Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Food Before One, Is Just For Fun"

I feel like many parents these days push solids on their babies too early and too quickly. The WHO recommends that babies receive breastmilk (or formula) exclusively for the first 6 months. I'm often reading posts in my baby-related Facebook groups about giving solids to 4 or 5-month olds. Usually, the parent wants their baby to sleep longer at night and thinks that this is the answer.

Once solids are started, it seems like there is a huge rush to get the baby eating fruits, veggies, meats, grains, processed baby cookies and even dairy. Parents stress if their baby only eats a few bites of a puree. They compare notes about the exact amount of solids their baby eats. I have never once measured the amount of food I give the girls.

Baby-led Weaning's motto is 'Food Before One, Is Just For Fun.'  This does not discount the importance of solids, it just relates to the amount eaten. Baby-led weaning allows the baby to control his/her intake of food by eating whole food, as opposed to purees. I've been doing a combo of purees (some smooth, some chunky) and BLW with the girls.

At 9 months, the girls have only tried fruits, veggies and most recently, lentils.  They nurse 4 times per day and receive one 8oz breastmilk bottle at night. In my opinion, breastmilk should provide them with the majority of the nutrients that they need until they turn 1. I wholeheartedly believe in BLW's motto. I've introduced the girls to just about every fruit and vegetable that I could think of! I love to eat and love to cook. I want the girls to enjoy it as well. I've spiced up the blander veggies with things like garlic, onions, ginger, cinnamon, cumin and turmeric. They've had their own guacamole with onions and garlic sauteed in coconut oil and a dash of lemon. I don't stress if they only gnaw on a carrot stick for a few minutes or only take a few bites of a puree. They try everything and that's the important thing. The nutritionist in me wants to introduce them to as many healthy foods as possible to start them off on the right foot. I want food and eating to be fun for them. 

Many people are told that rice cereal needs to be given at 6 months because a baby's iron stores are depleted by that point. This is not entirely true. A baby doesn't suddenly wake up on their 6-month birthday with no iron in their system. Their iron stores decrease gradually. Between 9-12 months, it's important for babies to start getting iron from food, hence the girls introduction to lentils and leafy greens like kale and swiss chard. I will be introducing them to other legumes first. They will eventually have meat and gluten-free grains. While the amount of iron in breastmilk is fairly low, it is highly absorbable so babies absorb about half of it. This absorption rate is way higher than all other iron-rich foods. [Side note for adults: Vitamin C significantly increases iron absorption. Add some fresh lemon onto your iron-rich salad greens so your body can maximize iron absorption]

My family loves to cook, eat and enjoy meals together, laughing and chatting around the dinner table. In the girls short life, they've already experienced this because my Dad bought them high chairs for their place. While they can't eat what we're having yet, it is clear how much happier they are to be part of the action.

Food is so much more than just fuel for our bodies. It's an experience. One of my good friends, Justine, a personal trainer and fellow nutritionist, is the perfect example of this. She shares my passion for food. I can only hope that I will pass on that love and passion to the girls!


  1. We always said eating as babies was just practice, just introducing the tastes and ideas. I never stressed if they didn't eat much and I still don't. Our kids usually eat a good breakfast and lunch, so if they don't eat dinner, I don't worry about it (although I sometimes get annoyed because I've planned for and made something I think they'll want! lol) Kim worries a bit if they don't eat, but I just figure they'll eat if they're hungry.

    Erik was ready for food at 4 months. He wanted it. He was watching us eat and reaching for food. We started him on rice cereal then, but it wasn't to fill him up because he already slept through the night. I never believed that adding food would make them sleep anyway. Ian was completely different. He didn't show any interest in eating until after 6 months, so we didn't start him on anything until then.

  2. I think it's important to take individual differences into account here. I don't think anyone would argue that in most cases breast milk is the best source of nutrients for babies, but I know that we for one NEEDED to supplement our child with foods before he reached six months. This was medically-recommended by various doctors we saw. It was also recommended that meats be one of the first foods we offer. (I believe the WHO also now recommends meats be among the first foods offered to all babies.) I think your knowledge about nutrition is impressive, and I appreciate you taking the time to share it, but like I said, I really do feel that it's important to note that individual differences should be taken into account.

    1. Thanks for your comment Allison.

      I agree that some babies might have a different situation than my girls. Some babies need to be supplemented with formula due to weight issues or mother's supply. Some babies, as Shannon mentioned in her comment, might show that they're ready for solids before that 6 month mark. And some babies, for medical reasons, might need solids before 6 months, like The Bean. While the introduction of solids should be looked at on individual basis, based on all of the moms and babies who I've met over the last 9 months, most babies fall into the "solids at 6 month" category. I do believe that a baby's digestive system is still immature prior to 6 months and might have a more difficult time dealing with solids.

      With regards to baby's first food, there are so many different opinions on the matter. I too, have read about meat being introduced as a first food. I've then read about meat being introduced after one year. I picked butternut squash, avocado and pear as the girls' first food because they are easy to digest. It takes a lot of work for our body's to digest meat so personally, I didn't feel like it was the best option for the girls. I know that meats may be recommended as a first food because of their iron content though. Again, case by case basis...

      As with everything baby-related, parents need to do their own research and decide what makes sense for their child(ren). My blog post is simply my opinion!

    2. I think it's so comment for parents, probably first time parents in particular, to feel like they're being judged for the decision they make. And although I KNOW this was not your intention, I still felt like I needed to defend myself and others, many of whom I am sure spend a great deal of time trying to figure out what is best for their children.

    3. You're right, I'm absolutely not judging anyone for their choices. What works for me, might not work for the next person! Anyways, thanks again for your thoughts, Allison. I appreciate your honesty.

  3. aww shucks! Thanks Ash for mention.. And yes, there is no doubt I love cooking with you and being able to share the wonderfulness of fresh healthy yummy food :)

  4. We're slowly working our way through a variety of fruits and veggies. My big problem is I don't eat a huge variety of these things, and I've been making their food, so I'm getting to the end of the line. I think our next new food will be bananas (which I've been putting off as I think they'll stop the girls up...), but then I'm going to have to either buy some food or branch out myself (I do eat broccoli and asparagus, but I want to wait on these for a bit for the girls as they're already gassy, lol).

    We do feed cereal though, mostly oatmeal. We're almost out of brown rice and might try barley next. I was pretty against cereal, but our pedi was semi-adament we give it to them since they were early, SGA and Q was IUGR -- all those things together mean their iron stores at birth were very low compared to a "normal" baby. Sadly, I admit having the cereal on hand makes it easy to be lazy...out of food? Here, cereal!