There is so much misguided advice out there about what we should feed first to our babies. I just purchased the “Healthy Baby Issue” of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) journals. This topic is among the many that are in this journal. I would like to share it with you so that you can make informed decisions about what first foods to feed your baby!
Ideally, breastfeeding should be maintained for at least a year, if not more. The first year of life requires a full spectrum of nutrients, including fats, protein, cholesterol, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Once breastmilk is no longer the sole source of these nutrients, what should you do?
There are 3 concepts to keep in mind. First, make your baby a “whole foods baby” (speaking of real food, not the store!). Avoid processed and refined foods as much as possible, including many brands of baby food; they are usually devoid of nutrients and some have added undesirable ingredients. It really is best to make your own baby food so that you know the quality of the product you’re feeding your little one and you also know there isn’t anything else in it but the food itself (though, Earth’s Best Organic is a good brand if you must buy jarred baby food).
Secondly, go slowly and be observant. Every baby is different and will have an individual response to different foods. Just because something is healthy and a whole food, doesn’t mean that baby’s particular system will jive with it.
Thirdly, respect the still-developing digestive system of your infant. Babies have limited enzyme production, which is necessary for the digestion of foods. In fact, it takes up to 28 months, just around the time when molar teeth are fully developed, for the big-gun carbohydrate enzymes (namely amylase) to fully kick into gear. Foods like cereals, grains and breads are very challenging for little ones to digest. Thus, those foods should be some of the last to be introduced. (One carbohydrate enzyme a baby’s small intestine does produces is lactase, for the digestion of milk.)
Foods introduced too early can cause digestive troubles and increase the likelihood of allergies (particularly to those foods introduced). The baby’s immature digestive system allows large particles of food to be absorbed. If these particles reach the bloodstream, the immune system mounts a response that leads to an allergic reaction. Six months is the typical age when solids should be introduced.
Babies do produce functional enzymes (pepsin and proteolytic enzymes) and digestive juices (hydrochloric acid in the stomach) that work on proteins and fats. This makes perfect sense since the milk from a healthy mother is 50-60% fat, which is critical for growth, energy and development. In addition, the cholesterol in human milk supplies an infant with close to 6 times the amount most adults consume from food.
Thus, a baby’s earliest solid foods should be mostly animal foods since his digestive system, although immature, is better equipped to supply enzymes for digestion of fats and proteins rather than carbohydrates. This explains why current research is pointing to meat (including nutrient dense organ meat) as being a nourishing early food.
So is cereal the best first food? Remember the amount of breast milk decreases when solid foods are introduced. This decrease may open the door for inefficiencies in a number of nutrients critical for baby’s normal growth and development. The nutrients that are often in short supply when introducing food include protein, zinc, iron and B-vitamins. One food group that has these nutrients in ample amounts is meat.
Unfortunately, cereal is the most often recommended early weaning food. According to a swedish study, when infants consume substantial amounts of rice cereal, they could suffer from low concentrations of zinc and reduced calcium absorption.
There was a study done that found breastfed infants who received pureed or strained meat as a primary weaning food beginning at 4-5 months grew at a slightly faster rate. The study suggests that inadequate protein or zinc from common first foods may limit the growth of some breastfed infants. More importantly, both protein and zinc levels were consistently higher in the diets of the infants who received meats. Thus, the custom of providing large amounts of cereals and excluding meats before 7 months of age may short-change the nutritional requirements of the infant.
Meat is also an excellent source of iron. Heme iron (the iron found in meat) is better absorbed than iron from plant sources (non-heme). Additionally, the protein in meat helps the baby more easily absorb iron from other foods. Meat also contains a much greater amount of zinc than cereals, which means more is absorbed. Traditional peoples, uninfluenced by western diets, gave meat–usually liver–as the first weaning food. Also, the incidence of allergic reactions to meat is minimal.
Don’t fear fats! Milk and animal fats give energy and also help children build muscle and bone. In addition, the animal fats provide vitamins A & D necessary for protein and mineral assimilation, normal growth and hormone production. Choose a variety of foods so your child gets a range of fats, but emphasize stable saturated fats (yes, that’s right… more on saturated fats in another post), found in butter, meat and coconut oil, and monounsaturated fats, found in avocados and olive oil.
Foods by Age
(I personally don’t introduce these foods until 6 months or later, but I know some do introduce food earlier)
Egg yolk (if tolerated. Preferably from pastured or cage-free chickens)
Rich in choline, cholesterol and other brain-nourishing substances. If baby reacts poorly, try again one month later. The white is the part that most often causes allergic reactions, so don’t give egg whites until after your child turns one. Don’t neglect to put a pinch of salt on the egg yolk, which is actually critical for digestion as well as for brain development. Use unrefined salt to supply a variety of trace minerals. Boil an egg for 3-4 minutes (longer at high-altitudes), peel, discard the white, and mash up yolk with a little unrefined sea salt. (The yolk should be soft and warm, not runny). Small amounts of grated, raw organic liver (which has been frozen 14 days) may be added to the egg yolk after 6 months.
Banana– mashed, for babies who are very mature and seem hungry
Great food for babies because it contains amylase enzymes to digest carbohydrates.
Cod Liver Oil– 1/4 teaspoon high vitamin or 1/2 teaspoon regular, given with an eye dropper. Doubled around 8 months.
Excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA (also important for brain development) as well as vitamins A & D. Use an eye dropper at first; later baby can take it mixed with a little water or fresh orange juice.
Organic Liver— grated and frozen and added to egg yolk
Pureed meats– lamb, turkey, beef, chicken, liver and fish
Cook meat gently in water or homemade stock until completely tender, or use meat from stews, etc… Make sure the meat is cold and it is no bigger than 1-2 inch chunks when you puree. Grind up the meat first, then add water or breastmilk or the natural cooking juices as the liquid.
Soup broth– (chicken, beef, lamb, fish) added to pureed meats and vegetables, or offered as a drink
Fermented foods— small amounts of yogurt, kefir, sweet potato, taro, if desired.
Raw mashed fruits– banana, melon, mangoes, papaya, avocado
Cooked, pureed fruits– organic apricot, peaches, pears, apples, cherries, berries
High pectin fruits like the ones mentioned above should be cooked to break down the pectin which can be very irritating to the digestive tract.
Cooked (steamed) vegetables– zucchini, squash, sweet potato, carrots, beets, with butter or coconut oil (fat provides nutrition to aid in digestion)
Continue to add variety and increase thickness and lumpiness of the foods already given from 4-8 months
Creamed Vegetable Soups
Homemade Stews– all ingredients cut small or mashed
Dairy– cottage cheese, mild harder raw cheese, cream, custards
Finger foods– when baby can grab and adequately chew, such as lightly steamed veggie sticks, milk cheese, avocado chunks, pieces of banana
Cod Liver Oil– increase to 1/2 teaspoon high vitamin or 1 teaspoon regular dose
Over 1 Year
Grains and legumes– properly soaked and cooked
Should be the last food given to babies. This food category has the most potential for causing digestive disturbances or allergies. Babies do not produce the needed enzymes to handle cereals, especially gluten-containing grains like wheat, before the age of one year. Even then, it is a common traditional practice to soak the grains. This process jump-starts the enzymatic activity in the food and begins breaking down some of the harder-to-digest components.) The easiest grains to digest are those without gluten like brown rice. When grains are introduced they should be soaked for at least 24 hours and cooked with plenty of water for a long time. This will make a slightly sour, very thin porridge that can be mixed with other foods.
Nut Butters (peanut, almond, etc…)
Leafy green vegetables– cooked, with butter
Raw salad vegetables– cucumber, tomatoes, etc.
Citrus fruits– fresh, organic
Whole egg– cooked
Further reading resources:
Real Food for Mother and Baby
Wise Traditions Healthy Baby Issue