Babies and Food: Not Your Mother’s Baby Food

A friend of mine recently had her mother-in-law (MIL) give her 3 1/2 month old a taste of ice cream!  Her MIL said “no big deal it was just a taste.”

Now, I and my other mommy friends gasped!  She’s only three months old!  All that sugar (or worse yet HFCS)!  Cow’s milk!  Artificial colors and flavors!  I can honestly say if it had been Aellyn I would have been in tears and hopping mad!

According to my mom, she says even she is tempted to give Aellyn tastes of things.  When I was a baby she was advised to give me cereal at two weeks old!!!  I think our parents’ generation may have an ingrained impulse to give our babies “real” food.  I don’t think this is particularly anti-breastfeeding but just a way we share love.  Imagine grandma telling you to “eat up, there is plenty more!”  We, as new parents, have to inform our loved ones what the baby can and can’t have.  If they think you’re crazy tell them this:

  1. An infant who is breastfed has a lower pH in their gut than formula-fed babies or adults.  This inhibits growth of certain pathogens.
  2. Mother’s milk, particularly colostrum, protects the baby by creating an anti-inflammatory barrier blocking bad germs from entering the blood stream (don’t forget all those immune factors ).
  3. The digestive tract is immature and not able to produce the needed quantity of enzymes to process the proteins, carbohydrates, or fats in foods.  This can lead to gas, diarrhea, constipation, and other gastrointestinal distress.
  4. This immaturity also means that the intestines are “open” or non-selective in the proteins that it allows to pass through the intestinal wall.  Mother’s milk coats the intestines with IgA, a substance that blocks the absorption certain allergenic proteins.
  5. These same IgA are antigen specific, meaning if the mother (and thus the baby) are exposed to a certain type of virus or bacteria, the mother’s body produces IgA that blocks that pathogen in the baby’s intestinal tract.

Basically a breastfed baby has a ‘virgin’ gut.  All the good bacteria nature intends and protection against the worst pathogens and allergens during this delicate time in their lives.  Introducing foods too early upsets this delicate balance.  Additionally it can predispose a child to other illnesses:

Decreased Iron Absorption:

 Introducing foods with iron (or supplemented with iron, such as formula) decreases the efficiency of the baby’s iron absorption.  At 1 year of age, breastfed babies with no iron supplmentation had higher levels of hemoglobin than babies supplemented with iron (Pisacane A, et al. Iron status in breast-fed infants. J Pediatr 1995 Sep;127(3):429-31).

Increased Risk of Type I Diabetes:

 When cow’s milk is given before the infant’s gut is closed the body can become sensitized by the immune response to the proteins.  This sensitization is the initial step in the development of insulin dependent diabetes (Kostraba JN, Cruickshanks KJ, Lawler-Heavner J, et al. Early exposure to cow’s milk and solid foods in infancy, genetic predisposition, and risk of IDDM. Diabetes 1993; 42:288-295 and
American Academy of Pediatrics, Work Group on Cow’s Milk Protein and Diabetes Mellitus. Infant feeding practices and their possible relationship to the etiology of diabetes mellitus.  Pediatrics 1994; 94:752-754).)

For more information I really recommend reading The Case for the Virgin Gut.  Our babies’ grandparents clearly don’t have iron deficiency, irritable bowel syndrome, or diabetes on their minds when they see your little cherub!  Just remind them to show their love without food until you give them the green light!


3 thoughts on “Babies and Food: Not Your Mother’s Baby Food

  1. Great post! I was teased by a few family members for refusing to introduce foods to my son earlier than his pediatrician recommended. I was told I was being over-protective and silly. I am so glad I stood up for what I wanted anyway and didn’t let those family members sway my decision to breastfeed as long as possible before introducing certain foods.


  2. Oh I would have been so mad about that! I was amazed at the amount of sunnyboy’s peers who were started on solid foods at 4-5 months to ‘help them sleep through the night’ despite their mothers having all the information on not giving solid foods until over six months. Your post is very informative though.


  3. My mom was given the same stupid advice for my brother, her first-born. She gave him cereal at either 2 or 6 weeks of age, and he threw up violently all over her. Wish it had been the stupid doc who had been the one feeding him. 😉 But she took that as a hint that her mind and instinct were correct, and he was *much* too young to be eating solid food.

    One time when my oldest was still a baby and completely breastfed (so 6 months or younger), we went out to eat, and the waitress commented (quite proudly!) that her baby’s first solid food — at two weeks of age — was chicken gravy. It was all I could do to restrain the horrified expression on my face into something resembling normalcy.



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