Delaying Solid Foods

Happy babyOne of the most exciting landmarks in raising infants is when they start to eat solid foods. I remember watching Everett’s face every time he tried a new food to see what he thought of the taste and texture. Hearing his happy little grunts when I would pull out his favorite mix of sweet potatoes and broccoli brought a smile to my lips. And, of course, we have multiple pictures of the messes he would make exploring his food with his fingers and mouth…and cheeks, nose, hair, chest…

It’s easy to be excited about feeding children the foods we love. Food is awesome. It’s nourishing to the body, mind and soul. It brings me pleasure, so I’m eager to see what pleasure it brings my boys. On top of that, since I’m the one preparing the meals, that spoonful isn’t just full of food, it’s full of love, too. That makes him happy and it makes me happy.

But take a step back with me for a moment. Step away from the snapshots and silly faces full of new flavors and to the bigger picture. If we want our children to love food in a way that’s healthy, in a way that truly nourishes body, mind and soul, we have to pull ourselves out of the excitement for long enough to look at how and what we are feeding them.

Multiple organizations including UNICEF, the American Academy of Pediatrics and WHO, recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months. Not 4-6 months, but at least 6 months, and possibly longer for families with known food allergies.

There is a great article on Kellymom.com, a website about breastfeeding and parenting, that discusses delaying solid foods. Below I list the reasons they give, and that we happen to agree with based on my own research. You can read more on their article here. These are the very reasons why we waited six months before feeding Everett any solid foods and why we may take it even slower with Kellan.

  • Baby gets greater protection from illnesses: Breastmilk contains over 50 known immune factors. There is probably more not yet identified. We want all that good immune support to be there for Kellan as long as possible, especially during this flu and cold season.
  • Gives baby’s digestive system time to mature: Various enzymes necessary in food break down are not produced by baby’s digestive system until at least 6 months of age. Kellymom’s article gives a break down of the enzymes produce at different ages, but there is even debate on when some of those are produced. For example, in a couple weeks when I write about first foods I am going to discuss an article from The Healthy Home Economist with the Weston A. Price Foundation that says baby’s don’t produce enzymes to break down grains until much later.
  • Decreases food allergies: Baby’s have what is called an “open gut” which means that they have permeable tissue in their small intestines. This is a great thing for breastfeeding because it allows antibodies to pass through easily to protect them from disease causing pathogens. This is not a good thing for digesting new proteins because the proteins pass into the blood stream without being broken down properly and predispose baby to allergic reactions.
  • Prevents iron-deficiency anemia: It is even possible that iron-fortified formulas and foods introduce before the age of six months can interfere with baby’s capability of absorbing iron naturally.
  • Prevents future obesity: With the epidemic levels of obesity in our country, especially in children, this should be enough of a reason for anyone to wait a mere couple months!
  • Helps maintain mother’s milk supply: And on top of that it could prolong breastfeeding in general. As soon as solids are introduced, something inferior to breastmilk is replacing it and partial weaning begins. Like I said before, we want Kellan to get as much of this perfect food as he can for as long as possible.
  • Helps space babies: It may not be everyone’s priority to space their babies further apart, but the theory is that the breastfeeding connection helps spacing of children to occur more naturally.
  • Makes starting solid foods easier: The tongue-thrust reflex that babies are born with disappears by about 6 months making it easier for them to swallow. The older baby with greater hand-eye coordination and control over hand and finger movements is able to self-feed, making it much easier for you! Furthermore, an important part of the eating experience is being able to explore food through touch. You may have better luck in getting baby to enjoy a variety of foods when he is able to self-feed and play with his food easily.

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So far the moments of life have taken Acacia from the elementary art classroom to the open book of stay at home, school at home attachment parenting for three-year-old Everett and six-month-old Kellan. There have been moments filled with lots of creativity and play, yoga, wholesome living and eating, all of which she blogs about at Be Present Mama.

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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.

7 Responses to Delaying Solid Foods

  1. Kat

    Great points. As a mama to a little guy with food sensitivities I totally agree with delaying solids until at least 6 months…and longer for foods that are known to be allergenic such as grains, dairy, eggs, etc. If your baby is eager to eat food (like my little guy was!) there are lots of foods you can feed them that are nutritious but won’t irritate or cause digestive issues.

  2. Melissa K.  

    Great points – thanks for sharing! I’m eager to read your discussion on digestive issues and grains as well! We recently started solids after 6.5 and are doing just whole fruits and veggies for now. I’m going back and forth on when to introduce grains.

  3. Semi-crunchy Mama  

    Great post! I will definitely be bookmarking this post to share with friends.

  4. Stephanie B. Cornais  

    Great article! Loved that you linked to the Healthy Home Economist’s article, it’s a must-read for all parents.

  5. Sheila  

    I agree wholeheartedly. We started solids at six months, but I found most vegetables weren’t really getting digested. (Yes, I do inspect the diaper to see what went down well at what didn’t!) Meat seems to be digested the best, followed by some veggies like avocado and squash. As for grains, I’m leaving them till he’s at least one and maybe even two — my husband doesn’t tolerate them well, so I want to put them off as long as practical. Cheese caused a bad diaper rash, so no dairy yet either.

    I’m in the baby-led weaning camp as well — so if baby can’t put it in his mouth himself, he doesn’t eat it. Since the pincer grasp doesn’t develop till after six months, baby’s body protects itself from eating solids too early.

  6. Andrea!!!  

    We started introducing solids through baby-led weaning between 6 and 7 months…and for the first 3 months all Ella would do is lick her food, maybe gum it, and spit it out. She didn’t start swallowing foods until 10 months, and even now at 12 months she gets most of her food from me (we nurse on cue). This way of introducing solids worked for us because it took the stress out of it – I know many moms who stress about whether their child is eating enough. I found that trusting in my kiddo to eat what and how much she wants of a balanced option makes the entire experience of eating much more pleasant for all of us.

  7. Jennifer

    This post is very helpful. I read it when it first was posted and find myself referring back as my 8-month old son is not interested in solids. We BF exclusively on cue and my son continues to be somewhere in the 90th percentile for height. Despite his growth, happiness, and alertness, all of which our Dr commented on at our son’s last check-up, our Dr wants us to introduce baby cereal for the iron. I can’t bring myself to do it as for one I know my son is still not ready and two, I don’t want to introduce processed junk. From 6 months on we have offered him pureed fruits and veggies. Mostly, he just plays with the food and this is okay. I am sure he will signal to us once he is ready.

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