No More Mush! My Introduction To Baby Led Feeding
Last month I attended a healthy baby event at my local baby boutique, Saf & Benjamin, and listened to a talk by Brittney Kirton, of Life Stages Feeding, on the interesting topic of baby led feeding. What intrigued me right away is that Brittney is an International Board Certified Lacation Consultant and a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. Seriously an impressive combo that I think go so well together. After learning a bit about baby led feeding from her I knew I’d want to interview her more on this topic.
Now that my little Josie is 6 months old starting solids is on my mind but I haven’t seriously jumped on it just yet. Back with Ben I was so excited to start other food and rushed right into it and started just after he was 5 months old. We skipped the boxed cereals and went for mashed banana with a bit of breast milk added for consistency.
Benjamin meets his dinner, February 2009
At the time, I was pretty much the odd one out with giving my baby something other than cereal as a first solid. Soon we were mushing up sweet potatoes and peas and my husband made a fancy puree of chicken and sweet potatoes.
This time around I had been hearing a lot about something called baby led feeding (or baby led weaning) and was curious about the ‘no more mush’ idea behind starting babies on solids. I love how ideas change so quickly over the years; from feeding your baby rice cereals at 4 months old, to waiting until they were 6 months old, to skipping the processed boxed foods all together.
Interview with Brittney Kirton IBCLC, RHN, owner of Life Stages Feeding
Can you tell me a little bit about what baby led feeding looks like.
The idea behind Baby led weaning (or baby led feeding) is that babies are no longer given purees as their first introductory food. Instead, babies are given prepared foods in a solid state. This may be small pieces of cooked vegetables, fruit, whole grains or protein.
Babies used to be started on purees at 4 months of age but recent research has shown that delaying foods until 6 months of age, at which point the gastrointestinal tract is more mature and better for the infant’s digestive health and even future GI health. Because of this delay in starting solids foods until the GI tract is more mature, there is no longer a need for pureeing foods.
A word of caution, because you are giving your baby small pieces of food they need to chew and swallow, it is very important you stay with your baby for the duration of the feed to watch for choking. Also, because your baby is feeding him/herself, be prepared for a bit of a mess! I recommend a mat under the highchair to catch fallen pieces of food.
*As a parent how do I know when to start introducing solid food to my baby?
Around 6 months of age, your baby will start to show signs that he/she is ready for solid foods. This may look like the following:
– Your baby will be very interested in the foods your family is eating. He/she may watch in amazement as you bring the food to your mouth and chew or reach for your food.
– Your baby can self regulate meal size and will turn away from the breast or bottle when full.
– The baby must be able to sit up unsupported.
– The tongue thrust reflex has diminished. Babies are born with a natural reflex that when something is place in their mouth, they thrust the tongue outward to spit out, instead of inward to swallow. This reflex is to prevent choking and diminishes around 6 months of age.
If your baby can complete this checklist, they are probably ready to start solids. If your baby has a medical condition or was born pre-term, you may want to discuss special dietary restrictions with a pediatrician.
*How much food, other than breast milk, does an infant under a year really need?
Breast milk will be the main component of your baby’s diet for a year and maybe beyond. When introducing solids, start with the equivalent of 1-2 tablespoons 2-3 times per day. Some babies do well with this amount and some will take less, which is ok. As your baby starts eating more solid foods, their breast milk intake will naturally decrease. This is supposed to be a fun learning experience for your baby. Listen to their cues and let them guide you as to what is best for them.
*Following baby led weaning, do we still need to follow the old way of introducing new foods to our babies? Vegetables first than fruits, one type of food at a time type of format?
It is very important to introduce one new food at a time to watch for allergies and reactions. Offer a new food for 5 days before offering another new food. Check for rashes or spots on your baby’s body and beware of changes in activity level and mood.
In my opinion, it’s best to introduce vegetables before fruit so babies develop a taste for less sweet foods, but it is not necessary. A food introduction chart (what foods to introduce when) can be obtained from a Medical or Naturopathic doctor, Certified Lactation consultant, or from a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitian.
*From a nutritional stand point, what do you think about giving grains, like infant rice cereal, as a baby’s first solid?
Brown rice is a good first food for a baby, but infant rice cereal is a processed food. Your baby will receive more nutrients when given brown rice (or other whole grains such as quinoa or millet) in its natural cooked state.
*Recently I had a discussion with a friend, who is currently exclusively breastfeeding her 3 month olds twins, about possibly postponing other foods until the babies were closer to a year. I found this idea really interesting and have a few friends who have also delayed solid foods until the 8 or 9 month mark. As a lactation consultant and a registered holistic nutritionist, what are your thoughts on exclusive breastfeeding past the 6 months of age?
There are some circumstances that warrant delaying foods until after 6 months. If there is a high incidence of allergies in your family history, if your baby was born pre-term, or if your baby has an illness delaying solids might be a good option. One reason for this is that babies don’t reach adult levels of certain digestive enzymes until 7 months of age and bile salts (for fat digestion) until 6-9 months of age. For many babies, the digestive enzymes present at 6 months are sufficient to digest the small amounts of food they are receiving at that time.
From a breastfeeding perspective, delaying solids will protect milk supply, decrease chances of pregnancy, reduce the risk of breast cancer for mom, and increased immune protection for the child.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding until at least 6 months of age and breast milk in the diet until at least 2 years. The decision of when to introduce solids to your baby is a personal one. What may have worked for others may not work for your family. If you have any questions or concerns related to introducing solids, contact a qualified health care provider with experience in infant nutrition.
Thank you Brittney for giving me the chance to interview you and learn a bit more about baby led feeding. I’m really excited to start this feeding experience with Josie. For more information about Brittney’s company Life Stages Feeding out her website here.