Sunday, 18 September 2011

Baby-led solids, best for baby, best for lazy parents

Or baby-led weaning, although I prefer the term baby led solids as to me 'weaning' sounds like cessation of breastfeeding rather than complimenting it.

I have decided to write this blog piece to clear up a lot of confusion around the whole mush vs finger food debate - so many people spread countless myths about when they feel children are ready for solids and a lot of health professionals are none the wiser either. Many Mothers do not have the time to research the topic fully so I am hoping to water down what they need to know and more importantly why they need to know it.

Ok here are the most common reasons for a mother choosing to start solids early:
  • waking at night from 4-6 months
  • watching Mum and others eat
  • feeding more (day as well as night - especially at 4 months)
  • because a friend/relative/health professional told them too (yes even health professionals get it wrong)
  • because baby is big
  • because baby is small
  • because baby has stopped gaining so much weight 
There are more, yet I think this covers the main ones!

Lets look at calorie content in milk vs mush...

Ok, milk whether that be breastmilk or formula is calorie rich. Each ounce of breastmilk is around 22 calories and each ounce of formula is around 20 calories. An ounce of pureed carrot is only 7 kcal, baby rice is around 20 calories for 2 tsp and an ounce of water and potatoes are only around 14 calories per ounce - you can see more here on this Kellymom link.

So as you can see, most of the foods we feed our babies are no higher in calories that the milk we provide and in all fairness if you look at the fat content in that link much lower in fat than milk. This kind of negates the reasons behind slow weight gain, needing to bulk them up (small babies), fill them up (large babies) and most of the reasons why health professionals advise early introductions of solid foods (weight gain issues).

So why is my 3/4/5 month old baby starting to feed more and/or also beginning to wake at night or require more night feeds?

Babies have regular growth and developmental spurts. Some will have big one at four months, some earlier at 3 months and some later at 5 months, so it is very common that babies need more feeds or sleep less well at this time. If you look back to the point, solids are unlikely to help this, as they will probably have less fat/calories and therefore could end up prolonging a growth spurt. This is a great link on surviving growth spurts well worth a read. Basically the best thing you can do if breastfeeding is feed, feed, feed and if you bottle feed, increase the amount per feed, you will find the manufacturers normally do this at 4 months anyway.

Is it harmful to introduce solids before 6 months?

The short answer is, it could be depending on your child...lets have a look at breastfed babies first.

When a baby is born their gut is perforated meaning bad bacteria/proteins can go through the gut wall, breastmilk coats the gut and prevents this happening, by about 6 months the gut is more or less formed which is why exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months is so important - people call this the 'virgin gut' and introducing anything other than breastmilk in this time can affect this, when things pass through the gut this can cause allergies and infections.

Formula fed babies are less at risk of early introduction of solids as they no longer have virgin guts so in that respect the risk of allergies and infection is already there. However, formula is much better tailored to your babies needs than jars of baby food so it is advisable to lay off the solids until 6 months.

There are other risks of early introduction of solids which I will explain further.

Will feeding my baby solids early make them obese?

There is no guarantee that early solids will make your child obese but the research shows they are more likely to be. Feeding a baby solids before they are ready can stretch their little tummies so they feel stuffed, this can then make it harder for them to know when to understand they are full. However, it largely depends on what is fed and more importantly how much.  

How do I know my baby is getting enough calories?

As explained earlier, breast/formula milk is rich in calories and fat, babies can survive on milk alone for the first year but it is recommended that you introduce complimentary food from 6 months. This need to be nutritious and iron rich. If you baby seems very hungry, more milk should be enough.

What are the real signs of baby being ready for food?

  • Sitting without support
  • Hold their head fully
  • Able to pick up food, take it their mouth, bite and swallow 
This shows it is really a developmental issue as opposed to a sleeping/growth issue. This is partially protective, babies able to do all of the above are unlikely to choke. It also makes sense if you think of other primates who do not puree their carrots, monkey's start on solid foods from the day they steal a banana from their mum.

Is there any reason to spoon feed?

Babies are very good at knowing what they need, if you offer your baby a range of foods from 6 months onwards they will know what they need and can cope with eating and what they cannot. There is no real reason to spoon feed although, I know some mothers do prefer to feed yogurt/cereal by hand to create less mess, if you decide to do this its important to stop feeding as soon as baby is not interested and leave a little space between spoon fulls. 

My baby is 6 months and will not eat solid foods I put in front of them - should I spoon feed instead?

Like all developmental milestones, some babies will be capable earlier than others. From my own experience, my daughter was no eating much solids until almost a year, yet she still had the same amount of milk feeds (about 8-10 a day) as she did from about 4 months, the important thing to remember is that adding solids is to compliment milk no replace it.

Where can I learn more about baby-led solids?

Here is a list of resources about delaying solids and also further information:

Dr Sears 
Baby Led Weaning