There were many milestones in the first year of my children’s lives that I looked forward to in anticipation that things would soon be easier. The feedings every three hours all day and all night was one I could not wait to pass by! Many parents look toward the 4 month marker as if it is a finish line to cross because after this date pediatricians give the okay to start baby on solids, which usually means that baby will be full longer and sleep longer stretches through the night. I followed these guidelines with my first son and started him on rice cereal at four months old. He now has terrible allergies and a weakened immune system. With my second child, I made sure to research everything about allergies in efforts to avoid a similar outcome if I could.
My second son developed eczema at three months and I became extra careful about what I ate because I was breastfeeding, as well as products I used in the laundry and on his skin. When he turned four months old and his cheek was a bright red and ‘weeping’ mess, the doctor’s recommendation to start him on baby cereal did not sit well with me. Due to my own digestive issues, I had been researching the Paleo diet and was finding that not only were grains lacking in nutrition, there is a protein called lectin which serves as a natural insecticide for plants. Some forms of lectins are resistant to human digestion and enter the blood stream un-altered, which can cause an immune response. Lectins can also prevent the body from repairing lining of the GI tract, weakening digestion and promoting leaky gut. Leaky gut allows undigested proteins to pass through the walls of the digestive system, causing an immune response and allergies. Unless grains and legumes are soaked, sprouted or fermented, the lectin content can be very high and thus disruptive for the digestive system.
Because I knew that eczema is a precursor to allergies, I began researching all forms of infant cereal to see if there was one which did not contain lectins and was high in nutrition. Pediatricians everywhere are recommending it, it can’t be THAT bad, I thought.
What’s the deal with baby cereals?
- White Rice Cereal: studies have shown a link to Type 1 Diabetes and white rice baby cereal. White rice cereal has been refined, stripping all nutrition from the grain. This causes the cereal to be digested as a sugar rather than a protein and causes insulin irregularity. Why would we choose a food devoid of nutrition to feed our baby?!
- Brown Rice Cereal: brown rice is known to contain high levels of arsenic. In the past, many rice farmers used factory farmed chicken manure as fertilizer without realizing that factory farmed chickens are fed arsenic in place of antibiotics to keep them disease-free. (Antibiotic-free chicken on the label isn’t always a good thing!) The arsenic was in the manure and soaked up by the rice. In the recent past, there was a class action law suit filed by many of the top rice farmers in the country against the suppliers of chicken manure. I am not sure if this continues to be an issue or not, but better safe than sorry. I suppose the arsenic would remain present in the soil long after it was applied, anyway. Another argument against brown rice – it contains both the bran and the germ from the plant. The germ contains phytic acid, which can leech nutrients from the body. Not healthy at all!
- Oatmeal or Barley Cereal: Oatmeal can be cross-contaminated with gluten, while Barley does contain gluten. Gluten is a protein which is harmful to the digestive system and has been linked to leaky gut and therefore can cause allergies.
- Iron fortified cereals and formulas: Pediatricians tell us that breast milk (nature’s perfect food) does not contain enough iron for baby and producers of infant cereals and formulas have now made everything “Iron fortified” as a way to provide extra iron. Human breast milk, however, is naturally low in iron and contains chelators which bind to excess iron and remove it from the digestive system. To many this is an indicator that iron might be harmful to baby’s digestive system. Studies have shown that excess iron promotes the growth of intestinal pathogens and cause other health problems later in life. Read this very interesting article here.
By far, the most shocking and important thing I learned in researching baby cereal was this: BABIES CANNOT DIGEST GRAINS. Babies do not produce the pancreatic enzyme amylase, which is needed for digestion of grains. This enzyme does not get produced until the first molars are developed at around 13 to 19 months!
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a book, Nutrition: What Every Parent Needs to Know, which contains certain guidelines for when a baby is ready for solids.
- Baby holds head up with good control.
- Baby opens his mouth for food to come in. (Isn’t this a reflex?! He has been eating since he was born.)
- Can baby swallow food, or does he push it back out?
- Baby should have doubled his birth weight before starting solids.
Notice how there is nothing in the AAP guidelines about when the digestive system is capable of digesting food. Nature has designed breast milk for babies and grains resemble nothing like breast milk. Grains were not consumed by humans until approximately 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture and I have not found that babies have adapted thrive on grains. Some theorize that grains began being promoted about 60 years ago as a marketing tactic. Whatever the case, I was completely convinced to skip cereals all together.
What we did instead.
In all of my research, I found the best nutrition for baby is healthy fats as well as foods high Vitamins A, D and K, which is very similar to breast milk. As Americans, we have been told over and over that fats are bad. This is FAR from the case, however! The human brain requires cholesterol for the myelin nerve coating to transmit information throughout the body. A developing baby brain needs healthy sources of fats to thrive. I felt the Weston A. Price Foundation had some good recommendations on baby nutrition, which you can read here.
Because of my concerns over my son’s eczema, I exclusively breastfed for six months. We then tried the following:
Raw egg yolks. Raw egg yolks are recommended by the WAPF as a first food for baby around four months. Wait WHAT? RAW EGGS?! That was my reaction the first time I read that. I am so conditioned to fear raw eggs because they are the easiest way to get a bad case of salmonella. I learned, however, this is only the case with factory farmed eggs! Unhealthy chickens lay unhealthy eggs. I was able to purchase local pastured eggs from a farm I located on LocalHarvest.org. Check out this picture of a pastured egg yolk versus a store bought egg yolk on my instagram. The deep orange yolk comes from a healthy chicken and is much more nutritious.
After six months of exclusive breastfeeding, I started my son on raw egg yolks. (After trying them myself to make sure I didn’t die.) I made sure to wash the outside of the egg with soap and water before cracking, and started by soft boiling them. Egg whites should not be given to a baby until they are at least one year old, as the protein is difficult to digest and is an allergen to many people. I found that soft boiling was a difficult method to keep the white off the yolk, however. Once I became comfortable with the raw egg yolk, I simply would wash the egg, crack it in a bowl and spoon out the yolk, making sure to not have any egg white attached. I would then spoon feed my son one yolk a day. He LOVED IT!
Liver. Weston A. Price Foundation also recommends adding raw liver to the egg yolks. Liver is said to be nature’s super food because it is naturally high in vitamins and minerals. Many cultures eat raw liver, and if it is from a clean source and has been frozen for at least 14 days, it is said to be safe. I bought a grass-fed liver to see what it was like, and my kids liked it sauteed, but raw… I was just too scared to feed it raw to my baby. I skipped this step.
Bananas. Bananas are a great first food for baby because they are high in enzymes which assist with digestion. They can be mashed up and fed to baby raw after 6 months of age.
Avocado. Avocado is a great source of healthy fats and vitamins for baby. This can also be mashed up and spoon fed to baby after six months. My son’s skin around his mouth would become bright red after the avocado was on his face, and so I soon discontinued giving him avocado. I react to avocados as well, so this was enough for me to assume he is allergic or sensitive to avocados. But this is a great food for any baby not allergic to them!
At around eight months, I started adding in single fruit or vegetable purees, and then at ten months I began adding soups and meats. Always make sure you use grass-fed butter or coconut oil when making purees. The healthy fat is necessary for nutrient absorption, and proper brain development, as I mentioned before.
Although the first few months feel like they stretch out forever, it is a short amount of time for baby to be here and adjust and grow. There is no rush when introducing foods to baby. Many experts say that babies can survive on breast milk alone for up to a year. I always use the saying, “Food for fun until they are one.” I feel that breast milk is the most important thing for the first 12 months. If breast milk is just not working out for you, check out this homemade baby formula recipe by the Weston A. Price Foundation. It seems to be the closest thing to breast milk that you can make yourself at home! When the time comes that your baby is ready for more, I hope these facts and suggestions help you make the right choice for you and your baby.
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