Since starting Dahlia on solid food, I have been struggling with so many details: how much should I feed, how often, what kinds, how fast to introduce new foods, how long should I wait to introduce ‘potentially allergic foods’ like wheat, cow milk, peanuts, etc., should she get water, should I feed only organic, should I make it or buy it, and what about fingerfoods???
I know this will surprise most of my audience, but there are very strong opinions for each and every one of these topics. I have personally been pretty heavily indoctrinated that breastmilk is ALL a baby needs for the first year, and solid food experiences are basically just a developmental activity, not a nutritional necessity. However, there are still a lot of people out there clamoring for my parenting ear. They are saying things like, “Your baby needs extra water now that they are eating solids.”, “Your baby should be getting cereal at this point (6 months).”, “Your baby needs more energy now that they are crawling, so feed more solids.”. And even beyond these directives, I have the influential example of a lot of the women around me. Some women I know feed their babies pretty much anything at this age, both in baby food and in fingerfood. Others very carefully introduce every little ingredient and wait days in between each food.
Deciding about fingerfoods is an extra struggle. Dahlia watches everything that we eat with those large, cute blue eyes, and sometimes even begs for it with her hands or open mouth. What makes these decisions so hard are that most of what we eat, I consider a choking hazard. I feel like I should help her develop hand-eye coordination and chewing by offering fingerfoods, but I am pretty stumped on what to offer. Cheerios seemed like the most obvious food until I found out that the second ingredient is sugar! Soft foods like banana and pieces of fruit are impossible for her to pick up at this point, so she just mushes them around and pushes them off the tray/table. (Although there was one moment of brilliance where I marveled at my daughter’s apparent genius: my 7 month old baby, getting frustrated with not being able to pick up mushy pear pieces, pushed the piece to the edge of the table and then ate it off the edge of the table with her mouth!! I was astounded.) It seems like each time I go to the store, I come back with a different “healthy” brand of O’s cereal. One was impossible for her to gum into a soft enough food–she worked at it for minutes before she spat out a half dissolved O. One had wheat starch (wheat!!!), and one had cane sugar (are all sugars equal?). So we finally settled on Purely O’s by Cascadian Farms. It has wheat starch, so Dahlia is starting early on wheat, but it doesn’t have any sugar, and I think the wheat starch is what allows them to dissolve so easily in her mouth.
So, like every other issue, I guess I have come to the point where I just need to decide what seems best for my little family and go ahead with that. I think a lot of the opinions floating around are perpetuated by the baby food manufacturers. I don’t like getting purposely skewed parenting advice so that I will buy more of someone’s product. My suspicions tend to lead me back toward the “breastmilk as the staple and solid food as a developmental activity” camp.
Basically, I am trying not to be completely overbearing in how fast I introduce new foods, but also go slow enough so that I can catch any problems if she reacts to a food. She is getting better at gumming fingerfoods, so our options there will start to open up. I have given up on the completely organic route, but still buy organic for her when I can. I make her baby food, and offer her bites (or hold it for her to suck on) of anything we are eating that is appropriate for her. I am not militaristic about our food regime, but I try to get 2 feedings in. It is usually prunes or fruit in the AM (to avoid adventures in constipation), and veggies and cereal in the PM. She is fast approaching a year old anyway, so I think food will become less of a struggle. I am going to try to avoid processed sugar as long as I can, but it may be a losing battle.
So there you have it. Maybe I think too hard about these things. It is the blessing and the curse of living in this information age. Next edition: Adventures in the Childhood Vaccine Controversy.