Oh dear, I have been contacted so much with queries on my take on “introducing solid foods”. So here we go! and feel free to let me know what you think, and what your experiences have been. The images above are of some of the foods we’ve been eating lately during this winter time. (I also want to add a disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor, and I certainly don’t want to suggest that I have the answers for your family! This is just an account of what has worked for us. Do your research, and good luck!)
The best way to introduce solid foods to your baby is to not ever introduce solid foods to your baby. As with most everything to do with parenting, the best way to help our kids transition into a new stage is by getting out of the way, and letting your baby tell you what she needs, while offering a nurturing container of support. Don’t bother “introducing solid foods”. Your baby doesn’t really need an introduction. Is your baby eyeing your fork as it travels to mouth? Is your baby reaching for your food? Give her a taste. Yum!
Babies are totally tuned in to their own needs, and yet they require our constant care and attention. Everything we say and do with our babies (and older children) is the active creation of their world, their reality, their “normal”. Babies absorb all the attitudes and tones around them, and they notice everything. When my babies indicate that they are ready for food at around 6 months (give or take a few weeks either way), they are welcome to touch and taste whatever we eat. The key is to make sure that your own diet is excellent, so that you can feel good about sharing what is served to the family with the little one.
There are so many rules and manuals and opinions out there on how best to strategize and organize and implement “the introduction of solid foods”. Some say to start feeding foods to our babies at a specific age. Attachment “experts” instruct parents to wait until the child has cut teeth, or is showing some other biological marker of “readiness”. I have read that one is supposed to offer one type of food at a time for days on end, before “introducing” another. The regulations are exhausting.
When my first child was born 12 years ago, I had read all of the attachment parenting books and websites I could come across (Mango Mama, anyone?!) , and I was determined to be the most holistic, organic mother possible. In addition to foregoing even cloth diapers in favour of carrying around a wooden (not plastic) bowl so that I could catch Cedar’s poops after he communicated his elimination needs to me, I was also convinced that in order to protect the delicate bacterial balance of his gut flora, that I should delay the “introduction of solid foods” for as long as possible. After a couple of weeks of Cedar lunging towards my plate in desperation, I quickly woke to the realization that I could trust my baby to make the right decision as to when he was ready to eat.
The most potent and accurate indicator of readiness is simply that the baby tells us that he’s ready by looking, grabbing, smacking his lips, and other crystal clear forms of communication. For some babies, active curiosity at the dinner table happens early, and others are happy exclusively breastfeeding for a longer period of time. In the past few weeks, our little guy Felix (not-quite 6 months old) has just started tasting foods, and he is in total sensory bliss. His interest varies. Some days Felix ends up eating quite a lot of non-breastmilk foods. And other days we just sit around and nurse all day. This balance will continue to slowly tip in favour of the big kids’ food, and Felix will become increasingly interested in filling up on the same nourishing meals we all eat.
At birth, our bodies are perfectly tuned and balanced instruments with a pristine digestive system. Exclusive breastfeeding supports that bacterial equilibrium, giving us essential immunological protection, and setting the stage for the processing of many different foods. It is *so* important for babies to *only* consume breastmilk during the first hours, days, weeks and months of life. But as long as your baby has had a good solid 5 months of exclusive breastmilk, tasting food a week or two shy of his six month birthday isn’t going to do any damage. As it is with the length of gestation and every single other thing to do with the human body, we are all different, and yet very much the same.
Our diet is made up of vegetables, fruits, naturally-raised grass-fed meats, poultry and some fish. In spite of conventional advisories against feeding babies some raw foods, I make a point of including, for all of us, as many nourishing, microbe-rich raw foods as I can find. We eat raw dairy whenever possible, and raw egg yolks from our own eggs, Felix included. (If you are interested in primal/paleo/traditional diet ideas, please visit the Weston A. Prince Foundation website. Excellent material). When it comes to allergies, I personally believe that allowing our kids to taste and eat a wide variety of foods (as long as these are whole, unprocessed, unadulterated and unsweetened), including what are commonly held to be potentially allergenic (eggs, nuts, citrus) offers the best protection against developing allergies both real and imagined. According to many recent studies, it appears that I might be on to something here. But I am admittedly much less concerned with the professional opinion of doctors and allergists than I am with my own experience raising children who are entirely healthy, allergic to nothing, and in possession of extremely hardy immune systems. I believe that exposing my children to a range of healthy foods not only grants my children health, but also protects them from bacterial infections and food-borne illness. And of course, when it comes to the littlest babies just starting to taste, these early forays into gastronomy are tentative, and really just more of an experience of food, rather than eating in earnest. The most poignant lesson I have learned from relaxing completely around food and babies, is that babies *know* their bodies. There are very few foods that babies are not eager to try, and those first months of breastfeeding means your child is probably unlikely to be prone to getting sick. (Consider not worrying about funny-looking poops. We are, in general, way too obsessed with our kids’ elimination, I think. Once your baby starts to taste, her poops will change, sometimes day-to-day. Some of my kids have pooped constantly, Treva pooped every 10 days. Hard poops? Drink a bit more water and fruit. Runny poops? Have a banana. If your baby is happy, pain-free, chatty, interested and alert, then you probably don’t have to worry at all.)
For our family, Felix included, eating is simple. Felix tastes everything we eat, as he desires, and he is free to discover his palate and preferences, perched on our laps at the dinner table. I don’t buy or make “baby food”, I don’t grind or blend, apart from mashing a banana in a cup with a fork once, or pre-chewing a mouthful of broccoli for him to taste. What baby doesn’t love to get gloriously greasy while gnawing on an organic, free-range chicken bone?
I have never used a bottle, ever. My babies breastfeed, and then when they start tasting (at around 6 months), I give them water in a cup, in addition to continuing to nurse. A few kids ago there was a sippy cup hanging around, but we hardly ever used it, and it eventually got lost. Water is really the only appropriate liquid for children, and they learn to use a cup themselves soon enough, so I don’t really see a reason to equip them with a water bottle to carry around the house when they’re tiny. (If you must use a container, find a stainless steel sippy cup, rather than plastic).
High chairs are similarly unnecessary, unless you want to be able to restrain your kid in one place and walk away. No, I don’t think high chairs are evil. In some situations, restraining devices can make life seem easier for Mum. But honestly, the first year really does go so fast. Although I have had a high chair in the past, I don’t bother with them anymore. This makes somewhat redundant the extreme caution we are constantly told to employ when it comes to the risk of our babies choking to death. I suppose that giving your 8 month old a big hunk of apple in the highchair and then walking away would be risky. But since we all eat together and we pass Felix back and forth, I don’t think twice about having him chew on pretty much whatever he likes. If he starts to splutter or cough, I pop in a finger or change his position. (**Note! One of my lovely readers just wrote to point out that poking a finger in a choking baby’s mouth is not a great idea! Much better to tilt baby forwards…I’ve had so few choking incidents, and I really don’t know what I’m talking about! thanks Elena!) He is always in-arms. We are always relaxed, and yet, because we are always *there*, vigilance is constant, and assumed. In a high chair, the baby sits alone, strapped in, passively accepting the spoon that comes at them externally, or faced with a smorgasboard. In encouraging the baby’s agency and interactions with the family at the dinner table as he reaches for his mother’s plate, we send the message that this tiny baby has power in the world. The preparation and consumption of food, like breastfeeding, is ideally an extension of relationship.
I make a point of maintaining a neutral attitude when we’re eating, because I believe strongly that in modelling an openness to different tastes, and an ease around food,I can raise kids who are not picky, obnoxious, whiny or sensitive when it comes to meal times. I want my kids to remain experimental, open and joyous when it comes to food.
By allowing our children to introduce *themselves* to solid foods, from one meal to the next, we reinforce the idea, from the very beginning, that our children can trust their bodies, because we trust them to make these choices, even as infants. Our kids are tacitly granted permission to listen to both their hunger and their desire, and to choose. By including our babies and little ones in the meal the rest of us partake of, we reinforce the idea that sharing food is community and family. In this way, the baby’s experience of eating for the first time is truly an exploration of independence in the context of nurturing. Despite the contradictory information out there on best parenting practices, ultimately most of us end up just fine and a little bit completely messed up. But my main point here, is that life is pretty straightforward. Parenting “theories” both mainstream and attachment, tend to overcomplicate the care of infants, and yet also minimize the mystical complexities of this incredibly important time. I truly believe (as I type with a 6 month old nursing in my arms and my 2 and 4 year olds running around as “good fierce pirates” on a mission to save the Baby Jesus from the evil Sir Guy of Gisburne) that mothering in the first year is absolutely the easiest *and* most fulfilling period of life, for mother and baby. Reminding ourselves of the easy perfection of newborns can help, I think, when things get overwhelming. Eat with your children. Enjoy your baby. Have fun!