When everyone is offering up advice—mothers-in-law, strangers, friends — starting your baby on solids can be a stressful experience.
When my daughter was almost 6 months old, I looked around for credible information on starting solids. Dissatisfied with what I found, I decided to research the subject myself. I slowly began to separate fact from fiction. Here’s what I discovered.
Myth #1. “Breast milk provides all the nutrition your baby needs for the first year.” I heard this repeatedly from moms and people everywhere. The theory goes like this: the first year of feeding solids is really only practice – babies get all the nutrition they need from liquids.
Yet at 6 months baby’s iron stores run out and breast milk is low in iron. Zinc is another mineral that is needed from complementary foods around 6 months. According to a 2007 review study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, by 9-11 months babies need to get more than 90 percent of their iron and zinc sources from complementary foods in order to meet their needs!
While more common in developing countries, iron deficiency can cause growth problems and poor intellectual development. Zinc deficiency can cause reduced growth and possible growth stunting. A study looking at 9-month-old breastfed babies in the US revealed that 30 percent had lower than recommended levels of both iron and zinc.
Myth #2. “Meats should be introduced after 9 months.” I’ve heard this from both health professionals and moms. But everything I read, including statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics, says meats actually make an ideal first food at 6 months. Why? They are rich in iron and zinc, the same to micronutrients babies older than 6 months need from complementary foods.
The truth is we’ve evolved from meat-eating humans and babies’ growing bodies need key nutrients from such foods. It is believed that hunters and gatherers used to pre-chew meat and give it to their babies. That doesn’t mean a meat-free diet is bad for your child, just talk to your pediatrician to see if supplementation is necessary.
Myth #3. “You should introduce vegetables before fruits so your baby doesn’t prefer sweet foods.” I’ve found nothing to back up this statement. Actually, there is little evidence that any specific sequence of introducing food is necessary at all. Instead, feeding solids should be based on baby’s nutritional needs along with a dose of common sense. Most babies accept a variety of foods early on so parents should take advantage of this by repeatedly trying new items.
Myth #4. “If you wait a long time to introduce highly allergic foods, you’ll decrease your baby’s risk of developing a food allergy.” Up until recently many health professionals (including me) believed this to be true. Yet a recent report from the AAP shows there is little evidence that waiting to introduce certain foods does any good in the food allergy department. According to the AAP report:
–There is little evidence that a baby starting solids at a later time (beyond 4-6 months) helps to prevent food allergies – and that includes highly allergenic foods. If your baby is at increased risk for food allergies, work with your pediatrician on food introduction.
–Infants with a strong family history for food allergies can decrease the risk of developing atopic dermatitis (eczema) and cow milk allergy by breastfeeding for at least 4 months.
–Exclusive breastfeeding for at least 3 months protects against wheezing in early life.
Myth #5: “Babies need baby food.” Remember, babies got along for centuries without jarred baby food. That’s not saying that these items aren’t convenient, they just aren’t a necessity. Using the food you buy for the rest of the family and altering the texture to match baby’s development is easier and cheaper. And by 10 months a majority of babies prefer finger foods to pureed items. In the scheme of things, the baby food/pureed stage is really short.
For references and more information on feeding your baby solids see our Infant Feeding Guide.
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