*Warning, this is a bit of a rant post, read at your own risk (there isn’t any bad language though).*
When I became pregnant (and honestly, even before that) we began discussing some of the big parenting decisions we would make and I began researching a lot of baby care topics. I have an MS degree and know how to find reliable, fact based information. This research has led me to parenting decisions that many support and many don’t. NONE of these decisions were made lightly, even the ones that seemed obvious.
One to the decisions we made was to EXCLUSIVELY breastfeed (EBF) R until 6 months of age as long as he was growing well, healthy and meeting all of his milestones. He is now 4.5 months old and has not had any sort of nourishment except breast milk. He is growing perfectly (he started at the 50th percentile for weight and height and has stayed within 2 percentage points above or below that). He has exceeded his 4 month milestones, met around 90% of his 6 month milestones and a few of his 8 month ones. He is happy and healthy. He generally wakes once per night unless he has had an off schedule day or is seeming to be teething or like the last couple days, has a little cold. But despite ALL of this, at least once a week someone tries to feed him something OR acts like I am abusing him when they find out he isn’t on cereal yet. In fact just today D’s grandma informed me that she despite the information I told her about WHY we were delaying introducing R to foods she thought it was ridiculous and went on to tell me that her started her one child on a mix of Karo syrup, whole milk and water at less than a month old because he “obviously needed more than breast milk, he was waking up every 2 hours to eat!” She followed this homemade concoction with oatmeal before he was 6 weeks old. Now, I might take this woman’s criticisms thoughtfully except she is overweight, in poor health, and her children are far from the picture of health. So below are my reasons (based off of fact supported information, NOT wives’ tales and “that’s how we did it” advice) why he will not be eating anything besides breast milk until AT LEAST 6 months of age as long as he continues to grow, is happy and is developing on or above schedule and why “cereal” and vegetables will not be his first food. If this choice is not the same as yours, that’s OK! These are just MY reasons.
*Prior to 4 months of age a baby’s intestinal lining is “open”, meaning that the cells are very widely spaced and they are not selective about what they allow through to be absorbed by the body. They are designed this way to allow particles from digested breast milk to easily be absorbed and used by the baby’s body. SOMEWHERE between 4 and 7 months the lining begins to “close” and the cells become closer together and they begin to secrete a protein that “coats” the baby’s intestinal wall and helps the cells “filter” what gets through the intestinal wall and into the baby’s bloodstream. By 6 to 7 months the baby’s intestinal wall cells are much more capable of filtering than at 4 months. If non-breast milk foods are introduced too early the body may be more likely to develop allergies because molecules are entering the bloodstream that the body doesn’t think should be there and it develops antibodies against them.
*Each specific type of food requires certain mechanism to digest it and break it down BEFORE it gets to the absorbent intestinal lining. Babies’ bodies need time to develop these mechanism and most EBF babies do not have them for foods other than breast milk by 4 months.
*Babies instinctively have a “tongue-thrust” mechanism that helps them avoid things that shouldn’t be in their mouth. This is usually gone by 6 months of age. Also babies’ swallowing mechanism transitions from suck-swallow to chew-swallow somewhere between 4 to 6 months.
*Once foods are introduced the potency of the 50+ known immune factors found in breast milk diminishes. Babies that are EBF for an extended time have 40% fewer ear infections than their counterparts who are introduced to foods earlier. Babies who are EBF for 6 months or longer also have lower incidences of respiratory illness over their entire lifetime.
*Infants who are introduced to foods earlier than 6 months have a reduction in their iron absorption efficiency. Research has found that delaying food until 7 months results in less cases of anemia than earlier introductions of solids.
*Early introduction of foods has been associated with higher childhood body fat indexes and weights.
*Early introduction of other foods has a negative effect on the mother’s milk supply and often leads to earlier than expected weaning due to lagging milk supply.
*The American Academy of Pediatrics now advises waiting to introduce other foods to EBF babies until 6 months or later.
Our first food choices; R will likely have avocados as his first non-breast milk food. Why? Avocados are high in carbohydrates, good fats, and vitamins and mineral. They are naturally smooth and creamy. They are yummy. They are sodium and cholesterol free. Avocados will likely be followed by bananas, sweet potatoes and yams. We will get around to “cereal” eventually.
Whatever you decide about you child PLEASE base it off of solid information and not go with what other people tell you that you should do!