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Solid food?

Eleven years ago, with my first child, I didn’t have the wealth of information available to moms today. I didn’t really have internet access, and I lived a few hours away from my family. In many ways, this was a good thing.

Some information is good, but too much can be overwhelming. And, I think it taught me to doubt my own instincts. My son has obviously survived, but with my daughter, I’m afraid to try something until I know I’m doing it ‘right.’

Take, for example, solid foods. I read once that the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t think parents should start solids until 6 months of age. But then at my daughter’s four-month check up, her pediatrician suggested we start offering her some food. Then online there are all kinds of ‘readiness’ checklists. So I was perplexed. There is so much advice that it is confusing, and it was difficult to find what I really wanted to know. So here is my contribution to all the parents out there with a 4-6 month old baby who aren’t quite sure how to do the whole ‘solids’ thing.

Turns out, the AAP has a bit of a mixed-message. Their Section on Breastfeeding recommends nursing exclusively for 6 months. On the other hand, the AAP committee on nutrition supports feeding age-appropriate solids to babies as young as four months. And though the previous generation was inclined to give babies as young as two months some cereal in their bottles to help them sleep, this is a very bad idea for several reasons. Most importantly, their digestive systems aren’t prepared to handle it. Second, feeding solids in a bottle lead to obesity. But it’s also just not true that solids at bedtime specifically help babies sleep longer. (Sleep physiologists say that getting adequate calories over the course of the day is what helps sleep.)

I felt better about buying a box of rice cereal after being certain on all fronts that she was ready. But then I wasn’t sure if I should give it to her after I nursed her or before I nursed her or instead of one breastfeeding. I got a few different stories there, too. But the advice leaned heavily towards solids after milk. You definitely don’t want to skip a bottle or nursing. She still needs to get her nourishment from her milk. So give her a bottle or breast, and then when she is not ravenously hungry, offer her something from a spoon.

So I started with some rice cereal. And that was good until I asked a friend at church with a baby just two weeks older than mine if she was feeding her cereal. She responded that they were not feeding her cereal, but she was eating all kinds of solids. That made me feel insecure. I consulted my husband who assured me that whatever I had fed our son worked out fine. Trouble was, I just couldn’t remember! So, once again, I went to the experts, who didn’t agree.

Some say start with vegetables because once they’ve had bananas they just won’t want peas. Others say start with bananas because they are so appealing that the baby won’t reject them. Argh! I cheated. I bought some oat cereal. But it made her spit up every time, so I retreated to rice cereal for another week. I ended up following a plan I devised from a few sources, but mostly her pediatrician. Here’s what we did, which is working out great.

  1. For the first two weeks, I offered her some rice cereal once a day after she nursed.
  2. Then I introduced mashed avocado. I gave that to her once a day after nursing, in addition to the cereal once a day.
  3. After a week I introduced cooked, mashed sweet potatoes, and alternated daily between the avocado and sweet potatoes.
  4. For the rest of the first month we stuck to one new food every four days. I gave her the food in the mornings and the cereal in the evenings, always after she nursed. I discovered that pears made her spit up, so we quit those for now.
  5. When she hit the five-month mark, I started feeding her solids three times a day, alternating foods.

As for which foods to choose for your baby, that’s another debate (though I personally have found this to be useful). But most sources advise against some things that are more likely to cause allergic reactions. Most importantly, do not feed babies under a year honey, dairy products or foods with a lot of acid (like citrus). Stay away from meats for a couple of months.

I feel more confident now, knowing I successfully navigated another milestone!

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