Why I Am Exclusively Breastfeeding And Delaying Solid Foods
Posted May 14 2009 12:00am
I know many books and health experts recommend offering your baby solid foods around six months, but why?
When I ask the “why” question, here’s what they say:
“That’s what everybody does” “That’s what the doctors say to do” “Because it is exciting to feed your child solid foods!” “Because your breastmilk won’t provide the necessary nutrients after 6 months” “Because your baby can’t thrive only on breastmilk past 6 months” “Your baby will develop iron-deficiency if not given iron-supplementation” “Babies normally wean off around 6 months and need solids” “If your baby is not sleeping through the night, feeding solids will help”
When I met a few gals through my NOAH group emails who are/were delaying solids till the one-year mark or past the one-year mark. Naturally, I became very curious, especially after I read the benefits of doing that. I didn’t know you could do that or that it was an option.
So, Of course, I wanted to research on that and the NOAH gals direct me to this great website: www.kellymom.com. This website is a wealth of information and resources on the true basis for sound gut health and overall health for most children. It is difficult in this generation to keep our children healthy against the overwhelming environmental abuses they are bombard with. Honestly, overall, children are very much less healthy in this generation than the previous generation. How many families do you know that have at least one, if not several, members that have allergies, chronic illnesses, autoimmune disease or degenerative illness? Nowadays, sadly, it is consider “the norm”.
It is my desire to break that cycle in my girls’ generation. I am SO GRATEFUL that both my girls are strong and healthy. They should have the privilege to be happy kids with no physical problems and grow up enjoying life with out struggles and pain. That’s why I decided to delay solids to help ensure that for Tabitha. I did not do that with Naomi because I didn’t know I could do that if I wanted. Thankfully, I followed the Nourishing Tradition way of introducing solids (started her around 7 months with egg yolks). I believe it helped her avoid developing life-long allergies and digestive problems.
Most babies will become developmentally and physiologically ready to eat solids by 6-9 months of age. For some babies, delaying solids longer than six months can be a good thing; for example, some doctors may recommend delaying solids for 12 months if there is a family history of allergies.
Although some of the reasons listed here assume that your baby is breastfed or fed breastmilk only, experts recommend that solids be delayed for formula fed babies also.
Delaying solids gives baby greater protection from illness. Although babies continue to receive many immunities from breastmilk for as long as they nurse, the greatest immunity occurs while a baby is exclusively breastfed. Breastmilk contains 50+ known immune factors, and probably many more that are still unknown. One study has shown that babies who were exclusively breastfed for 4+ months had 40% fewer ear infections than breastfed babies whose diets were supplemented with other foods. The probability of respiratory illness occurring at any time during childhood is significantly reduced if the child is fed exclusively breast milk for at least 15 weeks and no solid foods are introduced during this time. (Wilson, 1998) Many other studies have also linked the degree of exclusivity of breastfeeding to enhanced health benefits (see Immune factors in human milk and Risks of Artificial Feeding).
Delaying solids gives baby's digestive system time to mature. If solids are started before a baby's system is ready to handle them, they are poorly digested and may cause unpleasant reactions (digestive upset, gas, constipation, etc.). Protein digestion is incomplete in infancy. Gastric acid and pepsin are secreted at birth and increase toward adult values over the following 3 to 4 months. The pancreatic enzyme amylase does not reach adequate levels for digestion of starches until around 6 months, and carbohydrate enzymes such as maltase, isomaltase, and sucrose do not reach adult levels until around 7 months. Young infants also have low levels of lipase and bile salts, so fat digestion does not reach adult levels until 6-9 months.
Delaying solids decreases the risk of food allergies. It is well documented that prolonged exclusive breastfeeding results in a lower incidence of food allergies (see Allergy References and Risks of Artificial Feeding). From birth until somewhere between four and six months of age, babies possess what is often referred to as an "open gut."
This means that the spaces between the cells of the small intestines will readily allow intact macromolecules, including whole proteins and pathogens, to pass directly into the bloodstream. This is great for your breastfed baby as it allows beneficial antibodies in breastmilk to pass more directly into baby's bloodstream, but it also means that large proteins from other foods (which may predispose baby to allergies) and disease-causing pathogens can pass right through, too. During baby's first 4-6 months, while the gut is still "open," antibodies (sIgA) from breastmilk coat baby's digestive tract and provide passive immunity, reducing the likelihood of illness and allergic reactions before gut closure occurs. Baby starts producing these antibodies on his own at around 6 months, and gut closure should have occurred by this time also. See How Breast Milk Protects Newborns and The Case for the Virgin Gut for more on this subject.
Delaying solids helps to protect baby from iron-deficiency anemia. The introduction of iron supplements and iron-fortified foods, particularly during the first six months, reduces the efficiency of baby's iron absorption. Healthy, full-term infants who are breastfed exclusively for periods of 6-9 months have been shown to maintain normal hemoglobin values and normal iron stores. In one study (Pisacane, 1995), the researchers concluded that babies who were exclusively breastfed for 7 months (and were not give iron supplements or iron-fortified cereals) had significantly higher hemoglobin levels at one year than breastfed babies who received solid foods earlier than seven months. The researchers found no cases of anemia within the first year in babies breastfed exclusively for seven months and concluded that breastfeeding exclusively for seven months reduces the risk of anemia. See Is Iron-Supplementation Necessary? for more information.
Delaying solids helps to protect baby from future obesity. The early introduction of solids is associated with increased body fat and weight in childhood. (for example, see Wilson 1998, von Kries 1999, Kalies 2005)
Delaying solids helps mom to maintain her milk supply. Studies have shown that for a young baby solids replace milk in a baby's diet - they do not add to baby's total intake. The more solids that baby eats, the less milk he takes from mom, and less milk taken from mom means less milk production. Babies who eat lots of solids or who start solids early tend to wean prematurely.
Delaying solids helps to space babies. Breastfeeding is most effective in preventing pregnancy when your baby is exclusively breastfed and all of his nutritional and sucking needs are satisfied at the breast.
Delaying solids makes starting solids easier. Babies who start solids later can feed themselves and are not as likely to have allergic reactions to foods.
Every baby is different. That’s why it is so important to know your baby and “listen” to your baby, not your doctor. Who knows our children best? Us mothers who are with them almost 24/7 or the doctors who see them for a couple hours? I truly don’t believe the “one-size fits all babies” system is healthy or wise. Naomi and Tabi are SO different from each other in their development and growth. Naomi’s bottom teeth didn’t pop out till she was about 10-11 months, but Tabi’s bottom teeth popped out when she was 6 months and her two top ones popped out shortly after. Naomi was a short and very chubby baby, but Tabi is a long and slightly chubby baby. Does it mean that one is healthier than the other or developing better than the other? No. It just confirms the scripture that God has made each one of us to be unique.
I wasn’t able to exclusively breastfeed Naomi past 7 months because my milk supply wasn’t meeting her demand. So I started her on egg yolks and goat milk while still breastfeeding her. With Tabi, it is a different story. She is still breastfeeding exclusively at 8 months and going strong. My milk supply is strong and flowing. She is a robust and happy baby.
What made the difference?
Diet is the biggest one and doing demand feeding. I wasn’t a very healthy eater before Naomi was conceived and I was learning how to eat healthier while pregnant and then making a lot of changes in our lifestyle after she was born. Now, I eat raw eggs (mixed in smoothies or oatmeal), kefir, raw milk, lacto-fermented foods, clean grass-fed meats, bone broths, coconut oil, cod-liver oil, soaked grains, fresh veggie juices and BIG salads with homemade dressings. I am basically following the Nourishing Tradition’s Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers. My midwife in Costa Rica, Uva, said my placenta was the most perfect and healthiest placenta she had ever seen. I attributed that to my nourishing diet, I seriously believe that because of the differences I saw between my two pregnancies, births and health.
So, back to the delaying of solids… This isn’t for everyone. One mother shared that she struggled with feeding her baby solids at 7 months, but saw that her baby needed it because she wasn’t content with just breastmilk. Tabitha is showing all the “signs” of being ready to eat solids, but she is still content with just breastmilk. She’s gaining weight, happy, robust and growing. I have to make sure I take care of myself by eating food full of good fats, complex carbs, protein and lots of water.
Even after I start Tabitha on solids, I am still planning to breastfeed her till she weans herself off (Naomi weaned herself off around 18 months). There are many great benefits of breastfeeding past a year.
• Nursing toddlers benefit NUTRITIONALLY • Nursing toddlers are SICK LESS OFTEN • Nursing toddlers have FEWER ALLERGIES • Nursing toddlers are SMART • Nursing toddlers are WELL ADDJUSTED SOCIALLY • Nursing a toddler is NORMAL (this is my favorite) • MOTHERS also benefit from nursing past infancy
Please go to the website for more detailed information on each benefit and see the resources.
Again, this isn’t for everyone… but I do pray and hope that more women (and men too!) will understand the benefits and learn to appreciate breastfeeding (whether they are, are not breastfeeding or did not, do not breastfeed). I truly believe it is a gift from God to be able to supply milk and nourish my precious babies. Thank you Lord!