From the moment baby is born, you make decisions about how they will eat. Fast forward a few months, you'll be making even bigger decisions about when and how to start solids. To quote Attachment Parenting International, "feeding a child involves more than providing nutrients; it is an act of love." Unfortunately, there's a lot of heated discussion surrounding how people feed their babies, so let's take an unbiased, non-judgemental look at feeding baby from breastfeeding, formula feeding, to starting solids.
Feeding your baby and older child is more than just providing nutrients. It's a way of bonding as a family and has no age limit on it. That's why, no matter your method, as long as you Feed with Love & Respect (API) you'll strengthen your bond with your child.
1. Breast or Formula?
One of the first decisions you'll make for baby, and you probably made the decision early on in your pregnancy, is whether to breastfeed or formula feed. It's not an easy decision, that's for sure. There's definitely societal and familial pressure that goes into this choice, but guess what, it's your choice and no one else's. And just like the topic of pain relief in labor from last week, you may change your plan in the middle of it. And that's ok too!
While I'm all for mom's choice, I'm also all for stating facts. There's clear evidence that breastfeeding cannot be replaced and breastmilk is what babies were meant to drink. The formula industry has tried to replicate breastmilk, but it just cannot be done. Breastmilk is a fascinating, ever-changing substance unique to the breastfeeding pair. But I'm also no naive and judgemental. I know that some women don't want to or can't breastfeed and that's perfectly fine. You do you!
Let's take a look at some of the benefits of both methods:
-Breastfeeding offers protection against infection and other conditions, is easy on baby's belly, is unique nutrition, doesn't cost anything for the actual milk, fosters better eating habits from tasting all that momma eats, and lowers the risk of cancer for mom.
-Formula feeding is more convenient in that not only mom is able to feed baby, which also offers flexibility, is less frequent and keeps baby full longer, allows momma to not have to worry about what she eats.
Both methods definitely come with their challenges as well, but they're nothing a strong momma like yourself can't handle. Whatever feeding method you choose to go with, remember it's your choice and no one else's.
2. Common Allergens
Food intolerance and allergens can begin even before baby starts solids. The most common: dairy and soy. Both of which can be found in breastmilk (if momma eats it) and formula, and an allergy usually detected by mucous or blood in poop. Formula feeding moms will need to find another formula to use. Breastfeeding moms will need to eliminate the culprit from her diet. Once the allergen is removed from the diet, it may take a few weeks to fully get out of baby's system. Your baby's pediatrician can help you navigate this!
Other common allergens are eggs, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, and shellfish.
3. Starting Solids
Baby is a few months old and it's time to start offering food other than breastmilk or formula. When to start and what to start with? Well-meaning grandmas might tell you that your 4-month old baby needs to eat more than breastmilk or formula, but recent research on gut health tells us otherwise. They might also tell you that rice cereal is best to start with and keeps them fuller longer. Again, with gut health research, we know this isn't true. It's also not great for breastmilk supply and demand cycle.
It's best to wait to start solids until baby is showing these signs:
-Baby is about six months old
-Baby is able to sit, unsupported
-Baby has lost his tongue-thrust reflex, meaning that he does not push foods out of his mouth with his tongue when they are offered
-Baby can pick things up between his fingers and thumb
Breastmilk or formula should always be offered first before offering solid foods. It's best to start with single foods, one-at-a-time, just in case there is a reaction you'll be able to pinpoint what it is. Most importantly, remember "food before one is just for fun!" And do just that - have FUN!
4. Baby-led Weaning Basics
Purees or baby-led weaning? You may not have ever heard of baby-led weaning (BLW) prior to this post or prior to becoming a mom. Baby-led weaning is taking purees out of the mix and going straight to finger foods. The benefit is that it allows baby to learn how to chew or gum foods first and then swallow, whereas purees teach baby to only swallow foods. This method also puts baby in control of how much they eat, training themselves to listen to their bodies and to eat when hungry and stop when full. On the flip side, purees are parent-led and usually the child is pushed to finish what the parent has fixed for them. BLW starts when baby is 6 months of age or older, can sit up unassisted, can grab and hold onto objects, and have lost the tongue-thrust reflex. Waiting for these things allows the gut to fully close and baby will have an easier time digesting the new foods.
How does it work? You cut whatever food you are serving the family into appropriate sizes for baby, place on their tray, and let them at it! The appropriate size is roughly strips the size of your pinky finger or pieces the size of baby's fist. Don't worry about how much baby eats, it's more about them trying different flavors repeatedly and over time they'll eat more and more. Repeated exposure is key!
Feeding Littles is a great resource as is Yummy Toddler Food.
5. Top 5 Beginner Foods
There is conflicting information on what is best to feed first when starting solids, but we take our information from Dr. Sears. You're raising a little "fat head" as he calls them. Brains are mostly made of fat (60%) and the more healthy fats you feed your baby, the brighter brains they'll build.
Here are the foods we suggest to start with:
1. Avocado - Cut into spears and let baby play! If that's too slippery, you can roll the spears in flaxmeal or oats and serve.
2. Wild salmon - serve in strips or mashed, great source of omega-3s
3. Sweet Potatoes - These can be served either cut like fries and baked to softness or like a baked potato and baby can play in the mash. Be ready for a mess!
4. Bananas - If you pinch a 2" long piece of banana, it breaks in three. These "slices" are perfect size for baby!
5. Carrots - Steam and slice for a great source of vitamin A
Many parents try to hit 100 different foods before one, which is tons of fun!
Feeding your child with love and respect starts at birth, but really never ends. A healthy avocado as a first food or a healthy meal on the table for your teen is just as important as the decision to breast or formula feed. As long as it's done with love and respect, not forced or coerced, and not blatantly unhealthy on an ongoing basis, you'll do a great job and create that bond!
If you need extra help with family nutrition or training your baby's or child's taste buds to crave fruits and vegetables, don't hesitate to reach out to me and I'll share my personal story with you and connect you with some great resources!
Allesanda received her Bachelors in Behavioral Science from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in December 2013. She now lives in North Texas with her husband and three children. As a maternal support practitioner and educator of family sleep and eco-friendly living, she blogs about family sleep, wellness, nutrition, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, holistic health, and parenting.