Second Thoughts on First Foods:

When and how to start your baby on solid foods

Ben started solid foods just a week before his six-month milestone. I tried my best to stave him off, but he was definitely ready. Anyone who ate within his line of sight was the automatic recipient of a brutal baby stare-down. Anyone who held him during a meal risked having food forcibly removed from his or her mouth. And formula just wasn’t keeping him full any more.

So, on the first Saturday in June, I mashed up a sweet potato, thinned it out with some formula, and gave it to Ben, who ate it up happily. Oh, yeah, that boy was ready.

I didn’t feed either of my babies solid foods until they were six months. And I didn’t start either of them on rice cereal, as is recommended by most doctors and mainstream parenting books; in fact, Isaac didn’t eat rice cereal until he was a year old.

My reason? Digestion.

I have a friend, Jona Eastman, who’s a certified holistic health counselor, whom I met when Isaac was just an infant. She offered me some interesting advice about introducing my babies to solid foods, and I think that advice is one of the primary reasons we’ve had such success with food.

Babies’ digestive systems are super sensitive, she said, and rice and other grains are some of the most difficult foods to digest.

“Nutritional science is much more cutting-edge now than it was back in the day,” Eastman said. “The thought was, in the past, that babies needed large amounts of calories and they needed it in an easy-to-digest form.”

But the problem is, grains aren’t all that easy to digest.

The body requires an enzyme called amylase, which humans don’t begin producing until about 2 years of age, to break down grains and other complex carbohydrates. Since babies don’t produce this enzyme, it’s difficult for them to digest grains, and they can become constipated as a result.

Eastman recommends — and this is the advice I took — beginning babies on easier-to-digest fruits and vegetables and holding off on grains for a year and a half to two years.

“Basically, the simpler sugars and the carbohydrates and the nutrients in fruits and vegetables are easier for a baby to assimilate and break down than the grains,” she said.

She also recommends waiting until six months, as opposed to four months, to begin feeding baby solid foods, just because baby’s digestive system hasn’t matured enough at four months to handle solids.

So far, Ben has tried sweet potatoes, bananas, apples and avocados, and he’s loved them all. Isaac’s first foods were also derived from the list above, and I like to credit those first foods with his current good eating habits.

Isaac loves fruits and vegetables. He’ll try anything you give him, and if he doesn’t like it the first time, chances are good he’ll like it the second or third. A couple of days before I wrote this, Isaac ate about half of a head of raw cauliflower in one day, some for lunch and some for dinner. Granted, he had a little bit of Ranch dressing to dip it in, but he tried it because I told him it tastes like broccoli, and he loves broccoli.

This is just what I’ve done, and I think we’ve been successful. And I’ve discovered a lot more parents are introducing solid foods this way, rather than by putting rice cereal in a bottle (which you should never do; it’s a choking hazard) at three months old.

“There’s not an exact right or wrong answer,” Eastman said. “There are a couple of different nutritional paradigms to follow. What many moms are finding out is that we have an epidemic of allergies going on right now. We have an epidemic of obesity; we have an epidemic of diabetes. And they know part of the problem is over-consumption of carbohydrates in grains and sugars. It’s over-processed food that is the problem, not whole foods. But it’s still a carbohydrate issue.”

Categories: Infant/Pre-School, Little Ones