Complete Nutrition when Starting Solids

An NPN reader asks our natural parenting mentors:

My little boy is five months old and I am so sad that I didn’t do more research while I was pregnant with him. I breastfed him exclusively for six weeks. After that, I pumped and fed him breastmilk in bottles, as well as giving him bottles of formula, until he was about three months old. He is now on soy formula (after trying a few different types, it seems it’s the easiest on his belly, but certainly not the best) and I make him organic homemade baby food. However, he has come to the point where he won’t even take the bottle! He drinks approximately 20 ounces per day. However, he loves the food! He will eat anything that I give him. He has been eating four or five servings a day of either sweet potatoes, peas, bananas, peaches, squash, or carrots with great success! He has only been eating these things for about a month, but his entire demeanor has changed. He is so much happier overall. His stomach doesn’t seem to bother him like before, although it still does when he drinks even a tiny bit of the soy formula. He also sleeps better and more regularly since he’s been eating this kind of food.

I am at a place where I don’t really know what to do! I feel like he’s too young to be eating only baby food, but he obviously hates the formula. My question is what are my options? My concern is whether or not he can get adequate and appropriate nutrition at such a young age eating these kinds of foods, since he’s not breastfeeding. If not, what are some natural options for him to be drinking? I despise the soy formula but don’t know what else is available.

Finally, how can I go about finding a pediatrician that I am more comfortable with as far as natural parenting?


Here’s what our natural parenting mentors had to say:

Melissa: This situation is a unique one. First of all, what a wonderful gift you gave your son for the six weeks of exclusive breastfeeding and another six weeks of mixed feeds on top of that. This is a gift which will affect his health for many years into the future. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of 24 months, but this goal is not always attainable. Six weeks of exclusive breastmilk and twelve weeks of mixed feeds with breastmilk and formula is more than many children receive, and it is a wonderful start to life. Please know that you gave him a gift by breastfeeding for the time that you did.

Complementary feeding is generally not recommended until around six months of age. However, the best measure of your child’s readiness for solid foods is reading your child himself. If he can sit on his own, is interested in food, and reaches for your food while sitting on your lap or while watching you eat, is getting teeth, and/or can move food from the front to the back of his mouth with his tongue, he is ready. These outer signs reflect the inward readiness of an infant’s gut to begin receiving solid foods. Not all of the above signs need be present, but a good number of them should be. It is understandable that you would feed your child solid food in your case, although perhaps with future babies you might want to delay a bit longer before introducing solids. An infant’s gut will develop lesions if solid food is introduced before its cellular lining fuses more tightly together in readiness for a diet that includes solid food. Infants who are fed solid foods before six months often have lower iron stores than infants fed solid foods after six months of age. No one has been able to discover exactly why, but there is speculation that the above mentioned lesions can bleed, causing the infant to lose iron this way. (However, this is speculation only.)

In your case, it sounds as though your son has difficulty digesting milk and soy formulas, but that he is far more comfortable digesting fruits and veggies. Since he is close to six months, continuing to feed him solids is fine. It is a very good, healthy choice to make his food from organic fruits and vegetables; this is another wonderful nutritional gift you are offering your son! However, the amount you indicate he is eating is concerning. This is only because it replaces milk in an infant’s diet, and breastmilk and formula are infant ‘food’ which contains all (breastmilk) or most (formula) of the nutrients and vitamins an infant needs to grow. Fruits and vegetables, when comprising most of his or her diet, do not provide this complete nutrition. Of particular concern are iron and zinc, which are bioavailable in vegetables but often in trace amounts. Introducing a more varied diet will help in this regard, although he is a bit young to get all of his nutrition from solid food alone. For more information on the introduction of solid foods and on nutrition and infants, you could consider Gabrielle Palmer’s new book, Complementary Feeding: Nutrition, Culture and Politics. It is a very interesting resource on infant feeding from an infant nutrition expert.

Although this is a difficult situation for you, you have a number of options available. First, you could research the possibility of relactation. It is often possible for women who have breastfed and stopped to build up a milk supply again with commitment, time, and specific resources. For more information on relactating, you can read Dr. Jack Newman’s article on the subject. While this information sheet is specific to adoption or surrogacy, it contains the information you would need if you were interested in relactation. Dr. Newman’s page also lists a number of breastfeeding situations that would come in handy if you decided to pursue relactation.
Another good resource on this topic is KellyMom.com.

A second option you may not be aware of is donated human milk. Depending upon where you live and the resources available to you, banked human milk can be an option. If it is available, it generally costs between $3 and $5 per ounce. Donors will be screened and the milk pasteurized.

Informal milk sharing is a low cost option available just about anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. There is more trust involved in the informal milk sharing network, as donors are not generally screened, although individual donors may be willing to submit to screening upon request. Donors are generally fit and healthy, with their own breastfeeding babies, and as such are low risk. For more information on milk sharing you can visit Human Milk for Human Babies or Eats on Feets. Not all parents are comfortable with informal milk sharing, but it can be a good resource for some. Pasteurization destroys some of the beneficial properties of breastmilk but can be done at home; this sometimes makes a big difference for parents who are not fully comfortable with unpasteurized human donor milk. I recommend you do further research if human milk sharing is something you are interested in.

Another option is to try again with other infant formulas. Once a baby reaches six months of age, his or her gut changes significantly and can often handle milk that it could not handle previously. Goat milk is also closer to human milk than cow’s milk and is an option that some have used in lieu of infant formula for babies older than six months (younger than six months of age, goat or cow’s milk contains too much protein and salt for human babies, and can damage their kidneys, gut, and brain, which is why we process milk for infant formulas rather than give straight cow’s or goat’s milk). Soy formula can often be high in aluminum as well. You could try different brands of infant formula and/or goat’s milk to see if your son’s body can handle it better now that he is older and his digestive system more mature.

Best of luck, and thank you for contacting Natural Parents Network with your questions.

Acacia: I applaud you for following your intuition on your son’s diet and choosing to be active in making the best nutritional choices for him. I would encourage you to continue looking for a pediatrician you are comfortable with and develop a relationship with him or her in terms of your son’s nutrition. Have you tried looking for a naturopathic doctor? If you feel that you are limited financially, I would still look into it because there are many naturopathic doctors that have payment plans and are willing to work with you. We have found one we are very happy with and have discovered that we don’t pay much more than we would pay a regular doctor through insurance. The difference in cost has been more than worth it. Otherwise, perhaps you can get in touch with a local natural mom’s group or holistic group and ask for recommendations. A local midwife or doula can be a good source for referrals as well.

Even when you do find a doctor, however, continue to be an active participant in your son’s health. Bring up questions, assert what you see and know works or does not work for him, and offer suggestions of your own. Many doctors do not have the nutritional knowledge that we assume they do, and no doctor can know your child like you do.

While you search for a new pediatrician or family doctor, you obviously need other options. You are right in believing that fruits and vegetables and a small amount of soy formula will not provide him with all that he needs nutritionally. You are also right to question soy formula and question what to do alternatively. We have a previous Ask the Mentor question that addresses soy formula and it’s controversy, so I won’t repeat any of that. My two cents would be to trust your observations that it isn’t completely working for him. Both of my sons breastfed, but I knew that because I had experienced problems with soy previous to my first son’s pregnancy, it could likely have negative effects on him as well; as such, I avoided it in our diet. It is certainly not a good choice for everyone.

I encourage you to try adding egg yolk to your son’s diet. Eggs from a local family farm that allows their chickens to roam freely, feeding on insects to supplement the diet, are like nature’s giant vitamin gift to us. They are loaded with nutrition, including cholesterol and omega-3 fatty acids that are essential to brain and cell development. Separating the egg yolk from the albumen is important because it is the albumen (the white part) that induces allergies; feeding it to him should be saved until your baby turns one year old. You can add lightly cooked egg yolk to foods he is already eating or give it to him alone. The Weston Price Foundation has information about this, as well as more information on nutrition for infants such as protein sources, which may be lacking in his diet now, and proper preparation of grains that will be hard on his young digestive system, contrary to popular knowledge.

Furthermore, there are raw milk-based and meat-based homemade formula recipes you can research as well. I know raw milk is very controversial in the U.S. right now, but I believe that choosing to use it or not is a personal decision that should be made based on carefully informed sources. There are many out there now including Rawmilk.org, Raw-Milk-Facts.com, and A Campaign for Real Milk. You can also find a database of providers near you. In terms of safety I must assert that the most important step to take is to study the information presented from a variety of sources, follow your intuition, and absolutely find a farmer that you can have a relationship with (one that is well informed about the milk and the service they are providing and the dangers involved). While this all may sound a bit daunting, I believe the amount of passion involved in this debate speaks to the nutritional value of raw milk, and it shouldn’t go without consideration. Furthermore, if you choose to try raw milk, you will likely find that your son’s digestive system reacts to it differently than the pasteurized milk that is subjected to even further processing in formulas. Milk is a very different substance when it is raw than when it is processed.

Good luck, mama, and continue listening to your intuition!

Jennifer: First and foremost, I want to make sure that I express that the information I am providing is based on my opinions, research, and experiences. I am not a medical provider so this should not be construed as medical advice. With that out of the way, let’s tackle your concerns.

Five months old does seem much too young to be essentially weaned from breastmilk or formula. Most medical professionals (standard Western medicine practitioners and Naturopaths alike) will tell you that babies should remain on breastmilk or formula until at least one year of age. I personally am worried based on the information provided that your baby is not getting the nutrition he needs. The plant-based diet he is on is lacking the vital fats and cholesterol he needs to properly develop.

There are a number of great recipes for homemade formula if you are interested in trying that. Homemade formula is far superior to the standard formulas sold in stores, but some of the ingredients can be difficult to source.

In an effort to get some much needed fats, protein, and cholesterol into your son, I would like to suggest that you offer him a partially cooked egg yolk three times per day. Eggs are incredibly nutritious and will give your son a lot of what he needs. By partially cooked I mean “medium boiled” as in something in between hard boiled and soft boiled.

Cooked and mashed liver is also an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. When giving liver to babies, it is important to freeze it for 14 days before cooking it and feeding it to your son. This will help to make it easily digestible.

Avocado mashed with an 1/8 of a teaspoon of coconut oil is highly nutritious. You can also offer homemade bone broth. Give him as much of this as he can eat.

Another thought is to try modified smoothies. Maybe you could mix formula in with some of the foods he likes and blend it all up? I suggest you stay away from commercial juices at this point. Offer water often. You can also offer watered down mint tea or fruity caffeine-free teas. Just make sure that there are no other herbs in it. Your little guy is still pretty young and should not be offered certain herbs yet.

This may sound really simple, but have you offered a cup instead of a bottle? He may need help with it but perhaps he is simply ready to move on from a bottle. My daughter never had a bottle and would sip water from a cup (a small BPA-free plastic cup with no lid) when she was six months old.

In addition, I suggest you read a post I wrote about starting solids from a real foodies perspective. It includes an abundance of links from our Natural Parents Network volunteers about baby-led weaning. You should be able to gather some additional information from many of these posts as well.

As for finding a pediatrician who is more in line with your parenting philosophies, ask around. You can post a request on the Natural Parents Network Facebook wall. You can contact your local La Leche League leader and see if she can send out an email to local members asking for suggestions. You can also see if there is a Holistic Moms Network chapter close to you. They would be a great resource for this. Do you have a local health food store? Ask the employees; they might have some suggestions.

Good luck to you and please do consult with a medical professional to make sure your son is getting adequate nutrition. Keep track of wet and poopy diapers so you have those stats to share. Try to keep a detailed food and drink log to share as well.

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Statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their healthcare provider. If you are pregnant, are nursing, have a medical condition, or are taking any medication, please consult your physician. Nothing you read here should be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis, or courses of treatment.

One Response to Complete Nutrition when Starting Solids

  1. Momma Jorje  

    Great suggestions from the mentors! I was prepared to write a comment with some of the same suggestions.

    Best of luck!

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