Stages of Eating: Food Introductions for Babies

Copyright by Katy Wallace 2014

Be an observer and honor your baby’s individuality
The key to introducing solid foods is to let babies take it at their own pace. Just like there is no one perfect diet for every individual, there is no perfect way to introduce foods for all babies. You will be most successful introducing foods healthfully if you become aware of how different foods affect your baby. Keep the foods that seem to go well and change your routine when foods don’t work. You’ll want to remember what foods you offer and be aware of ill effects. Most food sensitivities are cerebral (Kensington 1997), meaning that they affect us (and our babies) mentally. If you notice that your child is moody or having sleep problems, then it could be related to what she is eating. You’ll also want to look out for any of the following items as an indication that a dietary upgrade would be helpful:
• Digestive issues
• Eczema or other skin issues
• Frequent colds or infections
• Chronic health issues

The good news is that babies usually outgrow a lot of bad food reactions within the first three years as their digestion strengthens. In fact, if you think there is a bad reaction, you could wait 6 weeks and try again just to be sure. If you notice your baby doesn’t handle a food very well, chances are, she will outgrow the sensitivity with time, especially if the food is easy to digest like fruits and vegetables. Reactions to foods that are difficult to digest like gluten and dairy may be harder to overcome.

When letting your baby explore new foods, you might be able to see the food reactions clearly if you wait 2-3 days in between food introductions. Note that there are some special cases, like dairy, that will take 2.5 weeks after removal for the reaction to clear up (for example, diaper rash caused by a dairy sensitivity would not go away until at least 2 weeks after you remove it). There are some food sensitivity blood tests, like the ALCAT (https://www.humannaturellc.com/Services/) that are available with holistic health practitioners. Be aware that these tests are not comprehensive and there are reactions to foods that may not be measurable if the immune system is not involved (a food could cause a lot of gas and pain but you might not have an antibody to it).


How to Begin
Most babies generally begin to take less breastmilk after 6 months of age and are ready to try foods. We say most babies are ready, but other babies might take a lot longer (in the range of 8-14 months). Many babies mimic mealtime activities and express interest in food before six months. However, it is now widely accepted that food introductions before six months of age are likely to result in negative impacts on a child’s health for numerous reasons (Rapley and Murkett 2010). Most experts agree that when the baby can sit up without support and put food into her mouth all by herself, she is ready to explore solids.
At around 6-10 months of age, it can be helpful to start foods like bananas and avocados. Think of solids as a complement to breastmilk, rather than a replacement. Other helpful new foods include apples, pears and carrots. Experiment with other cooked and pureed vegetables and fruits. Home-made broths and herbal teas may also be introduced. Babies generally have weaker digestive systems so I suggest these foods because they require the least digestive energy for most people. A daily child’s probiotic will also improve absorption of key nutrients and strengthen immunity at the same time.
There are some foods that you’ll want to be careful about. Overuse of fruit (especially citrus) and fruit- and vegetable-juices can weaken the digestion. Many times this can show up as a chronic runny nose. Too many bananas and sweet potatoes can lead to constipation. With constipation, cooked pears and pre-soaked prunes will help. Sometimes high-starch foods are craved (grains, potatoes, etc). For a child with gas, constipation or diarrhea, or one who is especially irritable, these foods should be avoided entirely or at least pre-chewed by a parent. Grains may also be pre-soaked and rinsed before normal cooking to help convert the complex carbohydrates to simple ones. I generally discourage people from rice cereals and even home-cooked grains for the first year. Given the limited research available on the digestive secretions of babies and the optimal foods for children, your best bet is going to be to pay attention to how your baby handles grains and other foods Traditional cultures typically wait until a child’s first molar or about 18 months before introducing grains (Pitchford 2002). If you choose to delay grain then cooked carrots, squashes, sweet potatoes, are alternatives. There are numerous reasons to consider a gluten-free approach for your kids as well including fewer cavities and disease prevention (Jaminet and Jaminet 2012, Davis 2011).
Animal foods like meat, fish and eggs are beneficial for babies early on because they promote healthy gut flora, are iron-rich, and good for building tissue (Gates 2006, Pitchford 2002, Planck 2009). In my naturopathy practice, I find babies and kids are often protein-deprived. This will show up in many ways including: chronic sinus congestion or other signs of blood sugar imbalance, weak immunity, frequent tantrums, and sleep troubles. I have had numerous parents report that their children started sleeping more soundly once animal broths or pre-chewed meats were offered to the child at the appropriate age (over 8 months in most cases). The easiest forms of animal protein would be in a stew form or pre-chewed. All animal foods should be organic and grassfed and/or free-range. For families that avoid animal foods, then pre-soaked protein-rich options like seaweeds, legumes, and seeds may be offered.

As a child approaches the age of 1.5-2 years her digestive system continues to get stronger. Regular grains, legumes, seeds and starchy vegetables may be introduced. The foods should be sprouted in order to eliminate the phytic acid which can deplete minerals. Sprouting converts the complex carbs to more usable simple carbs and also reduces the amount of lectin in the foods which is responsible for many inflammatory reactions such as eczema or digestive sensitivities (Jaminet and Jaminet 2012). Sprouting is an easy process of covering the grains in a container with water for 6 hours or more. Drain and then cook according to recipe.

What about baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is an approach to food introductions that encourages the baby to serve herself without much regard for conventional stages of food introduction. Proponents of baby-led weaning claim that when a baby can choose foods herself, she will learn to eat a wider variety of foods and also choose foods that intuitively may be best suited for her (Rapley and Murkett 2010). While a child should never be forced to eat a food, a baby with food issues (for example, sleep issues stemming from digestive discomfort even with a hearty appetite) will do best on simple meals and purees more in line with conventional staging. In such a case, the baby can still be given 2-3 choices per meal and spoons can be pre-loaded for the baby to feed herself with traditional purees.

Stages timeline:
0-6 breastmilk, probiotics, and natural remedies as necessary
6+ first foods: avocados, cooked and pureed fruit and vegetables, home-made broths
6-18 mos, once first foods are well-tolerated:
• Sprouts of grains, legumes and other seeds (the carbs are turned into sugars)
• Milks made from the sprouts of grains/legumes/seeds
• Low starch-vegetables and small amounts of all sea vegetables
• Fruits, avocados
• Pre-chewed or pureed animal proteins (eggs, fish, poultry, lamb, beef, etc) and animal broths

Resources:
Davis, W. 2011. Wheat Belly. Rodale Press.
Gates, D. 2006. The Body Ecology Diet. Decature: B.E.D. Publications.
Jaminet, P. and S.C. Jaminet. 2012. The Perfect Health Diet. Scribner.
Pitchford, P. 2002. Healing With Whole Foods. North Atlantic Books.
Planck, N. 2009. Real Food for Mother and Baby. New York: Bloomsbury.
Rapley, G. and Murkett, T. 2010. Baby-Led Weaning: New York:The Experiment.
Twigg, S. 1997. The Kensington Way. Diane Pub. Co.
Bio:
Katy Wallace is Mom to Marian and Allison and a traditional Naturopath and Registered Yoga Teacher at Human Nature, LLC in Madison, Wisconsin. She teaches people to take control of their own health by eating better and utilizing natural remedies to support the healing process.