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By Nina, Contributing Writer
We believe breast milk is the best first food for babies. It’s nutritionally perfect for infants and, assuming there were no problems with breastfeeding, really easy to provide. Sometime around 6 months, though, babies start showing an interest in other foods.
During a doctor’s visit during this time, a mom will likely be given the recommendation to start feeding baby solid foods. What’s the recommendation she’ll likely hear? Rice cereal. The only problem with that suggestion is that grains are not a good food for any infant.
Why cereal is a bad suggestion
According to Kristen Michaelis, creator of the blog, Food Renegade, and author of Beautiful Babies: Nutrition for Fertility, Pregnancy, Breastfeeding & Baby’s First Foods (a great book I think every woman should read), in order to digest grains, our bodies need an enzyme called amylase:
You see, newborns don’t produce amylase at all. Salivary amylase makes a small appearance at about six months old, but pancreatic amylase (what you need to actually digest grains) is not produced until molar teeth are fully developed. First molars usually don’t show up until thirteen to nineteen months old, on average.
So what happens when a baby is given cereal they’re bodies can’t digest? Potential complications can stem from their inability to digest grains, such as:
- Upset stomach
- Food allergies
- Gut bacteria imbalance
- Behavioral problems
- Damaged intestinal lining
What do you try instead? Here are a few suggestions:
Egg yolks contain vitamins, minerals and cholesterol. Wait, cholesterol? Isn’t that bad? Well, babies actually need cholesterol for important mental development. To prepare, soft boil an egg (from pastured hens is best) and feed that to your little one. If baby isn’t interested, don’t push it. Egg yolks are pretty rich and they might not like it. You can always try giving it to them later. Avoid giving the egg whites until after a year old. They contain proteins which can be difficult to digest.
If you make your own bone broth, you have a terrific first food for your baby. Homemade bone broth contains minerals and calcium that are beneficial for your baby. The natural gelatin in bone broth is also great for the digestive system and can help protect against harmful intestinal bacteria.
You know those good fats you hear so much about in avocados? They’re pretty good for your baby, whose developing brain needs plenty of fat. Many babies enjoy the taste and texture of avocados and will eat them plain.
Give your baby fruit, particularly bananas, which already contain the enzyme amylase. I recommend introducing fruit after veggies, otherwise your baby might dislike the vegetables after the sweetness of the fruit (as my oldest did). You can also combine the fruit with veggies – sweet potatoes, blueberries and applesauce is a great combination – if they’re already more fond of fruit.
My babies loved carrots cooked in beef broth (ok, I did, too). They were also fond of other vegetables including sweet potato (especially with a pinch of cinnamon and a little butter mixed in), squash, green beans and potatoes (also with butter). We gave them food that was cut up into little (non-choke-hazard) pieces or gave them a spoon and bowl if it the foods were smashed or combined. It was messy at first, but they figured out how to feed themselves.
This is a yummy probiotic food that can help baby properly digest foods by building up the proper balance of bacteria in his gut. Buy or make plain, whole milk yogurt and let them try it out. Starting off without any kind of sweetener (like smashed berries) can help them get used to tart flavors, which you’ll be grateful for later. Start off with just a spoonful and increase after they reach one year.
Great Info! We’re just reaching this stage and there’s so much conflicting information out there!
My baby is 8 months old…loves avocado, bananas, applesauce, pears, carrots, squash and sweet potatoes and hard boiled egg yolks…doesn’t like the soft boiled. However, we are having problems with constipation, especially from squash and sweet potatoes…any suggestions for us besides prunes. We’re doing that and it seems to be working, but wondering why we are having problems in the first place.
Apples and bananas can cause constipation in some babies. Also, is getting less breast milk than before, it could cause it, as that has a natural laxative effect.
I used most of these for firsts with both kids. But I think my 10 month old might have an allergy or an aversion to avocado. Both times I’ve given it to her, she’s thrown up later that day and had bad, bad diapers the next day. Ever hear of anything like this from avocado? Might that be the cause or is it pure coincidence that she ate that the two times she got a stomach bug?
Wow. Things are so different than they were 10 years ago with my first! All 3 of mine had rice or oatmeal cereal starting at about 3 months… they had all the developmental signs of wanting more than a bottle (yes, they were formula fed, I could not produce more than a few drops of breast milk). We also decided, with my pediatrician, to introduce common allergy-inducing foods very early, including full scrambled eggs by 6 months and things with nuts at about 1 year. They had no GI distress or issues and are not allergic or sensitive to anything! We also did lots of yogurt, fruits, and cooked veggies of course 🙂
After a terrible round of constipation from rice cereal with my first born, Butternut squash was the first food for my second. Easy to bake, puree in the magic bullet and freeze/store. Wish i’d gone right to veggies and fruits first with my first baby too.
Do you have any recent studies you could cite to back your statements? As a Registered Dietitan and Certified Breastfeeding Educator, I find it difficult to read blog posts like this one that do not cite studies and just make recommendations.
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You do know that babies under 12 months can’t digest lactose, found in milk, yoghurt. It will cause them stomach pains. Very bad advise!
My daughter had the same reaction to avocado. The first time she was fine, but the next 2 times she projectile vomited within 2 hours. No fun 🙁
Hi Nina, what are your qualification specifically in infant nutrition? I agree with a lot of what you said, but I need scientific / research based info. Thanks!!!
Same here! With BOTH of my girls – the first times they had avocado they were fine. Then, after that, they threw up over and over, hours after eating the avo.
Hi I think the most common problem with milk is the cow’s milk protein causing problems, rather than the lactase. Re sources – this is quite a good site explaining the amylase issue: https://scienceofmom.com/2013/11/08/amylase-in-infancy-can-babies-digest-starch/
Hi great post. I have a question. My son is 6 months going on 7 In a few days, I’m having problem with him with cereals. I tried the nestum and nutribom but all cereals seems too constipate him. Do you have any suggestions on what else I can give him besides the cereal or is a must?? Thanks.
I read somewhere that meat can be introduced. Is that so?
My baby is 17mos old now and i tried feeding her solid foods especially rice meals but im having a problem in feeding her because she always refuse to eat but she likes watermelons, banana, cucumber lemonade, fresh coconut juice and coconut flesh, spaghetti,hotcake with maple ayrup,hard boiled egg, bread and peanut butter. Im worried she cant get enough nutrition she doesn’t like drinking milk also. She eat meat but she njust suck up the juice and then spit it out She only eats the same food everyday What are other foods that I give her? Something healthy.