It has been quite a while since I gave you all an update on my life as a mom. Baby Sweet Potato is nine months old, at the time of this writing, and she is doing great. She had eight teeth already, she pulls herself up, crawls like a champ and gets closer to walking every day. However, one of the biggest developments in recent months has been her transition to solid food.
Most of you are probably familiar with the traditional recommendations for starting solids: Breastmilk or formula exclusively until around 4 months, then small amounts of single grain cereal, then purees, then solid food.
After doing a lot of research over many years both pre and post pregnancy, I decided that I was going to take a different approach. I had initially intended to do full Baby Led Weaning which is a philosophy of starting solids that advocates for exclusively breastfeeding for at least 6 months and then going straight to introducing nutrient dense, solid foods and feeding them to your child in a way that allows them to explore the food and learn to feed themselves (in the early days this usually means giving them larger pieces of food that they can pick up easily, rather than small bite sized pieces). In the end, we figured out a hybrid solution that worked best for our needs and it has been great.
Why I Chose Not to Follow Traditional Guidelines
So, before I talk about how we introduced solid food to Baby Sweet Potato let me first talk about why we chose to not follow the traditional guidelines. My number one goal in introducing solid foods was to establish a healthy gut and immune system, my second big goal was to set the stage for healthy eating habits down the road. Traditional guidelines recommend starting solids around 4 months old, however the World Health Organization and most of the current evidenced based research out there recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months. These last two months are when an infant’s gut seals and becomes less permeable in preparation for digesting solid food. If you give solid food to a baby whose gut is overly permeable it can lead to all of the same problems we as adults have when we experience leaky gut (inflammation, food sensitivity, overactive immune system, allergies…). It is also important that babies are developmentally ready to consume solid food. If a baby doesn’t have good head control, can’t sit up on his own, and doesn’t have good motor skills they won’t be able to properly consume or digest their food. If you combine this with the fact that the first foods that are recommended are grains you run into big issues. We know, that the lectins in grains can damage the lining of the gut and increase gut permeability (source) so if you are giving grains a baby that already has a permeable gut, you set the stage for a lifetime of issues stemming from poor gut health. There is also a school of thought that claims that infants cannot even digest grains properly until much later in childhood, begging the questions of why we are introducing it as the very first food?
As for establishing healthy eating habits, it is obvious to any of you reading this blog that I feel that a paleo-style real food diet is the healthiest approach to eating. As a result, I want Baby Sweet Potato to develop a palate that encourages her to enjoy whole nourishing foods and limit processed, artificial foods over the course of her lifetime. This means, teaching her right from the start that food comes in a variety of flavors, not just sweet. It also means that I wanted her to learn how to read her own body’s hunger signals, this is most easily done by teaching her how to feed herself. When little babies start off being solely spoon fed, they have no real way to tell you when they are hungry, full, bored, thirsty… and you run the risk of feeding them faster than their brains can register their hunger which could lead to overeating and disrupting that sensitive feedback process.
How We Introduced Solids to Baby Sweet Potato
Right around 6 months of age we started giving Baby Sweet Potato some solid food. Her first food was avocado, she picked it up, licked it and then squished it everywhere. Throughout her 6th month we sporadically offered her things to try like sweet potato, banana, pastured egg yolk and more avocado. Most of the time she would practice bringing the food to her mouth and then just play with it after that. After about a month she started to show more interest in actually eating, and that is when I lost my nerve to follow the full baby led weaning guidelines. Giving her big chunks of food was great for her learning to pick up the food, but it was not so great when she took a big old bite out of it and risked choking. My nerves couldn’t take it and I didn’t feel like the benefits outweighed the choking risk. I started cutting the food into smaller pieces and feeding some of them to her by hand while also letting her try and develop her pincer grasp by practicing picking them up. We would wait for her to show us that she wanted more but grabbing our hand or reaching for the food before feeding her so that she was still in control of the process. This was all good until she hit a huge growth spurt and was starving all of the time! She was nursing like a newborn again and was still begging for more solid food at mealtimes. It was too frustrating for her to try and pick the food up by herself because she was hungry and and her pincer grasp was just not developed enough to pick up the food efficiently. Around this time we also had to take an unexpected trip for a funeral and I decided to go ahead and supplement her with some organic store bought purees. I obviously stuck with purees that contained foods that followed paleo and AIP guidelines, no grains or dairy and I also gave her some form of solid food a few times a day that she could practice picking up and feeding herself. Also, around this time we started giving her some filtered water at meal times also. She usually had two “meals” a day and still continued to nurse frequently and on demand. To increase the nutrient density of the purees I sometimes mixed them with some bone broth or coconut oil. I struggled a little bit with this decision, but in the end it only lasted for about a month, until all of the sudden her pincer grip improved and she lost interest in being spoon fed most of the time. Now, she eats three meals a day and feeds herself about 90% of the time. She still nurses on demand and if I had to guess, introducing solids has only caused her to drop 1-2 feedings a day or so. Here is what her typical diet looks like now at 9 Months:
Wake up and nurse
breakfast of a poached pastured egg yolk, sweet potato cubes, and water
nurse before and after morning nap
lunch of avocado and some organic baby food puree mixed with bone broth and water
nurse before and after afternoon nap
dinner of protein (grass fed ground beef, salmon, or chicken typically), vegetable (green beans, sweet potato, squash…) and sometimes some fruit like apple sauce or apple slices and water.
Nurse before bed and as needed at night.
As with most transitions in parenting, introducing solids was not without its ups and downs. As I already mentioned, my original plan to follow full baby led weaning guidelines ended when I felt like the choking risk was too high and we ended up temporarily supplementing with some purees. Outside of that, one of the biggest issues that needed to be monitored was her poop. Right around the time that she hit her growth spurt and started eating solids regularly she started to develop a diaper rash. She had never had diaper rash before and it seemed like she was reacting to something in her poop. We were giving her meat at the time and my gut feeling at the time was that maybe she wasn’t ready for it and it was causing the rash. So we stopped giving her meat for about a month. Honestly, looking back I am not sure that it was really the meat. I think that it was probably just her skin reacting to the overall change in diet and in her poop. She also seems prone towards constipation now that she has started solids so I have to be very careful not to give her too many potentially constipating foods like apples and pumpkin and balance, and I am currently doing some research on how to make sure that she is getting adequate magnesium. In introducing solids I also had to acknowledge some of my own emotions and fears, thinking about protecting her health and making sure her diet was healthy has definitely made me process some of the anxiety I still have around food and health, but that is probably a post for another day.
What was your experience when you gave your children solid food? Did you successfully follow Baby Led Weaning or traditional guidelines? Or did you find a bybrid that worked for you too?