I recently wrote this on Venice’s Baby Led Weaning blog:

We planned to offer solids when my kids were a year old. We’ve never done baby food or mush.

At 11.5 months my daughter found a strawberry in our delivered food bucket and sucked it dry! That evening we gave her a portion of supper and she started eating from there on her own.

My son started eating food about the same time, maybe a bit earlier (?) but more so because my daughter sparked interest in him.

After they started eating solids we’d make up a portion to feed themselves but they didn’t always eat all of it. Both kids have always enjoyed a wide variety of foods and flavours! My daughter still nurses intermittently and of course my son is still nursing quiet a bit.

Many people over the years have asked for more detail about why I would avoid offering my child food before a year. I’ve decided to copy a bit out of the book “Take Charge of Your Child’s Health” by Dr. George Wootan. A father of 11 (!) he offers common sense suggestions in caring for your children and their health. An excellent reference book to have on hand for more subjects than just breastfeeding and first foods. The following is a bit long but well worth the read.

Breast Milk Formula and Solid Foods (page 122)

There has been a tendency in the medical community to compare the composition of breast milk against that of formula as if formula were the model that must be lived up to as a baby’s perfect food. Consider, for example, this quote from a medical journal: “Although breast milk contains less protein and energy than formula, this does not constitute a problem because breast milk is so well suited to the infant.” It would make more sense to turn this statement around to say that the composition of formula may present problems because it contains more protein and energy than breast milk.

This same backward thinking is applied to expectations concerning infant growth patterns. At around the age of six months, bottle fed infants tend to start getting larger than babies who are breast fed. As a result, doctors will often conclude that breast fed infants need supplemental feedings in order to take care of this “lag” in growth. However, they are comparing the growth of the breast fed babies against reference standards for bottle fed babies, who grow at a faster rate. To date, there has been no large study to chart the normal growth patterns for babies who are exclusively breast fed. A doctor who tells you that your breast fed baby “needs” solid food or formula is working under the faulty assumption that breast fed and bottle fed babies should have the same growth patterns. In fact, studies have been done in Japan of children who were highly allergic and so received nothing but breast milk for the first two years of life. These children showed no nutritional or growth problems whatsoever. As one researcher in the field has suggested, “as long as the infant is growing, there is no need to add supplemental foods.”

As you may have guessed by now, I am of the opinion that infants should not be started on solid foods between the ages of four and six months, as is often recommended by doctors. (Even Le Leche League suggests beginning solids at six months.) There are some very good reasons to delay the introduction of solid foods into your child’s diet. One important reason is that the introduction of either solid foods or supplemental formula seems to reduce the effectiveness of breast milk’s immune properties. One study conducted in India observed three groups of children: one group was exclusively breast fed, one was fed both breast milk and supplemental formula or solid foods, and one was fed only formula and/or solid foods. The breast fed children had the lowest incidence of disease and mortality. The babies who had mixed feedings had slightly fewer gastrointestinal problems than those who were artificially fed, but their rates of respirator diseases, middle ear infections, and skin diseases were essentially the same. Two more interesting studies were done in Guatemala, where the children are typically breast fed for the first two to three years, with solid foods being added to the diet around five to six months. While the purpose of these studies was to illustrate how disease and diet work together in causing malnutrition, one of the findings was that the incidence of overt disease increased substantially after complementary foods were started.

Keeping digestive problems at bay

Another good reason to keep your baby on a diet of breast milk alone is that a baby’s intestinal tract is not fully developed until several months after birth, perhaps as late as 18-24 months. Digestion is a complicated breakdown process that begins in the mouth when food is mixed with saliva, and continues throughout the digestive tract with the stomach, pancreas, liver, and intestines all playing a unique role. Various enzymes are involved in each stage of digestion, speeding up the breakdown of food and converting it into a form that can be utilised by the body. Some of these enzymes are present only in very low levels or are entirely missing from the infant digestive system.

One of these enzymes is amylase, which plays a key role in the digestion of carbohydrates. The common suggestion for a baby’s first food is cereal or fruit, both carbohydrates. However, amylase is present at just 10 percent of adult levels in an infant’s small intestines, and is virtually nonexistent in the pancreas until at least six months of age. Ptyalin, an enzyme in saliva that breaks down carbohydrates, does not appear until around 12 months of age. When carbohydrates are introduced into a baby’s diet too early, he may be unable to digest them completely. The result can be poor nutrition due to failure to absorb the nutrients in the food, and possibly diarrhea.

This lack of enzymes presents no problem to the breast fed baby, since human milk contains more than 20 enzymes that become active in the stomach so that the milk is easily digested. One of the most important enzymes contained in breast milk is lipase, which helps to break down fats, from which 40-50 percent of the energy in both human milk and formula is derived. Not only is formula completely lacking in lipase, but at least one researcher has suggested that “these compensatory, or complementary, mechanisms for fat utilization’s… are less effective when cow’s milk fat or other fats are introduced into [the] diet” -so that the baby who is fed supplementary formula may have more trouble digesting even breast milk than if he were on a diet of breast milk alone.

Some lipase is produced at the back of an infant’s tongue as he nurses. You may have noticed the “milking” action that’s made with the back of the tongue as an infant sucks. It seems probable that this action helps to stimulate lipase secretion and to mix the lipase with the milk to begin digestion from a bottle involves just sucking, this effect is eliminated if a baby is bottle fed.

Because formula contains no enzymes, the bottle fed baby is more prone to digestive problems. Protein molecules, which may cross the underdeveloped intestinal lining before they have been completely broken down, can be particularly troublesome. These molecules can then act as antigens, causing an allergic reaction.

Digestive problems are often compounded when modified food starch, a common ingredient in commercial baby foods, is added to the diet. Modified food starch, usually derived from corn or tapioca, has an even lower level of digestibility than other carbohydrates. In order for the modified food starch to be effective, it must make up approximately five percent of the product. While this may not sound like much, at this level it contributes about 32 percent of the food’s total calories.

My recommendation regarding solid foods before one year is to start with proteins rather than carbohydrates and to introduce them no earlier than at eight months of age, but preferably not until one year. Hydrochloric acid, which helps digest protein, begins to appear in the stomach around the seventh or eighth month of life.

It would seem, therefore, that the body would first be ready to digest proteins (at eight months) and then carbohydrates (at one year). By holding off on introducing any solid foods (or formula) until the age of one year, you can be certain that the digestive tract is sufficiently developed to be able to handle the foods you put into it. Remember, too, that breast milk contains everything your baby needs to thrive and be healthy for at lest the first year of life, probably for the first two. There’s really no reason to feed him anything else, and there are several good reason not to.

“Wait a minute,” you may say, “my five month old is ready to eat. I know, because he practically grabs food out of my mouth, he wants it so desperately.” It’s true that babies do get intensely interested in food around this age, but not necessarily because they are dying to eat. They just want to imitate your rather strange custom of sitting around a table and putting something in your face three times a day. It doesn’t matter to the baby whether that something is food or the dust balls from under your bed; he just wants to do what you’re doing. The way we’ve solved this little problem at our house is to buy some small toys, which we call mouth toys, that we bring out only at mealtimes. This tactic won’t work it you just give your baby one of the mouth toys when you sit down to dinner, however. Instead, put it on your plate so that when she wants what you have, you can hand the toy over. If you take things one step further and actually put the toy in your own mouth a few times, the baby will be doubly convinced that this great mouth toy is really what mealtime is all about.

When you do introduce solid foods to a child older than one year, I suggest you do so by letting the child feed himself. Give him soft foods, such as cooked vegetables that are easy to chew (if you wait until he’s a year old, you don’t have to strain and mash everything), and let him go at it. Allowed to discover food this way, you baby won’t overeat, and will tend to stay away from the food to which he is allergic, unless they are somehow made socially desirable. (If, for example, you down a bowl of ice cream in front of him every day, with obvious delight all over you face, your baby is going to want that ice cream whether or not he is allergic to dairy products.) Children are generally very good at picking out the foods they need and eating the right amounts. Offered only nutritious foods and allowed to eat as much or as little as they want, they will usually eat a balanced diet over the course of several days, although it may appear terrible on a day to day basis. If you insist on spooning the food into your baby’s mouth, you will influence what and how much he will eat, and interfere with his own inherent good judgement. True, leaving a baby to have his way with a bowl of peas and carrots may result in an awful mess, but it will also give your child a strong start toward good eating habits. You can minimize the damage by putting some sort of drop cloth under the high chair- or better yet, getting a cat or dog, who will soon become your baby’s best friend, at least at mealtimes.

A toddler who is allowed free access to the breast will eat solid food sporadically until he is about 18 months of age. One day he will consume almost nothing, and the next will put food away like a two hundred pound field hand. You needn’t worry about your baby’s fluctuating appetite while he is still nursing, however, since his nutritional needs will be met from breast feeding.

You will also find that your toddler does not eat three meals a day, but instead prefers to pick and snack all day long. I suggest you work with this tendency rather than trying to fight it. Prepare a plate of food in the morning, then let the child choose whatever he wants from it as the day goes on. This will save you the trouble of dropping everything to prepare some tidbit every hour or so, while it will allow your child to graze to his heart’s content.

Again, this was an exerpt from “Take Charge of Your Child’s Health” by Dr. George Wootan.

I read this when my daughter was an infant and it convinced me to look at offering solid foods in a different light. It wasn’t always easy because no one I knew at the time was delaying solids. I’m so glad we did what we did though and hope that sharing this can help others find the confidence to do it a different way too.

Lindsay was recently featured in a Globe and Mail article about “Baby Led Weaning” which seems to be a British term for starting solids at your babies pace.

8 Responses to Delaying Solids Until At Least A Year

  1. hen says:

    I don’t have children, but this all sounds like common sense to me!

    Annie I’ve tagged you.


  2. Lindsay says:

    Thanks for sharing all that Annie. I knew about a lot of it, the site about delaying solids on Kellymom has a lot of similar information and that’s what convinced us to wait until at least 9 months. We ended up making it to about 8 (though I think closer to 9) before nothing would distract her except the food on our plates, and even then we ate separately or while she was napping a lot. We ended up giving her some food around then though and were (pleasantly) surprised when that was enough to keep her happy. She would nibble on it occasionally but for the most part mostly played and didn’t actually eat until 10 1/2 months. We did used to have toys we’d keep on our plates and pretend to eat but it stopped fooling her.

    I’m a bit on the fence about solids to be honest. I feel like on the one hand, if they want to participate, won’t they likely just play with the food and not really eat it anyway until they’re ready? Shouldn’t we trust the baby that if we don’t try and force food into their mouths that they will eat when they’re biologically ready? I wonder what tribes and other cultures do? Would they purposely keep food away from a curious baby or do they let the babies explore the food with the rest of the family and eat when they’re ready?

    I do think people are too caught up on the 6 months number though, just because that’s an arbitrary number that some organization came up with. There may be some babies who are ready earlier than others, but like all things, every baby is so different and develops differently.

    Interestingly enough for us, Meredith cut her first tooth at 10 1/2 months, the week she started actually eating. I’ve read in the past the first tooth cutting through also stimulates specific digestive enzymes in the mouth to start forming, so I don’t think it was coincidence. Though she ate a lot for about two weeks and since then mostly just nibbles on solids again and the majority of her nutrition is definitely still breast milk. I can tell when she’s going through a growth spurt because her solid intake (as well as her breast milk intake) will shoot up, but so far it’s always gone right back down again a week or so later.

  3. Lindsay says:

    Oh I want to add that I don’t think a baby cutting his or her first tooth means they are ready for solids. Just that in Meredith hers cut so late that maybe that was sort of the last step for her, but for other babies their teeth might cut early but they don’t have the right enzymes in their gut yet (just as an example). I don’t know, it’s something I thought about a lot when she was starting but now wonder if I thought about it too much and should have not worried so much, since she didn’t start eating even after we gave her solids but it made her so much happier.

  4. Annie says:

    I can’t imagine food was ever kept away from babies in tribal settings (but I’m no expert at all!) and I wouldn’t do that for my child either. That said, I would still wait to offer solids until a year. Both my kids ate before a year. Lily was close (11.5) and Leif a bit sooner. Did Meredith ever eat small stickers or other small non foods before? Leif more so than Lily but even Lily’s poop would hold a small sparkly thing from time to time. When the heck did she eat that, I’d think. I don’t think we can stop them from putting things in their mouths but again, I think the science supports delaying offering foods.

    I do think that the six month mark is pushed in many places but it doesn’t seem to be quite as strictly pushed here where we live. I believe some health nurses here are now instructed to suggest nine months for when to first start offering solids. You don’t think people are eager to meet that six month first food milestone? I think it’s something that most parents are excited to jump into. I think they (unintentionally) gear their baby up for it too when they make huge shows at their own eating. I absolutely agree with the article that a baby’s readiness can not be determined by their willingness to imitate us.

  5. Lindsay says:

    Ha, yes that happened often. One of the things people suggested to us to distract her from solids was paper, but she would just pull bits off and eat it and that’s when we started giving her raw carrot instead. I figured if she managed to get any little pieces of that off (she had no teeth), it had to be better than bleached paper!

    I’ve noticed that the 6 months doesn’t seem to be pushed here too. My doctor actually said she was glad to hear when I told her Meredith wasn’t eating much of anything at 9 months. I definitely think parents are eager to start it. I know I was, even though I’m definitely in support of delaying solids. It was still something I looked forward to. That’s a really interesting point about parents unintentionally gearing babies up for it and I wouldn’t doubt that at all.

  6. Venice says:

    This is very interestingto read but I have to say that whatever the science says, I believe that my baby knows what is best for him. Like someone else said, if he’s not ready and you’re not spoonfeeding then he won’t really eat anyway, so nothing to worry about. The first nibbles are a long way off from 3 meals a day!

  7. Teo says:

    I love the idea and I am practising it but not withholding the food. The first actual solids myy dd ate were at 9 months but even now it is more for fun. I am due to get back to work when she is 1 so I worry what to so. Shall I wean her earlier? I would appreciate your advice. Thank you

  8. Meghan says:

    Thanks so much for posting this! I feel like everyone around me is constantly hounding be about starting solids and how I’m “depriving” and “starving” my baby. She’s just a few days shy of being 9 months old. She recently cut two teeth, that are still growing, of course. She can sit up on her own, but can’t put herself into a sitting position yet. She doesn’t crawl yet, although she scoots. She is exclusively breastfed and very healthy as far as growth and *knock on wood* hasn’t had any sickness yet.

    I really don’t feel the need to push my baby to “meet” developmental milestones or start shoving a spoon in her mouth. When I was trying to politely shut down a conversation about why I’m not doing solids yet with a vague comment about her not having teeth to chew, the person said, “Um, that’s why they make baby food, duh! It’s all mushed up so you just use a spoon. You didn’t do cereal either??” Um, they also make crack, doesn’t mean you should smoke it.

    It amazes me at the people that are so glued to these “milestones,” such as “solids at 6 months.” What they don’t realize is that the “solids at 6 months” probably wasn’t started to encourage feeding then but to DISCOURAGE feeding prior to that age due to intestinal development. Everything else surrounding that age is just consumerism.

    My child is an individual, not a calendar.

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