Why infant feeding plans are failing first-time parents…

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Some people call me too conservative. Others think I’m way out there.  Depending on where one fits on the spectrum, I suppose either of these perspectives could be correct. That’s because the infant feeding plans, guidelines, and opinions differ so extremely from expert to expert. And this is one of the reasons I feel that “feeding plans” are failing parents—especially first-timers.

First of all let me just say: I love giving baby food consultations. I love helping a mom learn all the tools for making her own foods. I love explaining what quinoa is [chuckle] and how to pronounce it.  I enjoy the challenge of trying to meld together all these eating plans that are out there and the questions that stem from them.   I try to see both sides of the issues and explain them with all fairness, but time and time again I’m met at the door by a first-time mom who has concern and fear written all over her face. IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE THAT WAY. So let’s take a look at how we’ve gotten to this point and what we can positively do about it.

1) When to start?  Some say 4 months, some say 6 months.  Everyone has an opinion. Many seem to judge.  Truth is that some babies are ready earlier than others. And while I maintain that the closer to 6 months you wait to introduce solids the better, it does not mean that I won’t help a parent with a 4 month old who’s eager to start. It means that the way forward may be a bit different, and slower,  from those who waited until 6 months.

2)  Introducing grains?  Cereals used to be recommended in a bottle from 3 months to encourage sleeping through the night. This school of thought has long been dismissed and often starting with an instant cereal is hard on baby’s tummy leading to constipation and other health issues. It’s better to wait until 6 months and use real, whole grains that have been ground to a powder & cooked. (anyone wanting the full story on this, see my webpage “Ground Grains”) Others want to wait until even later, some saying no grains until 1 year. It’s a personal choice and parents should do more research on the subject as far as pros and cons. If you have a baby who struggles with colic or reflux, then maybe waiting is the best choice for you.  If you have a hungry monster on your hands, then maybe some grains will help fulfill that appetite.  The only firm stance I will take is to steer clear of the instant cereals, especially the flavored ones.  There is no nutritional value in instant cereals—that’s why they’re so easy!

3)   Introducing High-Allergy Foods?  It’s been recommended for years to wait on foods such as egg whites, peanut butter, tree nuts, shellfish, and to slowly introduce proteins in small amounts.  Some areas of the world recommend waiting on berries (strawberries especially) as the allergic reaction is quite dangerous.  Recently I’ve learned that there is a new school of thought encouraging the introduction of these foods earlier.  I would encourage, STRONGLY ENCOURAGE, you do your research before you buy into this idea.  Make sure the science behind the logic is just that….logical.  No one wants their baby to be the exception to the new rule.  I personally would never encourage early introduction of high allergy foods. But if you so choose, be sure to have a good emergency number and an Epi-Pen close by, as the allergic reactions to such things as peanut butter can be quite severe.

4)  Introducing Textures?  I’ve heard a number of experts relay the message that if you miss the window on introducing textures to baby, he/she will have sensory and gag issues and not move on to eating solid foods.  Again, I find that all babies are different, but this window is much wider than insisting that by 7-8 months all babies must be eating textured foods.  I know this because I have two happy, healthy eaters who had pureed foods until they could grab and eat their own foods.  I used real foods, so the texture did vary naturally.  But honestly, if the food processor was already dirty, I was going to puree everything before I washed it!  Baby will start grasping and eating finger foods at about 8 months. If you notice a real resistance to this, then seek some additional guidance, but for the most part babies will naturally want more texture by 10 months.

5) Introducing Meats?  I’ve also heard that it’s a must to introduce meats around 5-6 months.  This is complete preference.  I recommend starting with veggies (avo is the best first food EVER!!!) and then slowly moving to fruits (but always with a higher ratio of veg to fruit). Then some organic grains, legumes, seeds (all ground and cooked).  I chose to skip meats in the purees.  I’m not a vegetarian, I just didn’t like the idea of pureed meats.  Because I’m from the school of thought that “If I won’t finish it, then I won’t feed it to them” I felt that I would wait on meats until they could grab pieces themselves. So I did.  They ate lentils, quinoa, tofu, beans, chick peas, etc. in their foods for protein. I have two great eaters, one likes meat more than the other, but it has nothing to do with their early solids.

6) “But my pediatrician said”….”But my sister said”…”But this new Baby-Guru said”…

Parents, I’m giving you permission to do differently than what was recommended by your pediatrician, from you sister, and from the leading expert that you just paid R400 for a new book and recipe planner.   If they don’t like that I’m writing this, then so be it.  Your baby is your responsibility. Your baby is a blank slate—you decide what he/she becomes.  Your baby will be fine, even if you don’t listen to your pediatrician, your sister, or the new Baby-Guru.  Your baby will be fine, even if you don’t listen to me (and as long as he/she eats REAL foods ).

The bottom line is this: the availability of information over the internet airwaves has made it a madhouse for first-time parents.  We suddenly feel like we have to know everything, right now.  We’re bombarded with “new ideas” – “new techniques” – “new plans” that are all just results of our need to know the one right answer. Let’s face it, we’ll do anything to just get one good night’s sleep because everyone knows that sleep deprivation is the best known torture in the world, and no one told us we’d feel quite this desperate for just One.Good.Night’s.Sleep. But the truth is, there is no “one right answer.”  This has led me to update my website and encourage my followers to read (not necessarily follow, but to add to their researched information) the eating plan that I recommend to parents who come to me seeking advice on solids.  It’s a “Day Zero” approach, trying to meet the needs of as many people as possible. It includes “Options” along the way. These are just that…options. There is nothing that says that your baby will be one way or the other if you choose these options or not.  What my plan boils down to is using REAL foods, WHOLE foods, in an appropriate order so that it will be easy on baby’s tummy while developing new and healthy tastes for real food and textures for transitioning to a healthy eater.

I’ll leave you with this to think about:

After a horribly challenging time with my first-born son, I was adamant to know every last ingredient that entered my second-born daughter’s body.  So I breastfed exclusively and when it was time for solids, I made every bit of food that went in her body.  We moved 3 times during her few months of eating solids, and it was winter in New York State. This amounted to limited options and limited time and unlimited hecticness. She basically had about 6-7 veggies, 5 grains, lentils, chickpeas, & tofu and then a few sparse fruits here and there. With these items I made an array of healthy and natural baby food for her.  They were all pureed (see my note on the dirty food processor above) until she could grab pieces of tofu and chickpeas.  At about 10 months she started eating pieces of meat from my plate and by 11 months she was eating finger foods mildly spiced with cumin, basil, onions, etc.  She’s an amazing eater to this day.

* The moral of the story is: Don’t overthink it—instead enjoy it!

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