**A disclaimer: As with everything I write, this post is a combination of my own personal research and opinion, please use common sense, do your own research and consult your physician, before choosing the way you feed yourself and your baby**
Last week Clayton hit 6 months. Aside from making me wonder where time goes this means we start to think about food. I wanted to exclusively breastfeed until 6 months and we made it! (Right off the bat let me just throw this out: I know this can be a contested, judged and highly emotive topic so before we go on, I do not judge you if you had, or want a different journey. Whatever your approach or experience, do what’s right for you and your baby now, that’s what’s best!)
With that said, out of my personality, my need for a schedule with working, and what made sense to us, I chose to add structure into our days from the beginning. By 4 months Clayton was happily on a schedule of 4 feeds with 4 hour intervals which means his milk feeds now look like breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with an afternoon snack. We’ll stick to that structure as we introduce solid food, so that he just joins in our meal times and eats with us.
Why 6 months?
30 years ago when my generation was weaned, doctors were suggesting introducing solids (mostly in the form of cereals) from 3 or 4 months of age. More recently, it’s been being pretty widely acknowledged that exclusively feeding breast milk until 6 months is best, with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommending this plan “to support optimal growth and development”.
Up to 6 months, Clayton has been gaining weight well on a fully breastmilk diet, he doubled his birth weight by six months, and had not shown us that he was extra hungry or in need of extra food. That gives me the chance to introduce food very slowly, while keeping breast milk as his main source of nutrition until 12 months. So when I use the word ‘weaning’ I mean it in an English sense, introducing solid food, rather than the American sense, of weaning off breast milk.
Wait, no pureed baby food?
When I was pregnant I began hearing of parents who not only bypassed cereals, but also actually skipped the pureed food stage entirely. I liked the sound of not giving up my weekends to blend vegetables, and I’m all for plant food over cereals but at the same time, this method felt a little feral. I read things like, “Prepare the room with plastic sheeting, strip the child down and invest in a high chair that can be fully transferred to the shower, it will be messy but glorious. Don’t forget to have a camera ready”… Excuse me? Now, I have no problem with mess (Jared’s given up telling me when I have chocolate on my own face let alone a child) but this sounds primitive, and I was raised to value impeccable table manners. That said, in the midst of the primal feel, it also intrigued me, so I began researching. I really like things that make sense and the more I read and researched, the more I felt that feeding my son chunks of an organic zucchini from our local farmers market was more logical than cereal on a spoon.
Baby Led Weaning
This general idea, I discovered, is termed ‘baby led weaning’. (this is a great intro book!) The idea is that instead of you telling baby with food on a spoon, what and how much they should be eating, you introduce them to foods less for nutrition (which comes primarily from milk for the first year), but more as a learning and tasting experience. They will begin to experience the new tastes and textures and become familiar with them, as they learn to feed themselves.
Usually this approach is thought to naturally follow ‘on-demand’ breastfeeding, with it being the baby, rather than the parents in both cases that says when and how much food is desired. Given that I went fully for, and loved, the scheduled feeding approach I wondered if this made sense. But it does to me. As I mentioned above, we’ll offer Clayton food at the table with us when we eat, and he can eat as much as he wants, the same way he does with milk. And an added bonus: There is thought that this can actually set children up for good self regulation with food later in life. Those meals with us when we eat will pretty well follow milk feeds so that his hunger is mostly met by milk, and the food is not a replacement but a supplement. We’ll be starting with foods that can be easily picked up so that Clayton can explore them and feed to satiate his hunger rather than me spoon feeding.
To cereal or not to cereal?
Needless to say in starting with finger foods, it can’t and won’t be rice cereal. In introducing foods my goal is not to quickly wean him off breast milk but to add other nutritious things into his diet to slowly introduce his palate and add in extra nutrition. With those as goals, and my desire to take it slow and let him feed himself, rice cereal makes less sense. In addition, our bodies do not produce the enzymes needed to fully digest cereals until the molar teeth are present, which doesn’t usually happen sometime until after a year of age. The need for spoon feedable foods comes mainly from that previous generation’s recommendation of adding solid food at 3-4 months. With the lack of motor skills and inability to grip a chunk of food, the only way to feed at that age is in a bottle, or on a spoon. Hence purees. Starting around 6 months though, with a developing pincer grip, the ability to sit up, increased digestive tract maturity*, and the loss of the tongue thrust reflex, feeding wedge style appropriate finger foods makes a lot more sense. (You can find two other great books on this here and here.)
So that is how we’ll be starting out, with easy to digest, highly nutritious foods, that are similar to what Jared and I are eating. Local and organic vegetable and fruits, sweet potato, avocado, egg yolks, maybe some bone broth, we’ll see. Many baby led weaning advocates introduce meat and fish early on and while I fully see their logic, my raw food and vegan days are still a part of me and I’m probably going to wait a bit before introducing meat and dairy!
More to come…
This is obviously just the beginning, I’m very new to this, and I’m writing as I’m learning. I’ll keep updating you as we journey forward and find our path! If you want to follow along daily, we’re documenting the journey on @thewholefoodbaby! And if you have a weaning story or any reading recommendations you want to share – pop it in the comments section below and I’d love to take a look!
*This one is fascinating to me as Jared has a peanut allergy so I’ve been doing extensive research on allergy development and how to manage feeding and introducing foods to high risk babies. In (very) short and please don’t quote me, the digestive tract ‘closes’ between 4-7 months. Prior to closing it is a lot less selective about what passes from the gut to the blood, meaning along with all the ‘goodies’ from breast milk, potential allergens (i.e. from food is fed early) can also pass through and trigger an immune response. After 7 months though, there is a lot more selectivity, meaning those potential allergens can be consumed more safely. What used to be common thought about delaying addition of the common allergens to babies’ diets is now being found potentially to be less true – you can read more about that in The LEAP study.