Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Eat food.

I bet that a lot of you have at least heard of Michael Pollan's aphorism/book, "Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants."  I am also willing to bet that most of you think this is pretty good advice.  But...what about for babies?

I'm starting to think that Michael Pollan's aphorism is as good for babies as it is for adults.

Of course, until they're a year old, babies can get the vast majority of their calories and nutrients from breast milk--the ultimate food!  But it's also important for them to develop a taste for other things--and to learn to eat them--so that some day, they can enjoy a diverse, healthy array of foods.

Traditionally in the U.S., we introduce solids to babies between 4 to 6 months old (now the medical advice is to wait till 6 months), through the Almighty Purée.  Sweet potatoes, peas, banana, pears, chicken, and rice--they all become goop to be scooped into baby's open, hopefully willing mouth.  But is purée really the kind of "food" we want to encourage babies to love?

Soon after my daughter turned 5 months, I got impatient and tried to give her some peach purée.  I quickly realized that purées were a pain to prepare, and that my daughter's enjoyment of them was definitely not commensurate with the effort they required.  So I recently turned to something that I'd heard of a while ago:  "baby-led weaning."  The basic idea of baby-led weaning is to allow your baby to feed herself from a variety of whole foods.  At first, you choose things that are relatively soft, so that she can gum them into a mush to be swallowed.  But you skip purées in favor of things that can be grabbed by the baby herself.  This is a good source of information about baby-led weaning.  Also, be sure to check out this week's Science Sunday, when I'll review the scientific evidence--or lack thereof!--for different ways of introducing solids.

Anyway, we've now given Jo:  whole steamed carrots, banana, apple slices, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, papaya, and bread.  She seems to love it all.  Here's Jo enjoying a carrot:

I'm sure the main worry people might have about this method is about choking.  Babies will gag a little at first with solid foods--but this is likely to happen no matter when you introduce them.  Chewing and swallowing are motor skills that require practice.  Here's an example of Jo gagging a little when we gave her bread for the first time, last week:

Remember that there's a difference between gagging (the little noises at the back of the throat) and choking (baby can't breathe and therefore can't make any noise).  Also, regardless of how and when you choose to introduce solids, it's a good idea for parents and other caregivers to know the basics of how to deal with a choking baby.

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