Modern American tradition is to start a baby with the first food of rice cereal. Then it’s followed with vegetables, fruit and eventually meat and dairy. There is little fat, at first, and no salt. Sound familiar? That’s what we did with our eldest, but not with this baby!
Since learning about how amazing real food is, we’ve been revamping our baby-food plans! We certainly don’t want to be feeding Babykins highly processed “food” when we could be giving her fresh, nutrient-dense foods! The other change we’re making (as you can see in the picture above), is that we’re dabbling in Baby-Led Solids (aka “Infant-Led Weaning”), but that’s another post.
What Baby Needs
A baby’s body is designed to digest fat and protein, for the most part. Let’s look at some of the components of breast-milk and a baby’s nutritional needs.
- Fat: Breastmilk is full of saturated fat. Did you know that the human brain is made mostly of fat, and most of that fat is saturated?? Babies need plenty of saturated fat for healthy brain development. It makes no sense to feed a baby (or anybody!) a diet low in saturated fat. The brain also need plenty of Essential Fatty Acids, like the ones from cod liver oil and fish.
- Cholesterol: Cholesterol is also vital for brain development. “Low-cholesterol” is actually terrible for all of us, but especially for babies since it’s the key time for their little brains to grow. Breastmilk is full of cholesterol, but most baby foods at the store (especially formula), is cholesterol-free. Not good.
- Protein: Muscle-building requires protein. Until you get to more “advanced” store-bought baby food, there isn’t much protein.
- Lactose: Milk sugar is important for baby’s energy.
- Enzymes: Raw breast milk (and any raw milk, for that matter), is full of enzymes that help digest the milk. One of those enzymes is lactase, which digests the milk sugar for the baby.
What Does That Mean For Solids?
First of all, jarred baby food is no better for babies than highly processed food is for adults. Read my intro to “real” food to learn why nobody should live on a diet of jarred, canned and boxed “food”. Babies, especially, need nutrient-dense, fresh foods to build their bodies and brains with.
Starting a baby on rice cereal is not a good plan. (Just to make sure you know, I’m not judging you- our first baby was started on rice cereal. What I’ve learned about babies since then, though, is quite different and I’m excited to share it with you! :-)) What “they” say (that’s the manufacturers and the pediatricians who, by the way, have little or no nutritional education!), is that rice cereal is easy to digest. It’s not! Grains require the enzyme amylase to be digested, but a baby doesn’t start producing enough amylase to digest grains until they are at least a year old. Many can’t digest grains until they are nearly two! What does that mean? Well, since the food isn’t being digested, it goes through the digestive tract whole. That can cause irritation. Constant irritation from the same source for along time *can* eventually cause allergies. Whether it eventually does or not, that constant low level of irritation is not healthy for their maturing immune systems.
What babies just starting solids are designed to digest are foods that either have their own enzymes (such as bananas), or foods that have composition similar to breastmilk. That means foods with fat, protein and cholesterol. An excellent choice is egg yolk. When you get eggs from free-range chickens at a local farm (check www.localharvest.org for farms near you!), the yolks are full of fabulous nutrients! This is literally brain-building food.
Meat is also easy for babies to digest. You can smash or puree it with a bit of homemade broth and some veggies for a simple baby “stew”. Beef, chicken, lamb, pork, fish and game are full of protein, which we’ve already learned baby needs and is able to digest. They grow so quickly and they use protein to do it!
Veggies have tons of antioxidants and minerals that are wonderful for all of us. They are harder to digest than animal products, but don’t worry. Just look for signs of problems when you introduce a new veggie. If your baby spits up more than usual, has diarrhea or lots of gas, or seems unusually fussy, just wait a month and try again. To absorb the fat-soluble vitamins, you need to always add a good source of fat. Be sure to put some real butter (from grass-fed cows is best!) or some coconut oil on all vegetables!
Fruit is wonderful, too, but try not to mix everything baby eats with fruit. I’ve known some parents who would add some pureed fruit to whatever the baby was eating so that it was sweet. Those babies often ended up refusing anything that didn’t please their “sweet tooth”. We want our little ones to enjoy all kinds of foods, so don’t condition them to prefer only sweet things. By the way, fruit has fat-soluble vitamins, too. Add some kind of fat to make sure they get all those vitamins! Maybe a bit of full-fat yogurt.
Speaking of dairy, it is so important to stick to full-fat dairy. As we learned earlier, breastmilk is very high in fat and that’s a good thing. Babies need fat (so do the rest of us!), so don’t fall for the “low-fat is better” lie. For the first year, you also don’t want to overdo dairy, especially cow’s milk. Cow’s milk can be more difficult to digest. I highly recommend you find a source of raw milk, but if you can’t, then stick with cultured dairy, such as yogurt, kefir, real sour cream and buttermilk. When dairy is cultured, lactose is broken down and digestion is much easier. Also, goat’s milk yogurt (and other products) is delicious and even easier to digest than cow’s milk!
Eventually, you’ll want to try grains. As I mentioned, it’s best to wait at least until one year, but even at that age it might be too early. If you notice any physical or behavioral reaction, stop and wait a few months. Some children will have obvious digestive problems, but others might develop symptoms on the skin, such as eczema. Grains are not necessary, so don’t feel like it’s a problem to put them off. You can also try sourdoughs, which are partially broken down by the souring process. That makes them easier to digest. Soaked grains work well for some people, too.
The last thing I want to mention is salt. Table salt is bad for everybody, but even babies can benefit from a tiny pinch of real Celtic sea salt. It is full of minerals, which plays many important roles in the body. Please don’t go overboard, but a little pinch is a good thing. You can learn more about how wonderful Celtic sea salt is in my recent post.
Go Slowly and Be Patient
Babies really shouldn’t be fed anything other than breastmilk before the age of six months. At that point, you *can* begin to introduce egg yolks and meat, but that doesn’t mean you have to. It’s not a race. 🙂 Whatever age you start at, give each new food at least three days before starting the next one. That gives you time to notice any reaction. Once healthy “first foods” (such as egg yolk, meat, bananas and avocado) have been well-tolerated, you can add in more veggies and fruits.
It’s so much better to go slowly and postpone solids than to give solids before baby’s body can handle them. In our experience, it helps a ton to just be patient. I gave Babykins some banana when she was six months. She spent the entire night alternating between hick-ups and spitting up. Not a fun night. We waited five weeks and tried again. She’s been perfectly fine with bananas ever since. I gave her egg yolk at about six-and-a-half months. She burped and had a ton of gas. We tried again a few weeks later and she had no problems at all. If we had been unwilling to back off and let her system mature a little more, we could have caused a ton of stress on her body now and possibly caused long-term digestive issues.
Confused? Do you have any questions about what to feed your baby?
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