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A Note From Your Doula: Starting Solids

By Jen Wittes

Dear Parents and Friends,    

Doula Jen here, continuing yesterday’s discussion on feeding with a few words about starting solids.

First off, I want to encourage parents to relax and enjoy exploring new foods with sweet baby.  This is a gradual, messy process.  Your child will eventually eat.  There is no need to rush it.  In fact, many experts now recommend nothing but breastmilk or formula for the first six months.  The liquid diet will continue to be the main source of nutrition throughout the first year.  Everything else is practice and exploration.  Are you hearing me?  Practice and exploration. 

For ages, we’ve been pushing rice cereal at 4 months, sometimes added right into the bottle of breastmilk or formula.  We’re even tantalized by the hopeful suggestion that, “It might make them sleep longer!”

Here’s the thing:  4 months is young to be insisting on solids.  Honestly, an infant’s digestive system is probably not ready to handle much bulk, or any amount beyond the stray playful taste en route to full discovery.  And rice cereal?  It’s fine.  It won’t hurt your baby.  It’s one of the easier grains to digest.  I don’t have a big problem with baby cereal, however, I do get annoyed with the implication that it is where you MUST begin.

Avacado, mashed banana, pureed sweet potato, cooked carrots, peaches, applesauce, and squash are all valid first foods–nature made, never processed, and perfect for gumming and/or smearing around the high chair tray with a messy thumb, a squeal, and a smile.  And if cereal “just makes sense” for you and your family, feel free to think beyond rice.  Oats and barley are also infant friendly.

Another little piece of information that might inspire you:  breastfed babies tend to take kindly to bananas and sweet potato.  Formula fed babies will feel more comfortable with the cereal, the squash, and the avocado.  Why?  Breastmilk is naturally sweet.  Formula is typically more bland.  An infant will probably respond more favorably to, “what they know.”

As parents, we are always bombarded with time-lines and age-appropriate recommendations.  You should potty train at 2 and a half years.  Most babies crawl at 7 months and walk at 12.  All hogwash.  The spectrum is vast.  Babies are individuals.  They will get there when they’re ready.  Same goes for feeding.

If you’re wondering if your child is ready to start experimenting with solid food, just watch them.  Does he watch you, mesmerized as you bring spoon to lips?  Does he open and close his mouth as Dad snacks on a slice of pizza?  Is he grabbing for big sister’s stack of Cheerios?  It may be time to explore.  Follow your child’s cues.  He will tell you!

A baby boy I know had their first bite of food at a Mexican restaurant—refried beans.   He dipped his finger in while sitting in Mama’s lap.  Spontaneous, explorative.  Not something fussed over or pureed and frozen into little cubes.  Real life.  As it should be.

And, by the way, said mother didn’t get neurotic about the beans or wonder what kind of oil they were cooked in.  She didn’t worry about the congealed layer of cheese undoubtedly mixed with her son’s first taste.  She did, however, feel a little pang, as she turned to me and said, “Awwww.  It’s not just my milk anymore.”

Oh, yes.  Always with the bittersweetness of watching them grow up!   First foods don’t have to be a big deal or a big source of stress, but give yourself a little TLC, because the first bite of food is by definition the official start of weaning—either from the bottle or the breast.  And that is a big transition.

Bon appetit, Bébé!

With love from your doula…

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