If you clicked on this post, chances are that you have a new baby. Congratulations! Parenthood is one of the most rewarding things that this life has to offer. It can also be a bit confusing and frightening, at times. The parenting decisions you make now can affect your littles for the rest of their lives!
I don’t want to put too much pressure on you as mommies when it comes to foods and food choices, but I also want you to avoid making the same mistakes that I made. With baby number one, I introduced the wrong foods into his diet, far too soon, setting him up for a myriad of problems. These included seasonal allergies, multiple food sensitivities, a clingy, nervous temperament, and poor sleep habits. So, let me start this post by apologizing to my five-year-old son. Dear Colin, Mommy is sorry that she had next to no knowledge about the best way to feed you when you were a baby.
But, as Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can do, until you know better. Then do better.”
Now that that is out of the way, we can get started. I want to touch very briefly on breastfeeding. Breastfeeding vs. formula debates can get pretty heated. We aren’t going to talk about this much today, if at all. Most moms know that breast is best, simply by nature’s design, but the important thing is for you to make the right decision for you and your baby. Whether your baby’s primary fuel is breast milk or formula, this post is designed to help you introduce the best solid foods, in the correct order, to optimize baby’s health.
The exact right time to start solids may vary from one child to the next. This depends on the size and maturity of your baby. The minimum age suggestion by Weston A. Price Association is four months old and a weight of at least twelve pounds. Many other sources suggest waiting until six months of age to start solids. When infants are ready for solid food, they will stop pushing their tongue out when a bit of food is placed in their mouth. (This is a reflex that disappears around four-six months of age.) They do not need to be able to sit entirely unassisted, but should be comfortable in a seated position.
All babies should be ready to start solids by six months of age. This is the only effective way for them to get adequate iron in their diets. (Symptoms of low iron in infants can include: fearfulness, unhappiness, fatigue, low activity, wariness, and clinginess.) We will discuss what types of iron-rich foods you should strive to introduce first in a minute. First I want to talk a little bit about most commercial baby foods.
Many commercial foods have only fruit or vegetables and water for ingredients. For starters, these foods are in a canned state to create shelf-stability. This removes many nutrients vs. fresh or frozen foods. Beyond the nutrient factor, how would you feel if you could eat only fruits and veggies? Chances are, you’d soon be whiny and cranky from low blood sugar and crying for more food. Think about eating a breakfast of a big omelet and bacon, which will tide you over until lunchtime, or a bowl of nothing but carbohydrates, like Rice Chex with a banana, which is apt to leave you hungry in a couple hours.
If you must use commercial foods, opt for simple choices. Read the label. There should only be two or three ingredients. Avoid foods with a lot of ingredients, or with grains. (We will talk more about this in a minute.) If there are too many ingredients, and baby has a reaction, it will be difficult to pin point the culprit. Heat the foods gently, under warm running water, or on low on the stove top, and add butter or cream and a pinch of salt.
So if commercial foods are not ideal, what foods are?? Here are some basic guidelines on what foods to introduce at what age:
4-6 months (Minimal solid foods, as tolerated.)
Egg yolk, lightly cooked and salted
Banana or avocado, mashed
Organic liver, grated and added to egg yolk
Pureed meat: turkey, lamb, beef, chicken, or fish
Raw, mashed fruits: banana, melon, mango, papaya, avocado
Cooked, pureed fruits: apricots, peaches, pears, apples, and berries
Cooked vegetables: zucchini, squash, sweet potato, carrots, beets
8-12 months (Continue to add variety and increase thickness of foods.)
Creamed vegetable soups
Homemade meats or stews, all ingredients small or mashed
Dairy such as yogurt, cottage cheese, and cream (Be careful, as this is a common allergen.)
Fermented sauerkraut, pickles, etc.
Over one year
Grains & legumes
Crispy nut butters (Be careful to give small amounts, to avoid choking hazard.)
Raw salad veggies, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.
Citrus fruit, fresh and organic
Whole cooked eggs
Meats such as bacon, smoked salmon, natural salami
Important foods to avoid:
Up to 6 months: Raw and cooked veggies, that are difficult to digest
Up to 9 months: Citrus and tomato, which are common allergens
Up to one year: Honey, because of the potential spores that babies cannot digest
Introduce foods slowly. With the increasing amount of food sensitivities, it is important to go slowly with food introduction, and to be observant. A basic timeline is to introduce new foods one at a time, and feed that same food every day for at least four days, without introducing any other foods during that time frame.
Here are some signs of intolerance to watch for:
redness around the mouth, abdominal bloating, gas, irritability, fussiness, over activity and awaking throughout the night, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, frequent regurgitation of foods, nasal/chest congestion, and an eczema-type skin rash.
If your baby experiences any of these symptoms before introducing solid foods, baby may have an intolerance to his/her formula, if formula-fed, or potentially some food that mom is eating that is getting passed through the breast milk to baby. Dairy foods and gluten-containing foods are the most common offenders in that situation.
Know that babies have limited production of enzymes necessary for the digestion of foods. It takes at least 16 months for amylase, a carbohydrate-digestion enzyme to be present. This makes cereals, grains, and breads very difficult for babies to digest. Introducing these foods too early can cause digestive troubles and increase the likelihood of allergies, both food-wise and environmentally. (Again, sorry, Colin!)
Babies do have functional enzymes (HCL & Pepsin) that digest proteins, and lipase enzymes that work on fats. 50-60% of the energy in breastmilk is fat, which is critical for growth, energy, and development. What does all of this mean? It means that a baby’s earliest solid foods should be mostly animal foods, because the digestive system is better equipped to supply enzymes for digestion of fats and proteins than carbohydrates, and especially grains.
Before, I mentioned adding cream or butter to baby’s fruits and veggies. This may sound odd, but fats, even saturated ones, give energy and help children to build muscle and strong bones. Animal fats and butter provide vitamins A, D3, and K, which are all necessary for growth and hormone production. In a study with European children who were raised on low-fat, low-cholesterol diets, the children showed poor growth and motor development and many nutrient deficiencies.
If you choose to avoid commercial foods and prepare your own at home, cook and puree a selection of fruits, veggies, and meats in adult quantities. Then you can freeze them in glass dishes or ice cube trays that can be placed in the fridge for thawing or quick reheating. (Thawing in the fridge saves the most nutrients.)
Lastly, let’s touch briefly on water. Water with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt will hydrate baby better than plain water when it is hot outside. Generally, more liquid will be needed for hydration and digestion around nine months when solids become a bigger part of baby’s diet. Offer extra water in extreme heat. Keep in mind that too much water for baby can be as dangerous as not enough, but babies will usually drink to their thirst.
I realize that this is a lot of information to digest. (No pun intended!) I have the timeline for food introduction recopied on my home refrigerator, to prepare for the next six months. (My daughter just turned four months.) If you are eager for more info on this topic, I would recommend getting your hands on a copy of “The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care” by Sally Fallon Morell. It has been a huge help to me!
Yours in health,