There are many things I did differently with my second child – I birthed at home, didn’t pass my baby around for others to hold, didn’t circumcise, began elimination communication/pottying earlier than I did with my first baby, didn’t use any “contraptions” (infant seat, crib, swing, etc.), I wore him constantly from birth, I skipped the infant “bucket style” carseat and went with a convertible one and offered food a lot later – a week or two after he turned one.
Basically, my first time around at motherhood was my practice round. I learned so much between baby 1 and baby 2 and as my confidence in my mothering grew, I was able to really follow my instincts instead of the typical guidelines in our society, including offering solid foods around the age of 6 months.
With my first, I had read about “baby-led weaning” and it really resonated with me. I knew that when he turned 6 months old, I was going to start offering some solids, of course along with breastmilk (I had learned the phrase “food before one is just for fun!”).
I loved the idea of letting him experience the tastes and textures of foods in his own way – not with me putting a spoonful of pureed veggies in his mouth for him. It made sense to me to let his eating abilities develop on his terms and allow him to go at his own pace. I knew that I wasn’t going to offer rice cereal, as was the very common recommendation I read and heard often. As a very health-minded person, I knew that there weren’t any nutritional benefits of rice cereal and I definitely didn’t want it taking the place of the liquid gold nutrition of breastmilk.
I read, researched and came to the decision that I would offer mainly fruits and veggies and let the process unfold naturally. Looking back, I’d say that I’m totally proud of the choices I made and it was a great experience.”Baby-led solids” is definitely the way to go.
I’m thankful that my husband has been so supportive in all of my (many) offbeat, alternative choices (and I found that helping him to learn along with me was huge!).
When I became a mom for the second time, it was all a very different experience because I was no longer totally “green,” unexperienced and anxious about everything. One of my favorite quotes, by Maya Angelou, is “When you know better, you do better.” This has certainly been a theme in my life of motherhood. I gleaned so much knowledge and information in the three years between my births and felt confident in following my instincts to make the choices that felt right for my family, not to just do what I thought I was “supposed to.” When the 6 month mark rolled around for my second baby, I wasn’t even thinking of offering him solid foods yet. Our breastfeeding relationship was perfect and he was receiving all the nourishment his body needed, I felt no need to disrupt that by introducing solid foods.
Why the “6 month” milestone as “time for solids”? As stated in the excellent article “The Virgin Gut: a note for parents.”
“…until around 6 months of age, it is “open”. This means the spaces between the cells of the small intestine will allow large molecules to pass directly into their bloodstream. Consequently, as well as the beneficial antibodies in breastmilk passing into baby’s bloodstream, allergy-triggering proteins from other foods, disease-causing pathogens and other nasties can also pass through.”
So around 6 months of age, a baby’s digestive system is more mature and said to be developmentally ready to handle solid foods. But does this mean we should rush into feeding our breastfed babies food just because we think we’re supposed to?
It didn’t feel right to me so I decided to listen to those feelings and simply hold off. I know that most babies, and I’m sure including mine (since he has a big brother he likes to emulate) start to grab for food off of others’ plates and may show huge interest in eating…but keep in mind that babies would put a bug in their mouth if it was in front of them at that age (because hello, it’s a constant battle of keeping everything out of their little teething mouths!).
I just distracted him with other things during times of eating. I remember a wooden spoon being one of his favorite toys. I knew that all the breastmilk my son was drinking was providing all the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, calories, fats, proteins and carbohydrates he needed, as well as protecting him from illness and allergies. My supply was excellent and my baby was healthy and happy. Also, let’s be honest – it was just so easy to be able to nurse and only pack snacks for one kid (a very different story now, with my boys being 6 and 3!)
When I’m helping new moms/parents as a doula and La Leche League leader, I am very aware that everyone has different feelings and beliefs. What’s right for one family may not feel right for another. My goal in sharing my experiences is not to tell parents that “my way” is right but to empower and encourage them to research, learn and make their decisions based on instinct and what’s right for them! Parenting isn’t “one size fits all.” We, and our children, are all SO different and only we can say what’s right for ourselves. The important thing is to listen to your gut, go with what feels right after you’ve learned all the facts. When you make your choices based on that, you will be authentic, your confidence will blossom and your family will thrive.
If you do introduce solid foods earlier than the age of 1, it certainly doesn’t mean you will harm your child’s digestive system or ruin your breastfeeding relationship. My first son slowly began solids at 6 months and went on to nurse into his fifth year! He’s never really been sick and has an awesome appetite and loves a wide variety of foods.
When talking about starting solids, I prefer to use the term “baby-led solids” as opposed to “baby-led weaning.”
Why? Because when we hear or use the word “weaning” it tends to create the thought that we are actively trying to wean our child from the breast. This isn’t the case here, though keep in mind that when your baby begins eating foods, they are technically beginning the weaning process in a way (but of course you can and will continue to nurse for as long as you and baby like, ideally until the child outgrows the need.)
10 reasons to love the concept of baby-led solids:
- Your child will benefit from excellent gut and digestive health, both now and long-term.
- You and your child will most likely continue breastfeeding longer.
- Encouraging your child to feed themself builds and boosts confidence.
- Your little one will love exploring tastes and textures.
- It’s fun and makes for excellent photos!
- You will have less picky eaters who enjoy a wide variety of foods.
- Your child will know to how use utensils!
- By including your little one at the table, you’ll instill a strong value of family meal time.
- Following your child’s lead lets the process unfold naturally.
- It’s easy and inexpensive!
Some things to keep in mind:
- When determining when to start offering solid foods to baby, let your instincts guide you! There are many benefits to prolonging an exclusive breastmilk diet and holding off on introducing solids until closer to the first year (or beyond).
- When you feel right about offering your baby food, start with simple things from your own plate (mainly focusing on fruits and veggies).
- If your little one is receiving their nourishment through breastmilk, its all about experimenting and fun! Keep it stress-free and simple (and take lots of pictures!). It can be a little messy but cleaning up is a common theme of motherhood, a towel or tablecloth under baby’s chair can be helpful.
- Try a high chair that can go right up to the table so baby can join the family! The Stokke Trip Trapp is a well-loved option but there are others out there.
- Offer breastmilk before and after solids.
- There can be roadblocks to doing things differently than others. Sometimes people don’t understand our choices as “natural-minded mamas.” It can be especially hard when our partners and family members don’t support us. I found it helpful to share information about why you believe what you do, a little education goes a long way! Having a heart-to-heart, honest conversation can be a huge help also. I love this article for tips on handling the criticism of others.
Some great ideas for first foods:
- Cold carrot and celery sticks for teething babies (always monitor for chocking or cook until soft)
- Steamed broccoli
- Foods that are “baby-fist sized” and easy to hold
- The list could go on but basically, whatever feels right to you (keeping common sense and safety in mind and avoiding salt, sugar, honey, shellfish, undercooked eggs, processed foods, etc.)!
Some of my favorite resources:
- Baby-Led Weaning
- “Baby Led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food” by Gill Rapely and Tracey Murkett
- Starting Solids on Kelly Mom
- Starting Solids on LLL
- Virgin Gut on Alpha Parent
- Why I’m Delaying Solids on Just Making Noise
- Baby-Led Weaning on Mothering