Introducing solid foods: when waiting is worth it

Introducing solid foods: when waiting is worth it – includes related articles

William Sears

DURING A FOUR- OR SIX-MONTH CHECKUP, I EXPECT THE question, “Doctor, when should I start solid food?” One day I decided to take the initiative and ask an experienced mother of six children, “How do you know when to begin giving your baby solid foods?”

“When he starts mooching!” she replied.

“Mooching?” I asked, a bit surprised.

“Yes,” she went on to explain. “I wait for signs that he’s interested. I watch him watch me eat. When his eyes follow my food as I move it from my plate to my mouth, when his hands reach out and grab my food, and he is able to sit up in a high chair and join us at the table, I know it’s time for the fun of solids to begin.”

By her own experience, this wise mother discovered a basic principle of introducing solid foods–feeding babies according to their own developmental skills rather than a preset calendar or clock. Babies, appetites and feeding skills are as individual as their temperaments, and this should dictate how, when, and what we feed them.

Over the past 10 years, infant feeding practices have changed for the better. No longer do we feed babies according to the calendar, stuffing cereal into the reluctant six week old and feeling we have failed if the baby has not taken a full-course meal by six months. Today, infant feeding involves matching good nutrition with individual developmental and intestinal readiness, which varies widely from baby to baby. Breastmilk or commercial formula with iron, or a combination of the two, contains all the essential nutrients your baby needs for the first six to nine months, or even longer. Prior to six months your baby does not need solid foods for nutritional reasons, though developmentally he or she may show signs of wanting them. Reading the feeding cues of your baby, introducing solid foods gradually, and encouraging self-feeding all lead to the most important principle of baby feeding: creating a healthy feeding attitude.

Imagine: You and your three month old are comfortably breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, and baby certainly seems to be getting enough to eat. Now comes the daily phone call from the family nutritionist–your mother.

“What is she eating now, dear?”

Silence! You’ve been caught. The jars of baby food that grandmother bought are still unopened. Baby has not seemed interested, and you feel she’s not ready. You smoothly change the subject, silently defending your choice not to enter the race for solids just yet. (When this confrontation happens in my practice, I advise parents, “Make your doctor the scapegoat. Tell grandmother that Dr. Bill advised you to wait a while longer.”)

Baby’s tongue movements and swallowing skills offer the first reasons for delaying solid foods. In the early months, babies have a tongue-thrust reflex that causes the tongue to automatically protrude outward when any foreign substance is placed upon it. This may be a protective reflex against choking on solids given too early. Between four and six months, the tongue-thrust reflex diminishes. Also, prior to four months of age most infants do not have good coordination of tongue and swallowing movements for solid foods. An added sign that babies were not built for early introduction to solid food is that teeth seldom appear until six or seven months, further evidence that the young infant is primarily designed to suck rather than chew.

Not only is the upper end of a baby’s digestive tract not prepared for early solids, neither are a baby’s insides. A baby’s immature intestines are not equipped to handle a variety of foods until around six months, when many digestive enzymes seem to click in. Pediatric allergists discourage early introduction of solid foods, especially if there is a strong family history of food allergies. Maturing intestines secrete the protein immunoglobulin IgA, which acts like a protective paint, coating the intestines and preventing the passage of harmful allergens. (Cow’s milk, wheat, and soy are common examples of foods causing allergies when introduced early.) This protective IgA is low in the early months and does not reach peak production until around seven months of age. As the intestines mature, they become more nutritionally selective, filtering out offending food allergens. Babies whose systems tend to be allergy-prone actually show a self-protecting, delayed willingness to accept solids.

The how much and how often of formula feeding, together with the timing and introduction of new foods, combine both the science and the art of infant feeding, as well as your individual principles of parenting. If both you and your baby are comfortable with your general feeding patterns, then you have negotiated successfully. If one of you is uncomfortable, then seek some help. Feeding a baby involves more than just physical nourishment and nutrition; both parent and child should enjoy the feeding relationship. It’s a time for closeness, touching, and love. Your baby is learning how to trust that her or his needs will be met, and for a long time milk and love are one and the same.

Excerpted and adapted from The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby–From Birth to Age Two by William Sears, MD, and Martha Sears, RN, Little, Brown and Company, New York, 1993.

For More Information

Books Firkaly, Susan Tate. Into the Mouths of Babes. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, div. of F & W Publications, 1995. Karmel, Annabel. Small Helpings. London: BBC Books, 1994. –. The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner. London: Ebury Press, 1994. –. The Healthy Baby Meal Planner. New York: Fireside, 1992. Kenda, Margaret, and Phyllis Williams. The Natural Baby Food Cookbook. New York: Avon Books, 1982. La Leche League International. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 35th edition. Franklin Park, IL, 1991. Lair, Cynthia. Feeding the Whole Family: Down-to-Earth Cookbook and Whole Foods Guide. San Diego, CA: LuraMedia, 1994. Yntema, Sharon. Vegetarian Baby. A Sensible Guide for Parents. Ithaca, Ny: McBooks Press, 1991.

For more information on solid foods and related topics, see the following articles in past issues of Mothering “A Child Is More Than a Stomach,” no. 26, p. 34; “Solid Issues,” no. 36, p. 60; “All About Feeding Babies,” no. 45, p. 33; “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” no. 72, p. 36.

William Sears, MD, received his pediatric training at Harvard Medical Schools Childrens Hospital and Torontos Hospital for Sick Children, the largest children’s hospital in the world. Currently a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, he has been a pediatrician for 20 years. With his wife, Martha Sears, RN, he is the author of 10 books.

Resources

Diamond Organics 800-922-2396 Mail order organic produce Earth’s Best 800-4424221 Organic baby food Gold Mine Natural Foods 619-296-8536 Mail order natural foods Growing Healthy 800-ABC-GROW, Ext. 97 Frozen all-natural baby food Happy Baby Food Grinder 800-634-4350

RELATED ARTICLE: When to Start Your Baby on Solid Foods

There’s no hurry. Look at your baby, not the calendar. At the age of six or seven months, your baby will let you know when it’s time to start by giving visible signs of readiness. Here’s what to watch for: Can your baby sit up unattended? Sitting upright is necessary for swallowing thicker substances. Is your baby able to pick up small objects? This indicates that your baby could put a small bit of food in her or his mouth. Does your baby show interest in what you’re eating? Mimicking your chewing, watching food go into your mouth and grabbing for your food are signs of interest. If you offer a little taste of food, can your baby swallow it, or is it pushed back out with the tongue? There is some practice involved here; the tongue-thrusting reflex is a physiological protective device that begins to diminish around six months of age. Has your baby begun teething? Some cultures regard the appearance of teeth as a sign of readiness for solid food. Regardless of when you start your baby on solid foods, it will be several years before his or her digestive enzymes are fully developed. Yet, at six months of age babies are developed enough for experimental feedings. And don’t be fooled into thinking your baby will sleep through the night if you start giving solid foods. This is a myth, sprung from our “hurry-up” society. Trust your observations. Wait until your infant is physically prepared for solids before introducing them. Cynthia Lair is the author of Feeding the Whole Family: Down-to-Earth Cookbook and Whole Foods Guide as well as a certified health nutrition counselor. She teaches whole foods cooking classes at Bastyr University and several other places in Seattle.

From Feeding the Whole Family: Down-to-Earth Cookbook and whole Foods Guide by Cynthia Lair. Copyright (C) 1994 Cynthia Lair. Reprinted by permission of LuraMedia, Inc., San Diego, California (800-367-5872).

RELATED ARTICLE: “Not So Good,” Food for Babies

Caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, not a food. Soft drinks and cocoa not only contain sugar; they have as much caffeine as coffee. Caffeine can cause elevated blood sugar and stimulate the heart and lungs in a way that can be detrimental to babies, health.

Chemical Additives. Avoid aspartame, saccharin, other artificial sweeteners, BHT, artificial flavors and colors, MSG, nitrates, and other additives. The effect of chemical additives on adults is not entirely known. There certainly can be no benefit to introducing these chemicals into your baby’s immature system. Read labels.

Chocolate. Chocolate products almost always contain sugar and caffeine. Chocolate can also be a severe allergin. It is inappropriate for children under two years and should be used sparingly thereafter.

Common Allergens. Wheat, citrus, cow’s milk products, corn, and egg whites are common allergens. Many healthcare practitioners advise omitting these foods from your baby’s diet. Hold off for the first year and then experiment. It’s always best to rotate common food allergens, serving them once every three to five days.

Raw Honey. Uncooked honey sometimes contains botulism toxins in amounts that are detrimental to infants. Barley malt, brown rice syrup, or fruit concentrate can be substituted for honey.

Salt. Heavily salted foods can stress your baby’s immature kidneys and interfere with her or his natural appetite. Sufficient salt (sodium) is readily available in many foods in their natural state.

Sugar. A prime source of empty calories, sugar has almost no nutritive value. Eating large amounts of sugary foods can displace more nutritional foods, resulting in vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Refined sugar consumption has been linked with tooth decay, heart disease, arteriosclerosis diabetes, obesity, learning difficulties, and behavior problems. Why let your baby develop a taste for it?

RELATED ARTICLE: Does Baby Know Best?

Dr. Clara Davis, working at the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago during the 1930s, wanted to determine whether or not babies would choose to eat well-balanced meals when given a choice of natural foods. Her study of 15 children, reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1939, supported the hypothesis that babies do have an innate judgment that will keep them healthy. The “trick,” however, was to offer only unprocessed, natural foods. The babies, ranging from six to 11 months of age, had never been given any foods to supplement their mothers, breast-milk. Each child was at every meal offered a tray with a wide variety of foods on it, each food in a separate dish. When a baby reached toward a dish, the attending adult would then offer a spoonful of that food. At any point, a baby could refuse or choose any food displayed on the tray. No food was offered without a signal from the baby.

The results of this study were impressive. Although babies went on food “binges” and ate quite unorthodox combinations of foods at various meals, each baby, in his or her own way, ate well-balanced meals, according to nutritional standards. The study, which lasted for more than a year for most of the babies, and up to four years for some, produced extremely healthy children. Even the children who drank little milk had excellent bone growth. Two of the children who displayed signs of rickets at the beginning of the study seemed to unconsciously choose high-calcium foods such as cod-liver oil in greater quantity, and in effect were able to cure themselves through their diet without any adult intervention.

Dr. Davis was quick to note that self-selection does not produce healthy babies if the foods are poor in quality. She felt that a parent’s responsibility is to offer only nutritionally sound, unprocessed foods of a fairly wide variety. She believed that if children are given natural foods and free choice at each meal, the conflict between appetite and nutritional requirements will be resolved. As the editor of a reprinting of her study remarked, “Children old enough to feed themselves art wise enough to select a balanced diet when given an adequate variety of wholesome foods from which to choose. Their wisdom comes from the appetite, an exquisite mechanism that is foolproof as long as it isn’t baffled, misled, or seduced by refined foods.”

Excerpted with permission from Vegetarian Baby, McBooks Press, 1991. Vegetarian Baby, Vegetarian children, and Vegetarian Pregnancy, all by Sharon Yntema, are available at bookstores, natural food stores, or by calling 800-356-9315.

Sharon Yntema has a BA in psychology and an MA in early childhood special education. She lives with her family in Ithaca, New York.

RELATED ARTICLE: Favorite First Foods

Rice cereal Bananas Pears Squash Applesauce Barley cereal Avocados Peaches Carrots Sweet potatoes

RELATED ARTICLE: When to Start Your Baby On Solid Foods

There’s no hurry. Look at your baby, not the calendar. At the age of six or seven months, your baby will let you know when it’s time to start by giving visible signs of readiness. Here’s what to watch for:

Can your baby sit up unattended? Sitting upright is necessary for swallowing thicker substances.

Is your baby able to pick up small objects? This indicates that your baby could put a small bit of food in her or his mouth.

Does your baby show interest in what you’re eating? Mimicking your chewing, watching food go into your mouth, and grabbing for your food are signs of interest.

If you offer a little taste of food, can your baby swallow it, or is it pushed back out with the tongue? There is some practice involved here; the tongue-thrusting reflex is physiological protective device that begins to diminish around six months of age.

Has your baby begun teething? Some cultures regard the appearance of teeth as a sign of readiness for solid food. Regardless of when you start your baby on solid foods, it will be several years before his or her digestive enzymes are fully developed. Yet, at six months of age babies are developed enough for experimental feedings. And don’t be fooled into thinking your baby will sleep through the night if you start giving solid foods. This is a myth sprung from our “hurry-up” society. Trust your observations. Wait until your infant is physically prepared for solids before introducing them.

CYNTHIA LAIR is the author of Feeding the Whole Family: Down-to-Earth Cookbook and Whole Foods Guide as well as a certified health nutrition counselor. She teaches whole foods cooking classes at Bastyr University and several other places in Seattle.

From Feeding the Whole Family: Down-to-Earth Cookbook and Whole Foods Guide by Cynthia Lair. Copyright 1994 Cynthia Lair. Reprinted by permission of LuraMedia, Inc., San Diego, California (800-367-5872).

RELATED ARTICLE: “Not So Good” Food for Babies

Caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, not a food. Soft drinks and cocoa not only contain sugar; they have as much caffeine as coffee. Caffeine can cause elevated blood sugar and stimulate that heart and lungs in a way that can be detrimental to babies’ health.

Chemical Additives. Avoid aspartame, saccharin, other artificial sweeteners, BHT, artificial flavors and colors, MSG, nitrates, and other additives. The effect of chemical additives on adults is not entirely known. There certainly can be no benefit to introducing these chemicals into your baby’s immature system. Read labels.

Chocolate. Chocolate products almost always contain sugar and caffeine. Chocolate can also be a severe allergin. It is inappropriate for children under two years and should be used sparingly thereafter.

Common Allergens. Wheat, citrus, cow’s milk products, corn, and egg whites are common allergens. Many healthcare practitioners advise omitting these foods from your baby’s diet. Hold off for the first year and then experiment. It’s always best to rotate common food allergens, serving them once every three to five days.

Raw Honey. Uncooked honey sometimes contains botulism toxins is amounts that are detrimental to infants. Barley malt, brown rice syrup, or fruit concentrate can be substituted for honey.

Salt. Heavily salted foods can stress your baby’s immature kidneys and interfere with her or his natural appetite. Sufficient salt (sodium) is readily available in many foods in their natural state.

Sugar. A prime source of empty calories, sugar has almost no nutritive value. Eating large amounts of sugary foods can displace more nutritional foods, resulting in vitamin and minreal deficiencies. Refined sugar consumption has been linked with tooth decay, heart disease, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, learning difficulties, and behavior problems. Why let your baby develop a taste for it?

RELATED ARTICLE: Does Baby Know Best?

Dr. Clara Davis, working at the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago during the 1930s, wanted to determine whether or not babies would choose to eat well-balanced meals when given a choice of natural foods. Her study of 15 children, reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1939, supported the hypothesis that babies do have an innate judgment that will keep them healthy. The “trick,” however, was to offer only unprocessed, natural foods. The babies, ranging from six to 11 months of age, had never been given any foods to supplement their mothers’ breastmilk. Each child was at every meal offered a tray with a wide variety of foods on it, each food in a separate dish. When a baby reached toward a dish, the attending adult would then offer a spoonful of that food. At any point, a baby could refuse or choose any food displayed on the tray. No food was offered without a signal from the baby.

The results of this study were impressive. Although babies went on food “binges” and ate quite unorthodox combinations of foods at various meals, each baby, hi his or her own way, ate well-balanced meals, according to nutritional standards. The study, which lasted for more than a year for most of the babies, and up to four years for some, produced extremely healthy children. Even the children who drank little milk had excellent bone growth. Two of the children who displayed signs of rickets at the beginning of the study seemed to unconsciously choose high-calcium foods such as cod-liver oil in greater quantity, and in effect were able to cure themselves through their diet without any adult intervention.

Dr. Davis was quick to note that self-selection does not produce healthy babies if the foods are poor in quality. She felt that a parent’s responsibility is to offer only nutritionally sound, unprocessed foods of a fairly wide variety. She believed that if children are given natural foods and free choice at each meal, the conflict between appetite and nutritional requirements will be resolved. As the editor of a reprinting of her study remarked, “Children old enough to feed themselves are wise enough to select a balanced diet when given an adequate variety of wholesome foods from which to choose. Their wisdom comes from the appetite, and exquisite mechanism that is foolproof as long as it isn’t baffled, misled, or seduced by refined foods.”

Excerpted with permission from Vegetarian Baby, McBooks Press, 1991. Vegetarian Baby, Vegetarian Children, and Vegetarian Pregnancy, all by Sharon Yntema, are available at bookstores, natural food stores, or by calling 800-356-9315.

SHARON YNTEMA has a BA in psychology and an MA in early childhood special education. She lives with her family in Ithaca, New York.

RELATED ARTICLE: Food Babies Can Choke On

Apple chunks or slices Dry cereal Grapes Hard candy or cookies Hot dogs (even tofu dogs) Meat chunks Peanut butter or other nut-butter sandwiches Popcorn Potato chips Raw carrot sticks or slices Rice cakes Whole corn kernels Whole nuts and seeds Whole or unseeded berries

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