Yesterday was Darla’s 6-month Baby Wellness Checkup. I really respect our doctor, and even though we don’t always see eye-to-eye she is very supportive of the choices we make and there is good mutual trust there.
The nurses, though, like to joke with me about my approach. This time, our nurse mentioned that Darla had gotten chunkier since her last visit, and that it must be due to all of the cereals and solids. When I mentioned that we hadn’t actually introduced first foods yet, the surprised nurse came back with, “You got the baby food pamphlet on your last visit, right? Don’t starve your baby!”
I just laughed and found comfort in knowing that NOT wanting to starve my children of the highest levels of nutrition is exactly why we are in no rush to bust out another high chair.
So, no, no, a big emphatic NO. I do not want to starve my child and I assure you I am doing no such thing. My boobs can assure you. My preemie’s thigh roles can assure you. And hopefully, this blog post will assure you.
Many doctors are now encouraging the introduction of solids as early as 4 months, beginning with rice cereal and slowly adding in puréed vegetables and fruits. Other indicators they might give of a baby’s readiness could include things like:
- having good head support & sitting up with minimal assistance
- reaching/grabbing for food
- the ability to turn their head away when done eating
- doubling birth weight
Starting foods so early seems to butt heads with statements from major health organizations like WHO, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians (to name a few), that all recommend exclusive breastfeeding without any additional foods until 6 months of age.
Nevertheless, the doctor’s orders seem to be sticking; A recent study showed that 40% of mothers observed introduced solid foods before 4 months of age, with one of the most popular reasons given being, “A doctor or other health care professional said my baby should begin eating solid food.”
Perhaps this advice to jump-the-gun stems from newer sources that claim waiting to introduce solids does nothing to prevent food allergies. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology states,
Delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods, even in infants at risk for food allergy, has not been clearly shown to be beneficial.” (source)
Also on their site, Dr. Assa’ad (who worked on the Allergy Guidelines) says,
Solid foods, including the potentially allergenic foods can be introduced at 4-6 months of age to all infants… The basis for this recommendation is that there is no evidence for the practice of delaying the introduction of the potentially allergenic foods beyond the 4-6 months age.” (source)
SO WHAT IS OUR FAMILY WAITING FOR? If so many pediatricians are recommending a 4-month introduction, AAAAI says early introduction of solids may not cause allergies, and a high percentage of moms are doing it, then why am I “starving” our 6 month old? Well, let me tell you.
Reasons to Wait Until 6 Months (…and perhaps beyond):
Babies are born with leaky gut, meaning they have gaps in their intestinal lining allowing particles to “leak” into their bloodstream. When exclusively breastfed, leaky gut is a really wonderful thing; it allows babies to not only receive nutrition from the milk, but for antibodies to seep into their bloodstream as well. Leaky gut closes around 6 months of age, but if solids are introduced before this time there is risk of large proteins leaking through too, potentially causing immunological conditions.
Teeth & digestion.
Teeth do far more for the digestive system than merely mash food; the arrival of different teeth signify the body’s development of certain digestive enzymes. (I talk more about digestive enzymes and why we don’t feed our babies grains/gluten in THIS post.)
Eating things that the body cannot yet digest affects overall gut health (where 80% of the immune system is). I understand that waiting for teeth is not something everyone is prepared to do, and that’s ok. But the connection between teeth & the gut is something to be aware of, especially in considering what first foods to give. In our home we have decided to wait until the first tooth or 9 months of age, whichever comes first. Had Darla been an early teether, I would have still held off until the 6 month mark. (Check out our family’s timeline of first foods based on the arrival of teeth HERE.)
Drop in nutrition.
Solids are more “for fun” than adding nutrition to a baby’s diet until about 8-9 months of age, when higher volumes can be consumed and more variety added in. In fact, if breastfed, solids can even take away from overall nutrition since a drop in milk consumption takes place.
This also means that choosing nutritionally dense first foods is of utmost importance. Store bought purees are often made with high volumes of water, and cereals are so nutritionally void that they have to be artificially enriched with vitamins & minerals.
Drop in milk supply.
It is not uncommon for babies to go on a mini nursing strike or have less interest in the boob than usual in the early days of eating solids. When solids are introduced before 6 months of age, babies tend to replace milk with food and reject the breast more and more. This inevitably leads to a drop in milk supply.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Starting solids is an exciting stage for both parents & baby, but it also plays a vital role in their overall health and wellness and should therefore be given proper care and consideration. AAP says,
Early introduction of solid foods is concerning because babies’ bodies are not yet prepared for these foods, and early introduction may increase the risk of some chronic diseases.”
Waiting until 6 months (or older) is not just about allergies for us, it’s about waiting until our baby’s body is ready to process what is put into it.