Guest Author - Nicki Heskin
When and how to introduce foods can be a complicated issue these days for any family. But for a breastfeeding mother, there is an additional emotional wrinkle – for an exclusively breastfed baby, the introduction of solid foods is the beginning of weaning. Don't misunderstand…that doesn't mean your baby will stop breastfeeding when you introduce foods. But in a technical sense, weaning is moving your baby from breastmilk to other sources of nutrition, so solids count.
I haven't seen any proof that breastfed babies are more or less likely to take to solids. My kids were both slow to start – beginning purees reliably around 9 months and finger foods closer to a year. As long as they are still breastfeeding regularly and gaining weight (not as quickly as at the start…but they should still be noticeably growing!), it's probably fine. There's no point in forcing foods down their throats. When they are ready, you'll know! Your pediatrician will most likely suggest, in the absence of any unusual circumstances, that you start introducing foods around 6 months. So, where to start?
For both our girls, we started with "breastmilk bubbles." The idea was just to introduce the concept of the spoon, but with a familiar taste. I expressed some milk (hand expression is easiest, or a pump is fine too), shook it up until it was frothy, and spooned it into the baby's mouth. As soon as that went well, we moved on to thin purees.
To me, the next most logical step is solids very thinly pureed with breastmilk. You can go with baby rice or oatmeal (personally, I prefer oatmeal as I found rice to be constipating for the baby), but I chose to go with sweet potato, avocado and banana. These are such easy foods because they can be crushed with a fork, and only sweet potato even needs cooking. Just add in some breastmilk to the desired thinness. First the first solids, it really shouldn't be much thicker than the breastmilk itself. It seems logical that slowly adding in the taste of the foods along with the breastmilk will make a more acceptable shift than just expecting the baby to jump into foods thinned with water with no familiar taste at all.
Once your baby is taking to the concept of eating off the spoon, and is enthusiastic about it, you can thicken up foods bit by bit to the extent that the baby can move them back in the mouth and swallow them without struggling or choking. Remember that even if your baby jumps enthusiastically into foods, that until 9-12 months, the bulk of their nutrition will still be coming from breastfeeding. Early foods are an introduction to texture and process. Volume of breastmilk should not really decrease until volume and nutritional variety of foods being eaten can begin to fill the gap.
There is some debate about whether breastmilk or food should take priority and "go first" during feedings as food volume increases, but in the case of first foods, breastmilk retains primacy as nutritional source (another reason why I think it's worth the trouble to express breastmilk for mixing with foods instead of throwing in water because it's easy). Talk with your pediatrician about the appropriateness of replacing breastfeedings with foods, or maintaining extended breastfeeding along with foods based upon your baby's specific growth and needs.
For specifics on foods and order of introductions, I really like "Super Baby Food" by Ruth Yaron as an excellent resource.
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