Thursday, April 13, 2006

Starting a Baby on Solid Food

Recently I visited a good friend who has a nine-month-old baby boy. The mother is forty-three years old and this baby boy is her fourth child, her oldest being twelve. The mother obviously has experience in having babies and toddlers and is very comfortable with the newest member of her family. I was surprised, however, to discover that although the new little guy already has four teeth, with a fifth one just coming through, the mom has yet to introduce him to any food other than her breast milk. The baby is not lacking for nourishment. He is a hefty thirty pounds and looks larger than any other nine-month-old I had ever seen, yet the mother is tired and has health issues. It seems it would be time to introduce solid foods into the diet of this strapping young boy.

So while I was visiting, and as we discussed baby issues, the mother popped Junior into a high chair and handed him a fist-full of Cheerios; his first. She also decided to cut up an over-ripe banana and see how he fared with it. The little guy had already been learning how to use his fingers, although he still had some practicing to do in the area of dexterity, but he, like most babies, was curious and picked up the Cheerios just fine. Like any baby that age, as soon as he picked up the Cheerios, they went directly into his mouth. Once it was in his mouth, he lolled it around a bit and looked at his mother with a puzzled expression. He moved his mouth around awkwardly and ultimately swallowed it. The pieces of banana were quite a curiosity to him, as they were slimy and he did not quite know how to get them up off the high chair tray and into his little mouth, but his mom helped him a bit and he seemed to like them.

At this point, my friend and I began discussing the different ways of introducing solid food into the diet of young babies. When I had my first child at a very young age, my mother was nearby to give me all sorts of grandmotherly advice. Her first advice was to start the new baby on solid foods as soon as possible, which meant, in her vocabulary, at the age of three-weeks. Yes, three-weeks. She told me that as soon as I began giving the brand new baby a bit of cereal with his formula, he would start sleeping through the night. Well, she gave me a lot of false hope, because although I introduced that poor little baby to cereal when he was far too young, and baby food by five months of age, he did not sleep through the night until he was at least nine-months-old. It was a long first year for us both. By the time I had my second child, I had learned a bit by reading and talking to other young moms. I gave my baby formula and she slept through the night by the time she was about three-months-old. We did not introduce her to solid foods until she was well past six months of age. Our third child was on formula only for the first year of her life. We were moving around a lot with the military and she was well-fed and happy, so it did not occur to us to give her baby food. Finally, when she was about a year old, we were eating pizza one night, and we gave her a pizza crust to chew on. From there, she went straight to solid food, skipping the baby food phase altogether.

The point is that there is no one right way to introduce a new baby to solid foods. While the tender age of three-weeks was far too young, any time between about five and twelve months is fine. Some babies are hungry for solid food before they can crawl, while others are completely content with formula or breast milk for the entire first year. As I watched my friend's new baby enjoy his first try on solid foods, I commended her for not caving in to the nay-sayers who have been telling her for months that she needs to give him real food. He is happy, well-fed, well cared-for, and as round as a little butterball, and that's all that matters.

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