Starting solids with your breastfed baby is an important step. It’s the first step of weaning, whether you intend to nurse 3 more months or 3 more years…the first bite or taste of food or liquid is baby’s first step towards breastfeeding independence.
When to Start?
At the start of the 20th century, American physicians recommended no solids before 12 months. 30 years ago, American pediatricians recommended anywhere from 4 days to 4 months. Currently, the AAP recommends somewhere during the second half of the first year (between 6 and 12 months). Most pediatricians interpret that as beginning solids at 6 months.
You many wonder at the changing recommendations. At the turn of the century, early solids were clearly associated with early weaning, and the consequences of early weaning in those days were more dire than today – there were no vaccines, and plenty of childhood diseases that were deadly, as well as simple diseases such as diarrhea which could cause death. In the 60s and 70s was the height of what we might call competitive parenting – it was common for babies to begin potty training as early as 18 months, and for moms to brag about what foods their infants could handle. Overcoming the natural tongue thrust of a baby was considered a good step in creating a baby who would enjoy many healthy foods earlier.
Today, more moms and doctors trust that babies nursing instinct (the tongue thrust) is an important indicator that baby isn’t ready for solids. And studies have shown a clear link between Chron’s disease, colitis, eczema, and other diseases with the introduction of solids. Studies show for formula and breastfed babies, early solids increase rates of respiratory disease and persistent coughing. Despite dire warnings of those accustomed to early solids, waiting till 6 months has not increased rates of anemia. In fact, breastmilk is the perfect food, and while no other foods or milks are being given, the iron absorption rate of breastmilk is very high.
You might wonder about administering vitamins to your breastfed baby. Any additional vitamins are completely unnecessary for your baby, unless your baby was born prematurely or small for gestational size (see your healthcare provider for recommendations in those cases). What we know today is that early guidelines recommending vitamins such as Vitamin D were based on faulty studies. Vitamin D was searched for in separated breastmilk, and not found. When searched for in complete breastmilk, adequate amounts are found. Today, American mothers need only be concerned in colder environments, especially when baby is dark-skinned (dark skin converts less sunlight into Vitamin D in the skin of newborns and adults).
As for iron, there are several reasons breastfeeding has gotten a bad reputation. Not that many years ago, many breastfeeding moms would give cow’s milk as a weaning food instead of formula before a year is up. This increases a baby’s chances for anemia. Cow’s milk irritates the intestines and can cause small amounts of bleeding, leading to anemia. Cow’s milk itself is chock full of calcium, which is great at helping a baby cow build strong bones. However, high levels of calcium do interfere with iron absorption. So cow’s milk is definitely not the ideal weaning food during the first year. Modern obstetrical practices have also affected our babies’ iron levels. The modern practice of clamping the cord early (before one minute, or until it stops pulsating) can reduce a baby’s red blood cells by as much as 50%, and for babies born to anemic mothers, they are more than 7 times more likely to be anemic at 3 months themselves if their cords were clamped early.
And although it has always been considered harmless to add additional iron supplements in the absence of anemia, new research is being done which indicates additional iron isn’t necessarily harmless. Infants with healthy iron statuses given supplements were found to have significantly slower growth in length and head circumference. So please do consult your healthcare provider before giving your breastfed infant any vitamins or minerals.
A good guideline is that solids should not take more than 10% of your baby’s diet between 6 and 9 months, and no more than 25% between 9 and 12 months. 10% would equate to around 3-5 ounces of food, and 25% would equate to about 10-`12 ounces of food. That’s a maximum recommended amount, not a minimum.
What to Eat?
Good starters include bananas and other easy to mash fruits. Fruits can be grated, mashed, and before you know it, baby will be ready for slices. Canned fruits (avoid added sugar – often named as corn syrup) make an easy to serve dish. Yams are a great first food, and naturally delicious. If you are serving cereal, remember to cook it with water rather than cow’s milk, and avoid adding any sugar. Babies ready for chunkier foods can handle soft meats, which provide wonderful amounts of natural protein, and easily digestible iron. Babies ready for finger foods often enjoy toasted bread and dry cereal. One of the advantages of waiting till baby is 6 months to start solids means that you do not need to mash foods for very long. Baby will be reaching for the chunkier foods off of your plate before you know it, so be sure to cook as healthful for yourself as you want your baby to eat!
Remember when introducing new foods that delaying the introduction of dairy products, eggs, fish, nuts and soybean can lower your baby’s chances of allergies. Experts recommend delaying wheat, egg, and fish foods till 12 months, and peanut products till 3 years. Approximately 1.3% of young children experience food allergies.