Parenting is about constantly trying to balance. You’re always trying to balance work, meal prep, housework, time with your kids, time with your spouse, and self-care.
There is also a lot of balancing going on in the way we try to parent. You want to be strict but not overly strict. You want to nurture them without coddling them. You want to be involved in their life without being a “helicopter parent.” No matter what you do, someone will say you’re doing it wrong, or not you’re not doing enough, or you should do this instead. In the end, it’s not about finding a balance, it’s about finding your balance. Whatever works for you and your family is the right way to do it.
For me, I struggled as a parent to find a balance when it came to introducing solids to my son. As an early childhood nutritionist, I was taught one way of doing solid introduction,but through my own research I also became really interested in baby-led weaning. After some more research and a lot of thought, I finally came up with a new method of weaning that I call Gradual Baby-led Weaning (or GBLW for short). This method was perfect for my family and has been great for my son’s development, digestive system and his eating habits. Here is why it worked for us and why I believe it will work for your family as well.
No matter what method of solid introduction you choose, you should always wait until after baby is 6 months. WHO and AAP now advise that a baby be fed breast-milk or formula up until the age of 6 months, and there’s a good reason for this. The lining of our gut is made up of specialized epithelial cells known as tight junctions. These tight junctions provide the barrier between the digestive system and the blood stream, keeping undigested food out. However, a new born baby’s tight junctions are not fully formed.Meaning, they are not equipped to handle solid foods. Introduction of solid foods before the age of 6 months means that the foods would not be digested properly, which can lead to inflammation of the gut, and a strong susceptibility to developing food allergies.
When I first started studying solid introduction as a nutritionist, I was handed a schedule. It had a list of foods, to be introduced one food at a time for three days. The idea was watch for a reaction and then continue onto the next one. This is an old method for introducing solids and not only can this be cumbersome, I also do not believe it is necessary. The reason behind introducing foods one at a time was to monitor for allergic reactions. Although there are cases where you want to be conscious of allergies (for example a family history or common allergy foods) we now know that allergies can occur at any time, at any age and there is no need to be so cautious in the beginning. I think allowing your baby to explore a wide variety of flavours (within certain parameters) helps to develop their palate and immune system early on. This will actually help to prevent allergies.
However, I think there is a balance that needs to be achieved here, when it comes to introducing new foods to our children and allergies. An allergy is an immune response. So, let’s look at it the same way as we do other parts of our immune system. We now know that over-sanitizing everything and making our children live in a bubble is a bad for their immune system, but does that mean your child should lick the floor of a public bathroom? Challenging our immune system is not the same as overburdening it, just like challenging our baby’s digestive system and letting them explore new foods is not the same as overburdening it. Which brings us to the biggest benefit of GBWL.
All parents want is healthy, happy children. You can’t expect your children to adopt healthy habits If you don’t eat healthy yourself. It is important to make healthy eating a habit prior to starting a family. If you aren’t used to cooking before you have kids, learning to cook and prep healthy meals when you have a newborn baby will be next to impossible.
While I think the schedule method is too strict, I believe the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Babies are now having a full meal, complete with meat, potatoes and bread right at day one. This is overburdening their digestive systems. People who practice fasting know to break their fast slowly. Well, a baby had been on a liquid fast all their life and therefore need to slowly be introduced to foods to give their digestive system time to catch up.
It is known that the enzyme pancreatic amylase, which helps to break down complex carbohydrates, does not develop until molars develop sometimes after a year. However, it doesn’t mean that babies do not have any amylase. There are enzymes in our salivary glands, enzymes produced by the digestive lining and even breast milk contains enzymes. So while babies have some ability to digest carbohydrates, it means that they are not as equipped to digest them as older children.
It also means that oatmeal shouldn’t be one of the first foods. Giving complex carbohydrate too early can also cause constipation and lethargy in babies. Meat and other animal foods are also very difficult to digest. GBWL keeps digestion in mind when weaning a baby. We start out with the simplest and easiest foods to digest, i.e. vegetables and fruits, and then slowly introduce more complex foods once their body can handle it.
By introducing foods slowly, but not just one at a time, you are challenging your baby’s digestive system and palate without overburdening. Not only do we keep in mind a child’s digestion, but also their health overall. Certain foods, like processed foods and foods high in sugar, are kept off the menu for the first year.
Over the years, I’ve spoken to many nutritionist and parents about how to keep kids off junk food. It seems the best way is to keep it out of sight and out of mind, without making it seem too forbidden or taboo. It would be naïve of me to think that my son will never eat an Oreo cookie, but that doesn’t mean I am going to give him one at 9 months of age.
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