Who Says I Have To Give Him ANY Baby Food?

 

Who Says I Have to Give Him Any Baby Food?

Now that I’m the mom of an infant again, I find myself fielding questions about when I’ll be starting solids, if I’ve supplemented or given my son cereal to “give myself a break”, and so on.

People seem shocked to learn that nothing except breastmilk has passed the lips of my now 5.5 month old and that I have no plans to start him on baby food – ever.

Rest assured, I do plan to eventually give him more than breastmilk, but I won’t be participating in the whole overly complicated “baby feeding” trend modern society has created. When he’s ready, he’ll let me know and I’ll feed him the same things the rest of the family is eating. Until then, my breastmilk is more than adequate for his every need.

In fact, introducing anything other than breastmilk any earlier than six months is completely unnecessary and even detrimental. There is absolutely no nutritional value to be gained. Sure, giving your baby a bottle, some rice cereal, or even jarred baby food, will keep him or her feeling satisfied longer and enable you to go longer between nursing sessions, but it’s essentially the equivalent of giving them a bag of chips or some crackers to keep them satisfied so you don’t have to take the time to prepare an actual meal. It’s nothing but empty calories. Breastmilk is perfectly designed for a baby’s developing digestive system and doesn’t contain any “fillers”, so it’s digested quickly and efficiently, meaning baby doesn’t stay full as long...but this is a GOOD thing, not a bad thing! Is our goal to achieve a longer period between feedings or to give our babies the best nutrition possible?

Not only that, but a baby’s digestive system is not equipped to handle anything but mama’s milk. Quoting from kellymom:

“The pancreatic enzyme amylase does not reach adequate levels for digestion of starches until around 6 months, and carbohydrate enzymes such as maltase, isomaltase, and sucrase do not reach adult levels until around 7 months. Young infants also have low levels of lipase and bile salts, so fat digestion does not reach adult levels until 6-9 months.”
Infants are not equipped to properly digest most starches or carbohydrates…yet these are the primary ingredients in most of the foods being fed to 3-9 month old infants! Rice cereal, anyone?

There are other advantages to a “virgin gut“. All babies are born with sterile guts. They’re just waiting to be populated with bacteria, good or bad. As we all know, having a healthy amount of beneficial bacteria in our guts is a big factor in our health in all areas. It plays a huge role in our immune system. Breastmilk is teeming with beneficial bacteria and is the ideal way to introduce this good stuff to a babies’ waiting colon. Even one bottle or feeding of baby food will introduce some not so good bacteria. If there’s not yet an adequate population of beneficial bacteria, this can spell trouble. The longer the wait before introducing anything besides breastmilk, the longer the baby has to build up a nice, healthy population of beneficial bacteria, giving him or her a huge headstart in the immune department.

So…when a baby IS ready for solids, how do you go about it? Simple. Give your baby bits and mashed up pieces of whatever the rest of the family is eating and let them feed themselves. They won’t be getting enough to make much nutritional impact, but that’s not the point. The point is for them to experience different types of food and practice feeding themselves. Mom can still provide pretty much all they need for several more months. As they get better at feeding themselves, they will nurse less often and get more and more of their calories from real food.

In fact, specially prepared “baby food” is a fairly recent phenomenon. It’s also cultural…moms in most of the rest of the world don’t bother with all that.

Jarred, or even homemade pureed, baby food isn’t even necessary. Here’s a quick rundown of my family’s experience:

  • I was the typical overeager parent with my oldest. I ran out and bought rice cereal as soon as she was about 4.5 months old and proceeded to mix it up and feed it to her, videotaping the whole event. She wasn’t impressed. I half-heartedly tried giving it to her a few more times, as well as attempting jarred baby food off and on. She was much more interested in what was on our plates, so we began giving her bits of that and the “baby food” quickly fell by the wayside. Months later, I threw away that box of rice cereal, still 95% full.
  • My oldest son, who came along a couple of years later, was extremely interested in our food from a young age. He watched intently every time we ate. This time I didn’t even attempt the rice cereal. As soon as he turned 6 months old I bought a huge case of of organic baby food at Sam’s Club with good intentions, but once again, it soon fell by the wayside…he didn’t want it, he wanted what WE were eating!
  • Finally a bit wiser, I didn’t even attempt any commercial baby food or spoon feeding with my third child. She was almost seven months old when she had her first table food…mashed up avocado from the tacos we were eating for dinner. After that first taste, she continued to eat with us at the dinner table. A bit of this, a bit of that, whatever we could give her from our regular meal.
  • I intend to follow this same pattern with my fourth. He, like his brother, is extremely interested in what we’re eating so I won’t hold him off once he turns six months old. His sister wasn’t as eager as he is so I just let it ride a little bit longer.

Every one of my kids are great eaters, eating a wide variety of all types of foods. They all thrived as babies and toddlers, despite the lack of any specially prepared “baby food” or specific timetable for introducing types of foods. Evidently, my milk was more than adequate for their nutritional needs.

They also rarely got sick, and if they did, got over it very rapidly. Just one example – ear infections, one of the most common childhood ailments. My oldest had two, my next child had one, my younger two (now 3 and 5.5 months) have neither had even one. I can tell a similar story regarding stomach bugs and other viruses we were exposed to. I feel certain that a large amount of credit for that goes to the delayed introduction of solid foods, allowing their healthy gut flora time to develop and flourish.

Why aren’t we told these things? Why do most parenting books, websites, pediatricians, etc. not share this with us? I don’t know. I know I’ve discussed this issue with my pediatrician–in fact, he’s the one who brought it up–and he’s expressed his frustration that most parents are so convinced that their baby has to have solid food as early as possible. He is perfectly comfortable with the way I’ve done things with my kids.

We seem to have a bad habit of taking things that should be simple and making them complicated. God’s design is simple…mama’s milk provides all the nutrition needed in the first year. For the first few months, this allows the beneficial bacteria He infused in that milk to proliferate and build a healthy immune system, also allowing the infant’s immature digestive system to mature. As it matures, the infant has developed the motor skills and interest to try out food that the rest of the family is eating, while still receiving adequate nutrition from mom. Gradually, this “practice eating” increases until it begins to provide for some nutritional needs, and eventually, sometime during the second year, replaces the breastmilk. By that point, the child is well practiced and capable of feeding him or herself.

So, if you’re the mom of an infant attempting to navigate the confusing “when to start solids” and “how to feed” waters, relax! Just keep it simple and let your little one be your guide! Our babies are more than capable of letting us know when they’re ready to try “real food”, and it’s just for practice anyway. Their nutritional requirements are still met very adequately without it. No specially prepared “baby food” or equipment needed!

(Most of this advice also applies to formula fed babies. I can’t claim firsthand knowledge on the issue like I can when it comes to breastfeeding, but all of my research indicates that there is no need to start a breastfed or formula fed baby on solids before 6 months, nor to use specially prepared baby food when you do.)

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Comments

  1. Just to encourage you, some medical professionals do get it. When my youngest (4.5 now) was around 2, we had to see a nutritionist because the Dr. thought he was not showing enough catch-up growth for a preemie. A week's food journal showed that he still nursed quite a bit, though he also ate food. The nutritionist examined him, observed him, read the food diary, and concluded in her report, "He is doing great; Keep Nursing!!" I had never been so happy!(TexasHeather)

  2. Yay, you! I learned after my oldest to mostly skip the baby food thing too. I'll admit, I bought a box of rice cereal for all of them (and threw away well over half of each box), but for my youngest three, that was the only baby food I ever purchased. Dh's grandma was appalled that I was giving the baby food from the table, or "real" oatmeal, and was convinced the babies would keel over. I danced around the truth with my answers to the doctor (never actually telling a lie, but my answers were pretty evasive) as she definitely didn't get it. And I've so far never had a child with an ear infection, nor to the best of my recollection have they ever been to the doctor for anything besides "well child" appointments, or emergency care (broken bone, gash requiring stitches).You are spot on. 🙂

  3. Great post! I started my first on homemade babyfood around 5 months, (both cereals and fruits and veggies) but quickly we fell back to almost exclusive breastfeeding until he was eight or nine months old. With my second (now 4.5 months) I think we're going to wait until at least 6 months if not older and forgo the grains and just focus on fruits, veggies and meats (bone broths, etc.) as well as tablefood. Most of my friends were shocked to find out that my first son ate almost exclusively table food after ten or eleven months, they bought into the culture of buyng ready made toddler meals and snacks, but with this one I think it might be exclusively tablefood! :)Best,Sarah

  4. I have to laugh – the story of how you fed your three kids is almost EXACTLY like mine! By the time number 3 came along, I didn't buy a single jar/box of baby food or cereal – just good ole' breast milk and "real" food. SO much easier!

  5. I miss Dr. D. He's the best.

  6. How REFRESHING to read a post about someone who has learned how to feed their baby REAL FOOD! It took me a few babies to get it figured out, too. 🙂 Thanks so much, I plan to add a link here to my natural parenting post.And thanks for joining in on Real Food Wednesday!Kelly p.s. "Stumbling" now!

  7. with my first baby i tried to push some of that nutritional devoid rice cereal into his mouth, a have a picture of his reaction! he was NOT having it. his whole face seemed to say "gross!". he nursed for 5 years, never having an ear infection and continues to enjoy excellent health.my new baby is 10 months and eats most everything we eat, she loves to nurse frequently as well.thanks for the great, accurate baby feeding info.

  8. Thank you for posting this. My almost-6-month-old is very interested in putting food in his mouth–but then, he's very interested in putting EVERYTHING in his mouth! I'm exclusively breastfeeding him other than a few tastes of our food (sucking on an apple slice, etc.) and plan to continue until he's willing and able to eat on his own. No plans to buy or make any "baby food."

  9. This really encouraged me. I know deep down that not feeding my baby boy food till he is ready is good for him I still get comments from people that eat away at me – ya know? This article really helped!! BTW I love your blog – so cheery! I"ll be coming back again 🙂

  10. My husband was just holding my baby while she was eating mashed sweet potato, he licked his fingers of the mess (of course there was a mess) and when I made a face he said "what it isn't like it is baby food!" I do cook just for her as far to many meals we eat have foods that can't be soft for her PB no J with an apple….(not my best meals…) And she demands loudly that she get to eat when we do.Now that she is done 'sharing' her two teaspoonfuls of food she is snuggled and nursing.

  11. Great article, Kara. Thanks!

  12. I know this post is from sooo long ago, but I was excited to read it! I had the same experience between kids 1 and 2, and it was exciting to find kid 2 thriving with no baby food! Thanks for sharing about this; it is good to know I am in good company.I found you through your bread/grains post at Twister Tuesday, by the way.http://mindofthemother.blogspot.com/

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