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Begin the Best Foods at the Best Times

Margaret Kenda
Sudbury MA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 4 July-August 2001, p. 150-152.
Adapted excerpt from the LLLI book WHOLE FOODS FOR BABIES AND TODDLERS.

Do you have the fortitude to think about what your baby actually needs, rather than what the full force of the commercial world says? Do you have the courage to be different from that "ideal" parent featured in the baby food ads-and from the family and friends who may believe the commercial message is the right idea? Can you resist the brainwashing?

If so, then when you decide when and how to begin food for your baby, look at your own unique baby. Ignore the full-color magazine ads. Keep away from the fake, commercialized science. Don't pick up the free, full-color, attractive brochures, bought and paid for by commercial interests and, all too often, on display in respectable-sounding places such as a pediatrician's office.

Your baby is the true authority. Your baby can tell you just when supplemental food is a very good idea and when the time has not yet come. Here are some signs that your baby is ready, physically and emotionally:

  • Your baby is at least five to six months old.
  • Your baby weighs at least fourteen pounds. Ideally, a baby who is ready for solids is at least double his birth weight.
  • Your baby can sit up, with support. Your baby has control of his head and neck.
  • Your baby has plenty of saliva to begin digestion of food.
  • Your baby has the ability to transfer food from the front to the back of the mouth. Your baby's throat muscles have developed a stronger, more mature swallowing ability. Babies are born with a tongue-thrust reflex, so that their instinct is to push food outward and forward. That's survival instinct, so that the baby will not choke on food or other substances. This instinct disappears after about four months, when the baby has developed other options, such as chewing and swallowing.
  • Your baby has a tooth or two. This should be at five to seven months old.
  • Your baby is capable of refusing food. The ability of turning away and indicating a negative decision does not develop until the baby is about five months old.
  • Your baby likes to imitate other people. Your baby is showing distinct interest in other people's food. Your baby reacts with interest to the sights, sounds, and odors of cooking.
  • Your baby can reach and handle and perhaps try to taste or eat-food, toys, and other objects.
  • Your baby is not ill and has no rashes.

lf you start solid foods too early, you may be taking risks.

  • Your baby may gag on, choke on, or cough up solid food.
  • You run the risk of decreasing your milk supply. Since human milk is perfect for human babies, then any other food is inferior. If you begin too early, you could be replacing superior nourishment with inferior nourishment. Even formula may be better than too early solid foods.
  • Your baby is not learning to eat only when hungry. A baby has control over how much human milk to take. Below a certain level of maturity, your baby does not have control over how much other food to take. A baby who must take in food and cannot indicate "no" in any way, is not learning to regulate intake of food. Perhaps as a result, early feeding has been associated with becoming overweight later on, even into adulthood.
  • With too-early food, your baby runs an increased risk of allergic reactions. If you wait a while to serve the same food, your baby may never have an allergic reaction.
  • With too-early food, your baby runs the risk of poor digestion and poor absorption of food. That's almost certain. At best, food given too early passes through his system undigested.

Warning: Early solids will NOT ..

  • Help your baby sleep through the night.
  • Make your baby less fussy.
  • Make your baby develop earlier or grow up faster.
  • Provide superior nutrition.

How to Begin Feeding Non-Milk Foods

  • Heat the food. Your baby is accustomed to body-temperature milk.
  • Mix the food with water or with the milk that the baby already knows. At first, the food should be mostly water or milk. Stir to get rid of lumps.
  • Do not use a bottle-type feeder. Your baby has important skills to learn, how to take in food, chew, and swallow.
  • For first feedings, your baby should be sitting up in your lap or in a high chair.
  • You may want to use your (clean) finger at first, instead of a spoon. That will feel less startlingly different to the baby. A first spoon should be small and rounded.
  • Offer very little at first. This is just practice for a while.
  • Offer a new food for breakfast or lunch. If your baby were to have an allergic reaction, you don't want it to happen in the middle of the night.
  • Offer one food at a time. Start another new food only after four to seven days, when the baby has reacted well and has not developed any gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, or rash.
  • Keep mealtimes slow and cheerful.
  • Encourage your baby to pick up the food or spoon. Around five months old, babies can hold objects or food only between fingers and the palm of the hand, without real use of thumbs. Later, around seven months old, the baby can begin using thumbs for picking up objects or food. By ten months or so, you'll see much more coordinated grasping and handling. So don't worry about messiness. Your baby needs to practice new skills.
  • Allow for plenty of experimenting, drooling, dawdling, dripping, dropping, and playing.
  • Be extremely careful to notice if your baby starts to choke or cough.
  • Never leave a baby alone with food or drink and make sure your baby stays on your lap or in a baby chair. Toddlers like to run around with food or drink in hand but it's just not safe.

Decide on a schedule for new foods.

You don't need to worry too much about what foods you start on what schedule. In fact, you should stay flexible and watch how well your baby accepts new foods. A good schedule allows four to seven days between introductions of each new food. Some parents prefer to start with a bit of mashed banana. Some prefer warm cooked cereal. A few like to begin with mashed bits of sweet potato or avocado.

The process of starting new foods ought to take three to six months. It ought to be one at a time, slow and steady.

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