The debate centers around the best time to introduce solid food to infants. Most medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization and the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition recommend the introduction of solid foods sometime between the fourth and sixth month. All are in agreement that solid foods before the fourth month can predispose babies to gastrointestinal problems and allergies and that delaying introduction of solid food after six months may result in baby not getting all the nutrients he or she needs.
These recommendations about when to begin solid food are completely in accord with my own, as outlined in The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care. (As for what to give baby, I have very grave concerns about the conventional recommendations.)
A very mature baby is ready for some solid food at four months while a smaller, less mature baby may not be ready until six months. My own four children were all fast-growing babies who were more than ready for some solid food at four months. In fact, as soon as I introduced some pureed food, they became less fussy, went longer between feedings and slept better through the night. And it was a great relief to sleep through the night myself and settle into a better routine. Of course we continued the nursing—which in my case was supplemented with a raw milk formula because my own supply was very limited. (You can read about my troubles with breastfeeding here.)
In the online debate, many objected to giving any solid food before six months and some argued that solid food should be delayed as long as possible (in other words, exclusive breastfeeding). Some felt that baby could get everything he needed from breastmilk alone, even past the one-year mark; one mother, recognizing the research showing that babies need more iron than mom can supply after six months, and that the mineral levels in mom’s breastmilk decline over time, felt the problem could be solved by letting baby get his minerals by playing in the dirt! Others cited “lack of interest in food” in their babies, often describing how little food got into baby’s mouth when they practiced baby-led weaning (more on this in a later blog). Many moms agreed with the statement “Food before one is just for fun.”
In questions of this importance, our first step is to look as the practices of traditional peoples—and then to see whether they marry with what modern science has to tell us. We have two studies that provide us with valuable information. One is a survey of childbirth and breastfeeding practices in one hundred eighty-six non-industrial cultures. The main focus of the study was maternal bonding traditions, but the authors also looked at feeding practices. They were surprised to find that most cultures began weaning at six months or earlier. In fact, in one-third of the cultures, solid food was given before one month of age!
“Contrary to the expectation of a prolonged period of breast-milk as the sole source of infant nutrition, solid foods were introduced before one month of age in one-third of the cultures, at between one and six months in another third, and was postponed more than six months for only one-third.”
A more recent survey looked at the practices in one hundred thirteen nonindustrial populations from around the world. They found that more than half the cultures introduced solid foods before six months, with five to six months being the most common timeframe. Breastfeeding continued for anywhere from ten to twenty-nine months.
Some of the online comments indicated that our advocacy of solid foods by six months was proof of our “opposition” to breastfeeding. Nothing could be further from the truth—the solid foods are in addition to breast milk (or homemade formula when necessary). The combination of solid food plus breast milk continues for many months.
By the way, this is exactly what we see in the animal world. Baby animals breastfeed exclusively only for a short period of time—just a month or so in the case of cows and pigs—and then get nourished with a combination of solid foods plus breastmilk for a much longer period.
The key reason given for the introduction of solid food by six months is the iron status of the baby. Although mother’s breastmilk contains lactoferrin, which helps the baby absorb 100 per cent of the iron in her milk, iron content is generally low. One explanation for this is that baby needs more zinc than iron during the first few months of life, and breastmilk is high in zinc. Baby should also get a good supply of iron in the cord blood, but the normal turnover for red blood cells is four months. By six months, iron deficiency is a distinct possibility in the exclusively breastfed baby. In fact, mineral levels start to decline in mother’s breast milk almost from birth and continue after the six-month mark. This study showed a decrease in zinc, copper and potassium. And this study documented a decline in zinc and copper over time.
What about the argument that allergies can be avoided by delaying solid food. A recent review found that where the risk of allergy is a key consideration, currently available research suggests that introducing solids at four to six months may result in the lowest allergy risk. “When all aspects of health are taken into account, the recommended duration of exclusive breastfeeding and age of introduction of solids were confirmed to be 6 months, but no later.”
Other moms insisted that baby’s gut is too permeable for solid food at four months, or even much later. We asked Natasha Campbell-McBride for her opinion on this—remember that Dr. Natasha is one of the world’s experts on gut permeability. Her reply: “The majority of babies are ready to be weaned by six months, but many babies are ready earlier–they start getting hungry because they don’t get enough from the mother’s milk. To add formula to those babies is not a good idea, it is much better to start adding real foods [although] no grains, beans or any other starchy and difficult-to-digest plants. Start according to the New Baby diet on my website and in my book. Animal foods–meat stock, meats, fish, eggs and fermented raw dairy (from proper milk) should be introduced, as well as cooked vegetable and some freshly pressed juices from raw veg and fruit. Gradually! The gut wall of babies is permeable for a reason, it is necessary to develop oral tolerance of a plethora of antigens from the environment. Introducing foods during that time ensures that the child develops tolerance and can eat natural food without reacting with allergies.” (I’m not sure I agree about the juices, but in everything else, Dr. Natasha and I are in accord.)
In closing, I really must address the assertion that “food before one is just for fun.” There is no age at which baby is growing faster—and forming more connections in her brain—than the age from zero to one. This is not the time to be casual about feeding your baby—because food before one matters a ton! The way you feed baby—when and what and how—will make all the difference in her future health, appearance and intelligence. It’s very clear from both tradition and science that most babies should receive solid food by age six months. The what and the how will be the subject of subsequent blogs.
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12 thoughts on “Bringing Up Baby, Part I”
I was so confused about what to feed my baby that I introduced very little food until she was well over six months. She because anemic, but I solved it in short order with some liver which she loves to this day 12 years later.
Could be putting the emphasis on exclusive breast feeding up to one year is very intimidating to some moms, especially those having trouble getting started. And after reading the research I learned that it apparently isn’t- wasn’t- done in traditional cultures.
I totally agree about feeding solid food i–being up to development of the individual baby and the development of her-his digestive enzymes. Babies are crying, fussy, and unhappy because they are hungry for satisfying foods.
Good point on the iron- all that commercial iron added to infant cereal is unnecessary and probably not absorbed (like the folic acid), possibly causing digestive problems as well. A good quality well- prepared egg-yolk would hit the spot.
I agree with you 100% on the juice issue – there are now several research studies linking early juice feeding with obesity. And I was shocked to be told when I enrolled my young children into nursery school in Slovenia- that they feed no juices… at that time 1992- the Slovenian knew that juices were not a good idea for babies and children– they are just liquid sugars. The Slovenians fed children hibiscus tea (unflavored), whole milk, mineral water, lots of soups, broths, etc. Even today you seldom see an obese person there- and if you do they are tourists.
Juice, banana, and rice cereal were all the bedrock of our infant feeding in the US when my children were born- very high in carbs– so I was a bit surprised to hear that these were not fed to babies in Slovenia. And rice is apparently laden with arsenic. And remember the poly-vi-sol vitamins? Pediatricians are still recommending fluoride drops as far as I know, even though it is put into most water supplies and Harvard scientists have declared fluoride a neurotoxin.
So much better would be egg yolk, meat stock, fermented foods, etc . Fermented dairy would have made a world of difference for my older one with colic… getting some natural probiotics into him I feel would have allayed much of his digestive issues he has today.
I remember a couple years ago I was good friends with a woman from the Middle East- her Mom came to visit after my friend had her baby- my friend’s Mom was asking me about first foods here in America- she specifically mentioned egg yolk as being important in her culture. And of course breast feeding.
I also remember reading about African women pre-chewing meats, etc for their babies, to mix with Mom’s digestive juices first. And about brains being an early weaning food in many culture.
Nourishing our babies is ancient tradition. So it should be use as natural homemade tradition.
Thank you for your life-changing work. I have been a follower of WAPF for 5 years now and I am grateful for the knowledge I have gained and the habits I have implemented.
I have tried soft boiled egg yolk for both my children (I have a 4 yo daughter and 8 month old son) and both of them responded negatively. First serving got constipated and the next time I fed it to them they projectile vomited, were limp and very pale.
Egg yolk is mentioned in every “real food” first baby food research I do, but obviously my kids don’t tolerate it well. My 4 yo likes eggs now, thankfully she grew out of this.
I have 2 questions 1) Why are they having an adverse affect to egg yolks? 2) What can I replace the egg yolk with since it’s so popular and in a lot of recipes?
Thank you for your time.
I have asked this question on a few natural mama blogs and haven’t received a reply, so I am hopeful to hear back from you.
I too wish to know why my 6 month old does not like the egg yolk. My other 2 kids thoroughly enjoyed it as infants… In fact my toddler will hurry to eat the egg yolk that her baby brother spits out. What else can I give him?
I can’t speak for Sally, and I have no idea what you might replace egg yolk with, but I’m curious — do you know where your eggs come from? What the chickens are eating? There is a big difference between the eggs from battery farm chickens (even ones that are organic/free-range/veg-fed/omega-3 supplemented via flax seed) and eggs from chickens that have ample access to grass and grubs. I live in Homer, AK, where eggs from small local farms are readily available, and I’ve noticed significant differences in egg quality even among some of these sources. There’s an Alaskan feed company that some folks rely on for their birds more than others, and it’s a lot of corn and soy — when you crack the eggs they tell the story.
Some babies/people do have food intolerances and allergies, of course, and maybe your family is just stuck in that boat, but I wonder if a lot cases where babies don’t seem to handle eggs well aren’t due to something that doesn’t belong in (or maybe is missing from) those eggs.
My own baby’s digestion seemed to improve when we introduced egg yolks at 4.5 months (spit up less, more regular bowel movements) and now at 7 mos. egg yolks (and breast milk, of course) are what we go back to when her system seems to be getting a little off-kilter from too many new things. Also salmon, which she loves!
My daughter has received therapy from Myofunctional Therapust Joy Moeller https://aomtinfo.org/about/joy-moeller
She had a tongue thrust and needed therapy to correct. She needed her tongue clipped as well as her upper frenulum. She and my other daughter are currently having their upper and lower jaws widended with a crozat, as part of orthotropics treatment. So…when I asked the Myofunctional therapist “How can I/could I prevent mouth issues in my children?” she said “Baby Led Weaning”. This would be a great follow-up or interview for WAPF. I will try and blend the WAPF nutritional guidelines with the introductions of foods that will help our baby (5months old) chew/swallow properly.
Hello–I am editor of a quarterly newsletter. What is your reprint policy?
What is the newsletter? You may reprint if you give credit to the author and a short bio.
While I respect yours and Dr. Mcbride’s opinions I think, in this case, you are basing your opinions on studies conducted on women eating a typical SAD diet.
You didn’t mention that, until more recent times, maybe the last 20-30 years, midwives and nutritionists recommended waiting until 12 months or longer until the first teeth begin to erupt, as long as the mother’s diet is superb and the baby is thriving.
We believed tooth eruption was also a signal that the digestive system was now making adequate digestive enzymes and enough bile to digest different foods.
But we also advised mom’s to get plenty of organic, 100% grass fed meats, fats, liver (and other organ meats if possible) raw and whole fat grassfed dairy including butter, eggs from farms where the chickens are really hunting and pecking for their food, fermented foods (vegetables and dairy), natto, avocado, winter squashes, carrots, citrus and berries.
It’s not a bad idea to supplement the same as you might while pregnant – with natural brewer’s yeast, cod liver oil, (not fermented), camu camu for some extra vitamin C, and vitamins D3 and K2 (mk-7) if not taking organic natto.
Signs to watch for that your baby might not have the digestive enzymes and bile necessary to digest the new food is any change to the bowel movements, esp loose or green/greenish color stools, also fussiness or disrupted sleep patterns. Pull back this food and maybe try again in a few months. Don’t push it, and don’t be in a hurry, they might do best on only avocado (and of course lots of beast milk!) for awhile before being ready for something else. Other foods to try are soft boiled eggs, meat stock, bone broths, fermented foods and fermented dairy, berries, green apples (these are lower in sugar). Watch for any histamine reactions (allergies) if introducing bone broths, maybe start with taking it fresh from your pot after only 8-12 hours. (I typically set mine just below a simmer for 24-36 hours. The longer you heat and refrigerate bone broth the more histamines it produces. Freezing stops this.)
Above all, avoid those “cereals”, biscuits, and juices. They trigger insulin surges. And avoid grains, legumes and beans.
Just a friendly second opinion. 🙂