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.