Finally, we made it. Six months. This milestone feels big, somehow bigger than the others. Life is starting to feel light again, and we have somehow transitioned from the deep and dark room of newborn land to a much sweeter space of existence. With all the light and joy that this milestone brings, introducing food may be one of the bigger highlights. Breast Milk has been the cornerstone for this human’s existence. And for good reason. Full of fatty acids, antibodies, nutrients, protein, and fat, it truly is the perfect food. It also contains quite a bit of sugar, making your baby’s introduction to food a sweet, satiating one. Have you ever wondered why Breast Milk is so sweet? I used to believe that it was full of sugar to send the signal to our brain that it was a safe food, and yes, please eat more: positive feedback. And while this still rings true, a deeper understanding leads me to include the role of sugar being necessary for feeding our gut microbiome, the true cornerstone for health. Our gut health affects our mood, our ability to digest food, assimilate nutrients, and eliminate waste and toxins. Our gut health can be a huge indicator for which diseases we will be susceptible to later in life, including diabetes, obesity, asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders, and more. 90% of serotonin (the happiness hormone) is made in the digestive tract, over 70% of our immune system resides in the gut, and at birth we are starting from scratch. Newborns have a gut free from bacteria, which begins to populate with hundreds of thousands of microbes, critical bacteria that will have lasting impacts on your child’s health. These bacteria need one thing to thrive and survive. Sugar. Which is conveniently found in perfect proportions in Breast Milk, the perfect baby food. But there does come a time when your baby’s nutritional needs will increase, and solids will need to join the party.
Introducing solid food too early can increase the risk for developing allergies and intolerances. Your baby’s digestive tract is not equipped to handle most foods until around 6 months, when digestive enzymes begin to develop. Without these enzymes, your baby is unable to digest most whole foods. In Ayurvedic tradition, babies are given small amounts of spices (cumin, coriander, cinnamon, amchur, sumac) on the tongue to help increase these necessary enzymes and begin to build-up the digestive fire.
As intestines begin to mature, they secrete the protein immunoglobulin A (IgA), which acts like a protective paint for your baby’s developing digestive tract. IgA not only coats the digestive tract, it prevents the passage of harmful allergens into your baby’s system. This protective IgA exists in very low numbers in the early months and does not reach its peak production until 7 months of age. As the digestive tract matures and develops, the body is better able to become nutritionally selective, filtering out offending allergens, making this a great time to start introducing some gentle, safe whole-food options.
While many parents introduce oatmeal and rice cereal right around this time, it may not be as beneficial as once thought. Around 6 months of age babies nutritional needs go up, including iron and zinc, neither of which exist naturally in fortified rice cereal. Also, these tiny digestive systems are still developing, and with limited enzymes available, grains can be tough for babies to digest. In fact, it can take over 2 years for the enzyme amylase to really kick into gear, which is needed to break down both rice and oatmeal. If there is no amylase, there is no break-down, leading to discomfort and irritation for the wee ones. No thanks, I’d rather introduce REAL unprocessed foods, foods that contain all the necessary enzymes and minerals to benefit my babies growing nutritional needs. And I’ll take that without the discomfort and irritation.
So you are 6 months in and your baby is eager to eat some REAL food. What should come first? Surveying other cultures around the globe, the answer isn’t clear-cut. There are many different approaches that share the underlying theme of introducing REAL food. In Oceania, the Yafars chew up fish and then feed it along with liver to their babies. The first foods for Inuit babies include seaweed and “nuk-tuk” (seal blubber) and in Puerto Rico, common first foods include potatoes, mashed boiled plantains, rice, mangos, and many other tropical vegetables and fruits. In Indonesia, babies are given rice pudding mixed with liver and veggies, and in Japan babies are given miso soup, and raw fish is given to babies under 2 years of age. Herbal teas are frequently given to babies around the world, and all of these variations in infant feeding help to show us that there is never just one way to introduce solids. Make your babies first bite flavorful and nutrient dense, and choose real, organic and non-refined options.
Here are a few ideas to get you going:
When introducing new foods or spices, wait 3 days between new introductions, and be mindful of any food allergy symptoms.
Common Food Allergy Symptoms Include:
1. diarrhea/ constipation
3. swollen face
4. rash/ skin irritation
Common Allergenic Foods:
3. peanuts & tree nuts
Foods To Be Delayed Until At Least 1 Year Of Age:
2. Nuts/Nut butter (There are mixed reviews on this. Some studies say introduce early and some say wait. There is no definitive answer.)
4. Cows milk. Between 9-12 months, fermented dairy may be ok. The fermentation breaks down the milk lactose into simple sugars, which are more easily absorbed.
First foods to introduce:
Banana: Conveniently contain amylase, an enzyme needed to break down carbohydrates that is not present yet in babies digestive systems.
Pear: Known to be anti-allergenic, pears also offer digestive support in alleviating your baby’s constipation. Pears (cooked) are known to be very gentle on a baby’s stomach, making it a good choice for those with reflux.
Avocado: One of nature’s perfect foods for babies, this gem is easily digested and contains over 25 essential nutrients including iron, copper, magnesium, and essential fatty acids that help the body to function optimally. Avocados also help the body to assimilate and absorb these key nutrients, truly optimizing your baby’s nutrition.
Nettle: Introducing nettles provides your baby with a good boost of iron, not to mention a whole tool-box full of vitamins and minerals. Nettle also contains acetylcholine, which is necessary for optimal brain development, and essential fatty acids, making this earthy green superfood a true whole body vitalizer. Try pureeing fresh nettle leaves with a touch of breastmilk (until smoothly processed), or simply make a tea.
For more information on introducing solids, and some clever ideas on how to get the essential vitamins and minerals into your growing baby, join me for Introducing Solids; Baby’s First Bite at the Thrive Birth Center. April 16th, 12-2 pm