Adding anything to a thriving baby’s diet in the early months
can interfere with his normal breastfed health.

Even one exposure to a formula or cereal causes changes in a young baby’s body, and can trigger allergies that might have been avoided. Young babies don’t digest starch well, so early cereal may be filling, but it isn’t quality food. Early fruits or vegetables can interfere with iron absorption. And studies indicate that babies sleep through the night when they’re ready, not when they start solids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until about 6 months before adding to a healthy breastfed baby’s diet. Is your baby gaining poorly? Supplementing can make your milk supply even lower. If weight gain is a concern, call a breastfeeding specialist for help in keeping your baby well-fed and nursing.

So when is a baby ready for solids? If your baby is about 6 months old and can sit up, reach for food, put it in his mouth, chew and swallow it, and reach for more, he’s ready, and he can do it himself without help from the baby food industry. In contrast, the old image of Mom patiently spooning puréed food in and Baby spitting it back out is a picture of a baby who is just not ready yet.

The old guidelines that recommended starting solids “at 4 to 6 months” included formula-fed babies and those few breastfed infants whose growth is truly faltering. For the baby who is doing well on breastmilk alone, early solids replace a complete, well-digested food with an incomplete, poorly digested one, and can lead to obesity, allergies, and a low iron count. There are good reasons to wait until about 6 months, especially if there are allergies in the family.

Some 4 and 5 month olds are”mouth hungry”, and seem eager to eat. They more likely want to teethe or practice or socialize, and will probably be happy to sit at the table with cups, spoons, plates, and company. They may also be seeking more chances to nurse for food or comfort. On the other hand,the baby who insists on solid food before 6 months knows his own body. He is a person, not a calendar. Offer him age-appropriate finger foods and let him do it himself. That will increase the entertainment value, decrease the mess and expense, and eliminate worries about overdoing it.

Other babies may not be interested in solids until well past the 6-month mark. No problem, so long as they continue to thrive. Follow your
baby’s lead
. He will increase solids at his own pace, if you make them available to him at the family table.

Breastmilk (or formula if you cut back on breastfeeding) should be your baby’s main source of food until past a year. Rest assured that your milk is a fully nutritious food for as long as your child enjoys it. Breastfed is best fed. So relax and keep the food fun. No need to rush. La Leche League’s pamphlet, Your Baby’s First Solid Food, is a good source of more information on when and how to start solids. Call 1-800-LALECHE or a local LLL Leader for a copy, or visit La Leche La Leche League.

If you find yourself tandem nursing, you may find that your children enjoy sharing “nummies”, patting and stroking each other if they nurse together and developing a lovely, loving relationship. You may also find the book “Adventures in Tandem Nursing” by Hilary Flower really helpful. Bottom line: every experience is different, and there’s no wrong way to proceed, as long as you follow your heart.

©2008 Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC

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