Brief History of Irish Cuisine
Appreciation Dinner Wrap-up
& General Merchandise News
Profile: The Igl Family
Ask the Midwife: Starting Your Baby on Solid Food
Corner: Spring Equinox Bloomers
& Drink Recommendations
the Vegetable Less Traveled... Buy Local!
Starting Your Baby on Solid Food
Ingrid Andersson, CNM
Why an “Ask the Midwife” column in the Reader?
Because the food choices we make go right to the source of human health.
Everything women take into their bodies goes into forming the first ecosystem
for human life. As embryologist Sandra Steingraber puts it, the fetus
sits at the top of the food chain. As a midwife, I help protect the ecology
of the first human ecosystem, for the sake of women, their babies, and
our collective quality of life.
Defining True Health
But this column might also be called “The Midwife Asks.” I
am not an expert with answers in nutrition, biochemistry, embryology,
or neonatology. I am a Certified Nurse Midwife with a culturally diverse
private practice and personal background that has taught me to question
health care norms and assumptions. Despite local, state, and national
policies of health care, I believe there is no one true definition of
health. It is neither fair nor effective to leave the responsibility for
our health to experts, be they obstetricians or the FDA. Together we can
ask questions, share research, and tell stories toward defining true health
and well-being for ourselves and our communities.
I was wondering when you start babies on solids. What foods do you start
them with? There’s so much different info out there and a part of
me wants to wait as long as possible, because I feel like it’s the
beginning of weaning!
Whenever I get confused or overwhelmed by too much information, I try
to remember to return to the source of the issue at hand—in this
case your baby. Watch your baby. Is she starting to study your eating
movements, mimic your chewing, grabbing for your food? Is your baby able
to pick up small objects and put them in her mouth? Is your baby able
to sit upright in your lap or a highchair? Has your baby begun to teethe?
Interest and Ability
Interest combined with ability is a good sign that your baby is ready
for solid food. While it takes several years for the digestive enzymes
to become fully developed, most babies’ gastrointestinal tracts
are developed enough at six months of age for cautious feedings. Some
babies clearly desire solids earlier, while some want to breastfeed exclusively
for a year. I suggest letting your baby guide you. Most babies want to
continue to nurse long after they begin eating solids, for reasons of
comfort and security as much as for food.
Whether you are breastfeeding or artificially feeding, it is now universally
recognized that the young human infant is designed to suck rather than
to chew. Teeth don’t usually appear until six or seven months of
age. Prior to four to six months, babies have a tongue-thrust reflex,
where the tongue automatically pushes out any foreign substance placed
upon it. This reflex no doubt protects the infant from choking. Immature
intestines do not secrete enough of the protective protein, immunoglobulin
A (IgA). IgA coats the intestinal walls and prevents irritation of the
mucosal lining and prevents the passage of harmful allergens into the
blood. IgA reaches peak production around seven months of age.
Choosing First Solids
As the intestines mature they become better filters against allergens.
Cow’s milk, wheat and soy are common allergy-causing substances
when introduced too early. This is one reason why the World Health Organization
and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend breast-milk for the first
year of life. Babies in allergy-prone families actually may show delayed
interest in solid foods. It’s okay to resist what I call the “hurry
or worry pressure” from society, family, or friends.
Once your baby seems ready for solid food, what foods?
I remember buying jars and jars of a premium pureed organic baby food
for my baby when it went on sale, only to find that he wanted nothing
to do with mushy, unidentifiable stuff. He preferred garlicky pastas,
black olives, plain organic yogurt, and baked beans for first foods. He
generally coveted whatever he saw on his parents’ plates and had
the stomach to handle it, probably through breast-milk conditioning. It
quickly dawned on me that introducing solids was going to be easier and
more fun than I imagined.
“Baby food” is whatever your baby likes to eat, which is probably
what you like to eat. Even in the absence of full teeth, gums and little
teeth buds can handle tiny pieces of most foods. In fact some rigorous
gumming is probably comforting and useful to those teething tissues.
So there is lots of room for variety and individuality in what foods you
introduce, on the other hand, here are some common allergens and other
problem foods to avoid or limit:
Corn, citrus, cow’s milk, cheese, wheat, soy.
Chocolate and Caffeine
These are bitter stimulants that require lots of sugar to taste good to
an infant. Sugar and caffeine both challenge circulatory and immune systems.
Heavily salted foods can interfere with immature kidney function and natural
Unpasteurized honey can contain botulism toxins in amounts harmful to
Refined sugar consumption can lead to tooth decay and learning and behavioral
difficulties early in life, as well as replace foods with genuine nutritional
value. If a sweetener is needed, try barley malt, brown rice syrup, maple
syrup, or natural fruit concentrates, none of which deplete essential
vitamins and minerals, as refined sugar does.
There is more and more research indicating that early behavioral and immunological
problems may be linked to synthetic colors, flavorings, and preservatives.
Artificial food dyes (such as FD&C Yellow No. 5 or Red 40) are made
from petroleum. Artificial flavors are basically unspecified, unregulated
and can be made from anything. The preservatives BHA, BHT, TBHQ are all
made from petroleum.
A Variety of Wholesome Foods
In conclusion, let’s go back to the source of the issue at hand
again. Offered a variety of wholesome foods, your baby will know how to
meet her needs by exercising an exquisitely fine-tuned interplay of appetite,
taste, and capability. She will use solid foods to supplement her primary
nutritional source, breast milk. What does “wholesome” mean?
Did your grandmother eat it when she was a child? If you made it at home,
would it look like that? If it’s advertised on television it is
probably an overpriced food product—such as Kraft cheese slices—that
uses cheap additives in place of more expensive, real ingredients. How
else could they afford the advertising?
This column offers an on-going forum for your reproductive and family
health questions. It is intended to promote informed choice, not to give
medical advice. Please email all questions and topic suggestions to .