Feeding Babies: A Relaxed, Common Sense Approach

baby eating foot

This post was originally published over a year ago, but I continue to find questions on feeding babies and introducing solids in my inbox, so I thought that this was worth re-posting. And with another year to see how Johanna has responded to this style of feeding, I can say with even more certainty that this approach has helped her to develop into an easy-going, independent and un-picky eater. Hooray!

When I had my first baby, I was strangely eager to feed her “real” food. I couldn’t wait to break out those baby spoons, to start grinding up food in my blender and moving in to that next stage of babyhood. I began when she was around 5 1/2 months old, a reasonable age I figured. I even drew up a lovely Type A chart for my fridge, to record her every bite, her reaction to each food, and how many days I waited before the next introduction.

My darling girl, however, had different plans. Her reaction to the food? Yawn… ho, hum. What’s all the fuss about solids, mama? More milk, please!

A bit dismayed and confused, I backed off for a while. I continued to hesitantly offer a bit of food over the course of the next several months, and though she took it from time to time, she didn’t truly care or seem to need it until she was more like 9 or 10 months.

Fast forward two and a half years. Now I had a little guy who began to approach that magical age of six months. I decide to play it a bit more relaxed this time, going far beyond 6 months to ensure that his gut is ready to handle and digest food. At around 7 or 8 months, I began to oh-so-slowly introduce my homemade babyfoods, one at a time. Success! He loves it, he’s ready for it, and I didn’t stress myself out by trying too early.

Then, while pregnant with my third this past spring, I read something that shook me up just a little bit more: Real Food for Mother and Baby, by Nina Planck.

Being the careful, cautious mother that I am, I had always made my baby’s meals with whole, nourishing foods. I slowly introduced them, one by one, working from smooth purees to gradually chunkier combinations. I thought I had it all figured out.

Enter Nina’s casual yet common sense approach. So long as it’s “real” food (that is, foods that are old, traditional, whole, and were eaten by our great-grandparents), allow baby to eat it without fuss, without comment, without pureeing, without stress. Could it really be so simple?

Bless the babies of experimental moms like me. They get to be the guinea pigs of all our brilliant (and not-so-brilliant) ideas. Thankfully, Johanna is a pretty chill third child, and her mama has gone from being a bit of a basket case to a rather easy-going, relaxed, “sure, why not?” kind of mom.

baby tanja eating grass

Image by xlordashx

Here are my oh-so-brilliant and oh-so-precise methods for feeding my darling girl:

1. Wait until she’s good and old. I had visions of 8 or 9 months, but this particular child seemed ready at about 7 1/2. I went with the flow. In the meantime, I gave her nothing but lots of warm, delightful, nourishing, always-available breastmilk for as long as I could.

2. Cook regular meals for the rest of the family.

3. Find something in those meals that seems to be safe for baby (ie. soft enough to gum, nothing that might cause a choking hazard, no grains until baby’s digestive system is a little more mature around a year old). My first picks? Ground beef and liver, lightly cooked egg yolk, boiled sweet potato, steamed cauliflower or broccoli with butter, ripe banana, soft avocado chunks.

4. Break into small-ish pieces (note the precision) with your fingers. Put baby in a chair or on your lap. A bib is nice.

5. Allow baby to go for it.

6. Sweep floor thoroughly (this is in bold, because yes, it is necessary).

7. Repeat the next day.

Here’s what I didn’t do:

  • Record what I fed her.
  • Puree anything. At all. The closest I’ve come is to use a fork to lightly mash something. And she had some homemade applesauce because my older children were eating some.
  • Use a spoon or a bowl.
  • Wait several days between each new food introduction.
  • Worry about how much she did or didn’t eat.

The result? A happy baby who has not rejected a single thing I’ve offered her, including a myriad of different vegetables and liver. A happy mama who is able to sit and eat her own dinner with both of her hands, and who has saved herself the time and effort of preparing ice cube trays full of baby food.

baby eating avocado

Image by chimothy27

But What About…

Food allergies and sensitivities

A main reason that babies have reactions to foods is because they are fed too early. Babies that are given solids before six months (and many are fed as early as 3-5 months) do not have digestive systems that are capable of completely breaking down foods. Instead they have a “open gut” which means that particles of food (usually food proteins that their systems are not able to fully digest) make it through microscopic holes in the gut lining and into the blood stream. There, these particles create an allergic reaction, as the body treats them like foreign invaders.

By putting off solids until at least 6 months and longer if possible, the risk of food sensitivities greatly decreases. At this point baby is creating more of their own digestive enzymes and the “open gut” has matured and closed up.

Of course, if you already have severe allergies in the families (dairy, gluten, peanuts, etc.) then it would be wise and prudent to avoid these foods for as long as possible, and then only offer them in a very controlled and careful way the first few times to be able to observe any reaction to them.

Getting enough food

One of the things that I love most about this method of feeding is that it keeps breastfeeding as a priority and the main focus of baby’s diet. So long as mom is offering the breast often and ensuring that her own diet/beverages are sufficient to keep up an ample milk supply for a larger baby, this solves the problem of whether the baby gets enough to eat. Baby will gradually begin to eat more and more of what they are offered (and begin to request more as well) as their needs and appetite grow.

Until my babies are around a year old, I offer breastmilk before I offer food. I don’t make this an absolute firm rule, nor do I decide to not let them have food at lunch because I haven’t been able to sit down and nurse them yet. It’s simply a mindset of breastmilk being their primary food, and solids being secondary. This gradually shifts as baby grows bigger and becomes more and more interested in and capable of eating solids. The shift occurs naturally, I’ve found, if I let it happen that way.

But my baby is hungry before six months old…

I hate to say this, because it sounds insensitive or judgmental, and that is absolutely not how I want it to come across. But, when moms tell me this my first thought is that they may simply may not be making breastfeeding the priority.

(And I KNOW that there are absolutely exceptions to this and the occasional mom who just really, really struggles with her milk supply no matter what she tries, so please know that there is no criticism at all if you are one of those moms. I applaud your efforts to breastfeed in spite of difficulties!)

It takes a LOT to feed a growing baby. A lot. I eat and drink non-stop all day long, in order to continue to breastfeed my 8 1/2 mth old daughter (who is a bit of a roly-poly, chunky monkey, which equals a healthy baby). I feed her usually 1-3 times between 7pm-7am, and then another 4-6 times throughout the day. That’s a lot of milk and I would be lying to say that it’s effortless on a mama’s part to keep making enough milk to satisfy a hungry, growing baby.

In my experience with my three babies, it takes commitment on my part. 100% commitment to maintaining as much milk as my little one needs means that I nurse more often, I don’t try to force them to sleep through the night if they still need the milk, I add extra nursing sessions if my supply wanes, and I snack and sip continually. Yes, it’s a bit more effort, but it’s well, well worth it.

Can baby handle foods that aren’t pureed?

From my experience and what I’ve read, yes, most babies can. There will be the odd baby that struggles with some of the chunkier textures or has a stronger gag reflex. In those cases, just calmly observe and make a decision that only you as the parent can make. If it doesn’t work for your baby, then do something different. It’s as simple as that.

I’ve linked to some excellent posts below, both of which address the choking and texture issues, which I think you will find helpful. They also get into many more of the specific details and reasoning behind this method of feeding babies. It is referred to in many different ways, including Baby-Led Solids or Baby-Led Weaning (referring to the entire process of weaning a baby from exclusive breastfeeding to solids to weaning from the breast). Both posts link to some other useful articles and books as well.

Feeding Baby Naturally: What, When & How

Baby Essentials That Aren’t, Part 7: Baby Food

Real Food for Mother and Baby: The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two, and Baby’s First Foods(the book that started it all, for me at least)

Has anyone tried this approach to feeding their baby? What has your experience been like?

Image by Charlotte Speaks

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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Comments

  1. Just wanted to note that while it is counterintuitive, current research says that celiac parents and those with a strong history of celiac in the family SHOULD introduce wheat between 5 and 6 months, and then breastfeed as long as possible thereafter. Something about that open gut provides a window that has a protective effect and significantly reduces risk of developping the disease.

  2. Thank you for posting this! This is great encouragement to me b/c I slightly followed this with my first (not knowing that I was), however, I was ridiculed by my family for not giving him more solids and I felt like I was a “lazy” or “unprepared” mama. I now am on #2, who is 4 1/2 months old and I have had a LOT of people encourage me to start him on cereals, which I cringe at the idea of. This seems so much more natural, and right up my alley…I feel so much better knowing that I’m not crazy for feeling this way, and will as I always do, stick to my guns and do this. I’ll post my experience with my little guy as they come.
    Thanks!

  3. This was my exact experience: My babies refused solid food at six months. They wanted table food at 8 months or so. The end. Or rather, the beginning. That was my first two. After that, I didn’t bother to start until 8 months. And even then, I watch for signs of readiness: reaching for food, putting it in their mouths, watching me chew while they move their own jaws up and down. To smash things up, sometimes (when we don’t have company) I’ll chew something for them and then put it in their mouths. I know that sounds gross, but we lived in a SE Asian village where that was the norm for “grinding your own baby food” and it seemed to work well. Perhaps the mother’s saliva helps to pre-digest the food for the baby? I don’t know, but I don’t hurry to introduce foods anymore and none of my babies has suffered for it!

  4. Thanks for this article! I am currently researching appropriate first foods for when my daughter is ready. I find your no-fuss attitude refreshing. But the most important thing I got from your article was reassurance about how frequently my 3 1/2 month old daughter nurses. At night she feeds at about 7:30 pm, 12:30 am, 3:00 am, 6:00 am. Then she snacks and naps in little intervals all day at her whim. I am lucky enough to have a year off work to indulge her. Now I am not so worried that she is feeding too often and not as keen to start supplementing her diet yet.

  5. I LOVED this article. I really needed some reassurance, and I got it. I’m working with my first, who’s 7.5months, and still nursing at night, and practically all day long. I was lucky and have had a good supply. I just wish I didn’t have to work! Any advice on how much breast milk a baby should drink from a bottle? I’m always worried she isn’t getting enough when I’m not home, nursing on demand. Anyway, thanks so much for the great read!!

  6. As a nurse practitioner, I can fully say I agree with the “Real Food” philosophy of feeding a baby. Rice cereal is empty food with artificial iron added- no real nutrition. Egg yolk is the perfect first food- a lot of iron, protein, tons of vitamins and brain healthy fats. Also, avacado is great due to it’s high fat content. Most people I talk to don’t realize how important fats are for a baby’s brain- brain matter is mostly fat; no wonder human breast milk has 50% of it’s calories from fat!! :-) Great article!!!

  7. i understand…it’s not your typical situation that’s for sure! thanks for getting back so quickly!

  8. i hope someone can help me. my daughter just turned one. she was on the weston A price formula since about 3 weeks old, as i could not produce breast milk after 3 weeks. she is simply NOT interested in anything other than organic puffs/veggie straws, etc. for a while there i was able to get her to eat some bited of banana or avocado (always from my hand, she pushes the spoon away), but now if i am able to get the food in her mouth, she spits it out. we want to ween her off of the formula, but i am so scared she won’t get any nutrition. i also want to get her off of the dried snacks. she has some exczema, and i believe it is gut related (as does her doctor). ANY advice would be so appreciated, as I am baffled on what to do. Her 2 1/2 year old brother was just diagnosed autistic and has some food adversions but will eat most everything I give him……thanks so much.

    • @gina, I would like to offer some help, Gina, but it sounds a bit beyond my own experience feeding children. Sounds to me like something to work with a certified nutritionist or naturopath on, perhaps. There definitely may be gut issues, but you need to get her to eat first, or it will be very hard to put her on a specific gut-healing diet, so I would try to deal with just varying her diet first.

  9. Hi Stephanie! We followed these exact same principles with our girls…especially baby #2.

    They’re now ages 2 and 4…and GREAT eaters (plus, no allergies!). :)

    • Dear Gina, Please take a look at “Breaking the vicious cycle”. This book is amazing and talks about a specail diet for Autistic people and for people with gut problems. I’m gluten intolerant and went on this diet for one year. It is a hard diet to follow but I felt great and healthy. Good luck.

  10. One other question for ya – Do you have articles you could refer me to or other blog posts you’ve done regarding the development of the gut and dangers of solids too soon? We have just done solids thus far very lightly. Just once a day (really like 3 times a week) and somewhere between half a baby spoon full and one ice cube of food.
    I like your whole food approach, and I think I’ll do that soon. Just pureed a little to start with. But I’m not stressing about the texture (as long as it’s small enough for her to eat) or the timing of feeding etc. Just go with the flow.
    But wanted to read more about the gut thing. Thanks for your reply about the egg yolk by the way!

    • @Ashleigh, I haven’t written any other posts on that topic myself. but I think that there are some useful articles on the Weston Price website, in regards to how/when to feed babies and why. wish I could help more but I am responding while on vacation and my internet availability is really limited. Sorry!

  11. It’s SO reassuring I’m not the only one doing this! I picked up that book by Nina Planck and was mesmerized. I breastfed my daughter and when she was ready for table food (7 months), I fed her from my plate. She still primarily nurses, but I give her food and she LOVES it all! My husband and I shake our heads everyday that we didn’t do this with our son. It’s SO EASY!! No purees or cans of food or cereal…just real food. I do find that I nurse a lot still, but it’s worth it to me.
    Also, many people question what I do and I simply answer, but make no suggestion for others to do this unless I know they eat real food. I don’t want to mislead others that it is healthy for babies to eat everything, especially in our processed world.

  12. Regarding the food allergies… it’s not 100% accurate to say that they are the result of feeding baby too early. My boys were both diagnosed with food allergies well before they ever had their first bite of solids (between 2 and 4 months); their symptoms were severe eczema, coughing/wheezing, and vomiting. There is no clear-cut answer as to why so many people today have food allergies and/or sensitivities, and it’s a bit simplistic to suggest that eating solids too early is the reason. The reasons range from a lack of good gut flora to over-cleanliness, to medications to vaccines and who knows what else. To be honest, I think early solids really has very little to do with it in light of all the more serious issues that affect the gut.

    Having said that, I waited until my boys were at least 6 months before feeding them solids, and they were both ready at that point; I wasn’t able to breastfeed my first past 9 months (long story), but I’m hoping to keep this one going at least a year (if I can stay off cheese that long… he’s allergic to dairy:).

    I also totally agree with the concept of feeding baby real table food from the beginning, but I also believe that purees play a part as well (or at least mashed foods). Let’s not forget that previous generations (before Gerber) would also mash their babies’ food, or even chew it themselves before offering it to their little ones. If we believe that people in previous generations practiced better eating and nutrition than we do, then we would not be remiss in following their example in this regard.

  13. I absolutely loved Nina’s books. I had the privileged to read both of them before my DS was born. It was so freeing. After watching family members struggle with feeding their LOs and watching one kill two food processors pureeing food. I felt lucky not to be bound by the conventional method.

  14. I have not read this book, but we have done this approach with our youngest. I totally throw the food rule book out the window. So far she’s doing great and not picky at all (at 14 months). I didn’t give her cereal to start out with instead I started her on avocados and bananas. It was SO much easier to cook food for the whole family than just her and us separately. And, it saves so much money instead of purchasing extra pouches of baby food.

  15. I did the same with my last few kids. My oldest only had two jars of store-bought baby food and some homemade purees because I was a gung-ho first time mom. After that, I was busy enough with a toddler and baby, that I just threw little chunks of food at the baby in the little high chair/seat to play with and eventually shove into his mouth. Worked fabulously with the second, third, and fourth children. People are shocked when my kids answer the “what’s your favorite vegetable?” question with broccoli, or see my (still nursing) 18mo chowing down on salad or my 3yo sucking down sauteed zucchini, or all of them snarfing brown rice. And really, this mama’s got enough on her plate with making regular meals – I’m *not* making separate little ones for toddlers.

    • Oh, and my kids all started solids at different times to boot! Since we waited until they got all excited and trying to grab stuff off our plates, they thought it was the most exciting thing ever. :) With one it was about 6mo, the next it was 9-10mo (although she didn’t *really* get into solids for another few months), the last babe was 7mo.

  16. Great post! Though my babies are all grown up kids now, I have the same issue with feeding time before. It’s really hard and upsetting sometimes when I’m having a hard time feeding them. Good thing I gracefully survived that phase of mommyhood!

  17. I loved Real Foods for Mother and Baby! Fabulous book. Although I have found that I have a baby that does indeed have a very sensitive gag reflex, requiring me to feed him mashed food or to grind food in a food mill. But that’s ok, I’m willing to do that, even though it wasn’t part of my plan. He loves food! I would hate to deprive him on principle. He insists on feeding himself by hand or with preloaded spoons. He is getting better at 8 months (we didn’t start solids until 6+ months) and I plan to offer him more chunks as he matures.

  18. Jennifer says:

    I learned something interesting in my Anatomy and Physiology class that might be of good value to know. Babies digestive tract continues to form between the age of 1 to 2 years of age. I thought this might be helpful to those who are wondering a little bit more about the GI tract and babies. Here is an article on Livestrong.com that may be useful to those who find this fascinating :)
    http://www.livestrong.com/article/252816-infant-digestive-system-development/

  19. Great post! I wish I had it to read when I was first starting out. I was a lot like you with my first. With my second I did put off feeding a lot longer but continued down the “making baby food” road for a while. I have seven children and I didn’t really learn to relax about what to feed until probably my fifth child. As you said, there is almost always something baby can eat at a whole foods meal. Occasionally something else might need to be added, but rarely. I also agree with how important it is to really prioritize nursing. It is a big key to long term health.