months of life, and that breast milk is very low in iron when compared with infant formula. Thus, it is often thought that babies require supplementation from about six months onward. This argument, unfortunately, ignores the fact that the naturally-occurring iron in breast milk and other foods is vastly more bioavailable (easily absorbed) than that which is used for fortification of infant formulas and cereals. It also ignores the fact that iron deficiency anemia is almost completely unheard of in exclusively breastfed infants. In fact, a 1995 study concluded that babies who were exclusively breastfed for seven months had a lower risk of anemia than those who weren’t.

As parents, it is natural to want to see a baby reach his or her developmental milestones as early as possible, with the introduction of solid foods being no exception. The availability of processed baby cereal and produce purees has enabled us to foist this important milestone upon our children sooner than nature would otherwise allow.

But the fact is, a four-month-old baby cannot safely eat real solid foods, which is precisely why we can only feed them bland mush. Most babies younger than six months lack the gross motor control to sit upright without support. They lack the fine motor control to release food from their hands, and to masticate food and move it to the back of the mouth for swallowing. They also lack the necessary enzymes for chemical digestion of most foods other than mother’s milk. Giving them easily-digestible processed foods does nothing to hasten their development, since babies actually treat these so-called “solid” foods as thick liquids and simply suck and swallow them as they would breast milk.

So as much as we are eager to introduce Oliver to all of the exciting new smells and tastes of solid food, we will patiently wait until he shows true signs of developmental readiness.

Baby-Led Weaning — Part II

Baby-Led Weaning — Part III

Baby-Led Weaning — Part IV

12 responses to “BABY-LED WEANING — PART I

    • If you ever want to save/print any of the photos, just click them to get the full-sized version. My mom was very pleased to discover this.

  1. I remember when my oldest was a baby, my wife and I had calendars about how and when we were going to feed her, logged which foods were the best, and we were obsessed over everything. Today, she’s happy and healthy. She also likes to eat healthy. Is it directly related to us going overboard. I can’t say. But defending the craziness, I’m going to say “yes.”

    -Mitichell

    • Her desire for healthy foods might also be a result of the type of foods you fed her, rather than the schedule on which you fed them 😉

  2. I love all the advice in Nourishing traditions and its infant special journal of Wise Traditions…makes so much sense!!! Good luck as you prepare…

    • That’s the Weston A. Price Foundation book, right? I think we will borrow it from the library and have a look through it to see if we’d like to order it.

  3. I love to hear anything about baby-led weaning. I’m glad you’re going to implement it and trust me, you will not be sorry. It’s a little nail biting at first, learning the difference between gagging and choking, but truthfully I appreciated it because it was EASY! My friends always look at me weird when I tell them that my LO’s first food was a broccoli floret. You have one adorable little guy, have fun with all the firsts, they are priceless. =)

  4. Thank you 🙂 I have heard nothing but positive stories about baby-led weaning. It seems to unanimously result in much less picky eaters. We’d like the little guy’s first food to be steak, LOL (I am only half kidding).

  5. I gave my first child rice cereal, but in my transition to Paleo/Primal this year, I decided to give my second child (now 7 months) only veggies and fruits. Most people question what the big deal is, but most know my choices for my lifestyle and avoid questioning why I do what I do 😉

    I started him on solids a month ago, and he just flew with it. I now give him slivers of food, including our favorite steak, and he is doing great!

    Good luck as that milestone approaches for your son, and I can wait to see how things go.

    Thanks,

    New joined blog follower, Erin – Chicago, IL

    • Did you use purees, or did you just give pieces of fruits and veggies? Sounds like he is on his way to becoming a great eater!

  6. There are two other indicators of digestive readiness for solid foods. One is teeth. Cutting their first teeth shows that their body is ready to handle more foods. For some babies this may be much later then 6 months and that is ok. Another indicator is interest. Are they showing interest in what you are eating and want to try it?

    All my babies have started on fruits and veggies. (I have 5 kids ages 10-5 months). The earliest we have started solids is 7 months and with 3 & 4 it was 10 months. You will get pressured by people to start but all I can say is breast is best until baby is truly ready.

    Honestly. I have no desire to rush this baby away from the breast. They grow up too quickly. I joke that I won’t give him food until his first birthday:-). Enjoy this time.

    • Oliver definitely shows an interest in our foods, but he is quite keenly interested in everything around him, so I don’t take it as a sign of readiness per se at this point. That said, I will admit to having given him my apple cores to play with on a couple of occasions, and he quite eagerly licked and sucked on them, much to my amusement. I also give him washed whole fruits and vegetables to hold and smell. Right now, I am just trying to pique his interest in various foods, but I agree that it’s best not to rush the process, despite the outside pressure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s