As part of the online Gold Conference on breastfeeding, I attended a webinar with Italian physician Adriano Cattaneo entitled “Principles for the Introduction of Starting Solids.”
Dr. Cattaneo’s comments on prepared baby foods reminded me of my post about what makes processed foods bad. His reasons for avoiding jarred food for babies include:
- Contaminants like heavy metals, additives and colorings.
- False nutritional claims. This is especially true regarding fats and vitamins. And because of their long shelf life, the quality of the food deteriorates.
- The quality of these components is poor. To increase profits, manufacturers prefer cheap starches and oils.
- The foods have have no taste or fragrance, with an unpleasant look and texture. Babies don’t like them.
- They are expensive and harm the environment (think of all of that glass!).
Most of these concerns apply to the processed foods that adults eat as well. However, because babies are still growing the quality of their food has a greater long-term effect. Babies and toddlers have small stomachs, so it’s important to make every bite count.
Cattaneo also recommends against spoon-feeding of pureed soups or mixed vegetables even when homemade. Babies need control over their food, including how much they take in each bite, how much of each particular food they want (as opposed to mixtures), and when to stop.
In fact, Cattaneo advises that babies are ready for solids as soon as they grab them and eat them. Babies who get everything they need from breastmilk, or who are not physically ready, won’t bother. Most babies show interest during the range of 4 to 9 months, with most babies nearer to the 6-month mark a few outliers, especially at the later end. Despite the recent, poorly evidenced recommendations adopted by most European countries and Israel, there is no reason to be worried if your baby doesn’t want solids despite being older than 26 weeks.
Babies enjoy learning to manipulate solid foods and experimenting with flavors and textures. Parents can encourage this by inviting baby to eat along with them at meals. Breastfeeding babies are already used to the flavors of the mother’s diet. Feeding babies is about much more than getting the correct amount of protein, calcium and fat into their stomachs. It’s about trusting babies’ instincts to get what they need, and encouraging their inborn desire and ability to imitate their parents and learn adult skills.