One 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.
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.
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.