A baby nursing at a mother’s breast… is an undeniable affirmation of our rootedness in nature. –David Suzuki
In Part I of the Raising Healthy Eaters series we talked about flexibility and guidelines. In Part II we continue the journey providing guidelines and hints for introducing your baby to the art of healthy eating.
As both a physician and a father I have seen that there is absolutely no food humans could synthesize that would possibly rival that which a mother makes and easily provides for her child. Think of this–if a big food corporation came up with a product as nutritionally superior and complete which prevented disease, cost not a penny to manufacture, and could supply exactly what the consumer needed, this corporation would be worth their salt and rightfully earn those notoriously hefty wages.
Yet, we need not rely on Big Food or Pharma to grant this to humans–it has always been provided for us and we need look no further than to the female body to see exactly what her miraculous milk can do for perfect nourishment!
In functional medicine, we look to nature to guide our thinking about how the body lives and heals. There is perhaps nothing more apparent than the virtues of breast milk to confirm that throughout time, the human body evolved from the wisdom of nature.
Human milk is the only food your child will need for 6 months but can also complement the child’s diet for several years. Not even extra water or juice is necessary because this complete whole food epitomizes perfected nutrition.
One of the most amazing things about breast milk is that it is actually alive–it literally is a living food! What this means is that the supply and composition of mother’s milk will adjust based on the needs of the child (if only our adult pantry could magically transform based on our needs)!
In the beginning of a feeding, most of the milk is water which is necessary to help quench your baby’s thirst. But as the feeding ends, the milk changes to a higher fat content. More specifically, the nutrition breakdown of the milk differs depending on baby’s needs.
This all happens because of a subtle reaction occurring due to the connection between a mother’s nipple and a baby’s mouth. Talk about the unique bond between mother and child forged by breast milk! Not only is breast milk an amazing food for the baby, but it benefits mom too:
- Speaking of bonding, breast feeding allows for the hormone prolactin to make mom feel closer to her child. It also promotes relaxation and that calm feeling. What new mom doesn’t need an instant dose of this after labor and delivery!
- Breast feeding helps mom use and thus lose her pregnancy weight.
- Some studies show promising results that women who breastfeed for about 2 years have a lower risk of breast cancer.
- Breast feeding helps mom’s uterus shrink back to its normal size.
- Mom can feed anywhere, anytime. It saves a lot of time and stress to breast feed when you don’t have to worry about whether the formula is the right temperature or if the bottle is sanitary… Plus breast milk is free! Who doesn’t love that?
- Mom’s colostrum (the fore milk; a thick liquid that is first released before the core milk comes in) supplies baby with a strong immune system along with other valuable antibodies to ensure the baby is healthy and protected. This gives mom peace of mind and comforts the baby, a win-win!
Ways to Make Breast Feeding an Enjoyable Experience Include:
- Eat whole foods and make sensible choices. This is not a time to diet! Actually, losing too much weight can increase obesogens, these are released from fat tissue and contain toxins which have been stored in adipose tissue.
- Avoid toxins in general–choose organic foods and avoid antibiotics and hormones in meat.
- You don’t need milk to produce milk! Dairy is not necessary to eat or drink while breast feeding. If you have an allergy or sensitivity, avoid dairy. Choose plain almond, hemp, or NON-GMO soy milk.
- Avoid strong irritants such as alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, and artificial sweeteners. Also, some supplements in high doses can bother a newborn–especially iron.
- Eat a variety of legumes and lean proteins, such as fish and poultry, and enjoy a variety of vegetables to help acquaint your child with new tastes. Whole foods that supply Vitamins A, D, E, C, protein, folate, calcium, magnesium, iron, and B vitamins are essential for you and your child.
- For more information on breastfeeding contact your local La Leche League.
Starting Solids–The Whole Foods Approach
After 6 months it is time to start feeding your child solid food, right? Not necessarily. Each child will present different clues to let you know when they are ready for food. Look for these signs to know when baby is ready to try that first bite of avocado!
- Your baby is able to sit up by themselves.
- The gag reflex is present and your baby can swallow or push food back out with their tongue.
- Your baby is really curious and intrigued by your food. If they try to reach for your plate, maybe it is time to share!
- Typically, teething is a great sign that baby is ready to take food.
Start slowly and try not to rush the process. Sometimes mom and dad are more eager to start the baby on solids than the baby is. If a child is not ready for this new chapter, their fragile immune system and immature digestive track can backfire and food allergies can result. Trust your instincts and be patient, it will happen.
How to Start Solids and Choose the Best Food
- Take it slow and simple–use one food at a time so you not only refrain from overwhelming your child from too much sensory stimulation but you can also track which foods work and which don’t.
- Wait 3-5 days before introducing a new food so you can observe any reactions or sensitivities. Stop a food immediately if your child responds poorly and shows signs of food allergies.
- Stay with one meal a day for a few weeks before gradually advancing to other meals.
- Foods not to feed baby: Caffeine, chocolate, stimulants, honey, allergens like wheat, dairy, corn, eggs, and whole chunks of food like grapes, meat or nuts.
- Foods to feed baby: Usually vegetables and fruits are easier than grains on the little one’s digestive system. You can try hypoallergenic grains such as quinoa and brown rice.
- Puree or mash cooked food and mix with a little breast milk. The familiar taste of your milk will soothe the baby with this new experience
- Use only small spoonfuls. Or, offer food from your finger! Remember, babies are playful and learning from every experience.
- Does your child give you that quizzical look, like what should I do with this stuff? Model eating yourself by tasting the food.
- Make meal-time interactive by talking about food and using the food’s name.
- Try to make your own food instead of buying it. Remember, practice safety when making homemade baby food such as sterilizing equipment, labeling food with dates, discarding leftovers after 3 days, and properly storing labeled food in sterile containers in the refrigerator or freezer.
Enhancing the Diet as Baby Grows
The fun part about being a parent is the element of surprise that keeps you constantly on your toes. Just when you think you have it all figured out, it is time for a change. After a few months of doing these introductory feedings it will be time to advance your baby to a wider variety of foods.
Now that you both have the hang of feedings and know your child’s favorite foods, you can experiment with larger pieces of food such as seeds, small pieces of nuts, and even lentils and other legumes (hold off on bigger pieces of beans until your baby shows signs of their molars coming in for proper chewing). You can even combine foods at this stage to start your baby’s journey to becoming a natural foodie!
What foods are healthy and appropriate as molars come in? Offer these foods around your child’sfirst birthday or when they start becoming more mobile:
- Chopped vegetables (cook them first!). Try carrots, squash, or sweet vegetables. Don’t be afraid to offer other vegetables or mix those that are slightly bitter in with the sweeter options.
- Chunks of fruit (apple, banana, pear, peach, or whatever is in season).
- Whole grains (millet, quinoa, brown rice, and amaranth).
- Beans, peas, and lentils.
- Small chunks of fish, poultry, meat, tofu, seafood, or ground meat.
- Limit juice and all refined sweeteners. Avoid all candy if possible and use fruit as dessert.
- Avoid dairy until at least 2 years of age. Studies show that premature dairy intake can lead to allergies, respiratory infections, and weakened immunity.
All this talk about what and how to feed your child probably leaves you excited to get started. Is there a little trepidation about how to involve your child in the kitchen or even how to get yourself cooking? In the next and last part of this series, we will get down to business and explore fun and realistic ways to enjoy preparing wholesome, tasty, simple, and affordable meals.
I look forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting busy cooking in the kitchen together!
To read the last of the series click here for Part III.
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below–but remember, we can’t offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD