Does it Undermine Breastfeeding to give a Whole Food Alternative to Commercial Formula?

Over at Nourishing Our Children’s Facebook page, there has been a lot of criticism about a particular post that recommends which foods to begin feeding babies starting at 4 months. Some people are criticizing the Weston Price Organization for undermining or demphasizing  exclusive breastfeeding in favour of starting babies on solid foods. While it may at first glance appear that way, I don’t think that the Weston Price Organization or Nourishing Our Children for that matter have that intention.

Inspired by that  Facebook post, I wrote a little about my own experience  and research in the natural timing of infants introduction to solid food. I think it is worthwhile sharing here on my blog as well! 

I personally waited until both of my babes were 1 year of age until introducing solids (and both of my children were breastfed past the age of 4!) yet, I don’t think that there is any magic age to introduce solids.

What I’ve noticed is, that if solid foods are not offered babies don’t show an interest in it (especially first babies- many other mama’s  experiences have mirrored that of my own). When they have older siblings to imitate, our second children we have  noticed, seem to really want to take part in eating with the family.

But what did nature intend? I did some research on the natural timing of infant’s introduction to solid food and wrote and article for natural news about it, which can be found here. It is referenced, so you can check my sources.

It seems that we all agree that there is no specific time to introduce solids that applies universally. I have come to feel that we need to follow our babies. If they aren’t interested in eating solids, then we shouldn’t insist on it, just because of the conventional dogma that tells us we should.

And if our baby is interested, then why not allow them to explore foods appropriate to their digestive maturity, carefully watching for signs of their ability to digest the food and introducing only 1 food at a time, so that we can be sure that the particular food in question is right for them. We can determine this by looking at their stool and watching for rashes. If the food is coming out undigested, well then it has likely been an irritant, and definately not a source of nourishment. We cannot assimilate nutrition from something that we are not digesting. Watch also that their stool is well formed, not loose or constipated. This can become complicated to determine when mother  herself has a leaky gut, and passes on undigested food particles through her breastmilk. In this situation, the baby will have colic and/or rashes even when exclusively breast fed and this situation requires that the mother heal her own digestive challenges.

Some people claim that it is weird or unnatural to feed babies pureed foods and that we should let them only eat foods that they can pick up with their fingers. While I agree that being able to pick up food with their fingers could potentially be an indication that they are ready for solid foods, I also have to acknowledge that it was not an uncommon tradition for our ancestors to feed their babies pre-chewed foods (from the mother’s mouth). If they can’t chew it well, we might want to ask ourselves if the food is nourishment, a toy- at best or at worst- a burden to their developing digestive capacity.

I don’t necessarily agree with the logic that babies or toddlers should eat food in its original state  because they can hold it in their hands, nor do I assume that it is some kind of  panacea to ensure that our children will enjoy the natural texture of real food. Food in its unprocessed perfection is raw, and many raw  foods are just too hard to digest for babies and young children. These foods cool the digestive fire (see my article ” Thou Shall Not Feed thy Child Like a Little Adult”), not to mention the added problem of anti nutrients and often difficult to digest fibers. While most children will eat whatever you put infront of them up to the age of 3 (unless they already have some type of digestive or true picky eater syndrome), after that look out! Suddenly all that they once enjoyed will be preceded by the words “ew yuck” or “I don’t like that”! It may be just a developmental expression of will or it could be because they are on strike from being deprived of the saturated fats that would have fortified their digestion (or both!). At some point the toddler’s body says enough is enough! Give me the stuff that I can easily digest! Mashing, blending, stewing,  fermenting act like an extra stomach outside of their stomach- thus taking some of the weight off the developing digestive tract in a world where modern mama’s typically do not chew their babies and toddlers food for them! 

I used the aforementioned approach of waiting until 1 year to introduce solids and then letting  my son eat whatever we were eating (predominantly a whole foods, whole grains and veggie diet) . I think this was a mistake.  To be fair and transparent, I have to share as well that my son had a round of antibiotics at the age of 4 months which clearly would make him more digestively susceptible.

While my son did have much time for his digestion to mature before introducing solids, I don’t think that waiting this long and then just letting him eat what we ate (a whole foods vegetarian diet) was ideal. I strongly feel that we still should have STILL gradually introduced foods, thus allowing his digestive system to adjust to the changes, rather than assume that the age of 1 ensured a certain level of digestive maturity or readiness.

While we have all this information on how baby’s digestive systems develop, I am going to take an educated guess that while there is a certain pattern to how the manufacturing of digestive enzymes mature, I propose that the actual manufacturing of these enzymes is actually activated by the  introduction of solid foods.

While I don’t have the research on this, is this not how our enzyme systems work anyway, on an as needed basis? You have to eat the food for the body to use it’s energy and resources to produce the enzyme (whether from a digestive organ or from the intestinal microflora who themselves manufacture enzymes for us as well). 

Unfortunately, in my fervent idealism I assumed that the age of 1 was a magic age of digestive maturity! 

Now, however I truly believe that we need to consciously choose which foods to begin with and build on that with more choices at any age (whether starting at 6 or 9 months or 1 year…or later, and some babies really need this extra time). Although, I have to say that I don’t recommend starting a babe on solids before 9 months, unless they are formula fed. That is my instinctual cave mama perspective. And when we do begin them on solids I certainly wouldn’t recommend fortified rice cereal (see the previous article I wrote for Natural News).

What I do propose is that one follows the outline I gave in my article  “Feed them Fat! Rethinking how we Introduce Food to our Babies and Children”. WHEN you start is not as important as HOW you start. And don’t forget that our babies need ample saturated fat for the gut integrity that ensures good digestion. That was another mistake I made. I introduced a vegetarian diet with minimal cheese, butter and eggs…..but let me tell you I’m doing my best to make up for that now!!

Back to the accusations about the Weston Price Organization not being supportive of breastfeeding…I don’t see that as being true. Only if you get stuck on the fact that they point out that while many studies show that breastfeeding babies are healthier all around, they also mention one or two studies that are not consistent with this same conclusions. BUT, they go on to say that what this suggests is that, it is also the diet of the mother that confers many of those benefits, not solely the act of breastfeeding itself!

They are not calling breastfeeding into question! Come on people, Weston Price Association is about traditional foods….breast milk is the most ancient traditional food of the entire human species, no one is arguing that! What is up for question is the quality of our breast milk. We can’t just assume that the quality of all breast milk is the same. Mother has to eat the nutrition or manufacture it via her intestinal microflora (assuming she has optimal ratios) for it to be in the breastmilk!

I think that the reason that thus far the Weston Price association has emphasized how to introduce solid foods to babies that are so young is because realistically, for women who aren’t breastfeeding, their baby’s diet would be way more nutritionally rich with solid foods based on nutrient dense diet, than one of processed commercial formula.

Also, Sally Fallon as I recall reading from Nourishing Traditions fell ill at the time of her initiating breastfeeding, and as a result had her milk supply dry up. Because of her experience, she has a special focus on this area of feeding young babies and making homemade formula. I don’t think it is to undermine breastfeeding at all and if you don’t like her tone, just remember that she comes from a different era where few women breastfed.

I for one, am thankful that she formulated a food based formula. I am sure that those babies whose mothers took the extra time to make it, are healthier for it. And I am speaking as woman who as a baby wasn’t breastfed a day in her life. In all honesty, I wish my own mother would have fed me Sally Fallon’s formula and nutrient dense solid food instead of the processed formula on which I built the very tissues of my young body, ew yuck!

I really appreciate that the Weston Price association is hitting it home hard that we need saturated fats for our babies and toddlers. And I do think that we should also be making the connection that, if that is really so, our first choice of saturated fat should be our OWN  breast milk! Which opens a whole other can of worms doesn’t it?

Should we really be choosing the weaning time for our babies because of our own preference or convenience? Just sayin’. At the very least, we should be accounting for this loss and ensuring that our babes do get ample saturated fats from animal sources, if we are to wean them in our own timing. And what are the consequences of weaning our babes and then putting them on a low-fat, vegetarian or vegan diet? According to Dr. Natasha Campbell Mc Bride, the consequence of that, is a leaky gut and the host of problems that go along with it such as tummy troubles, loose stools, constipation, dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD, ADHD, Autism, depression etc.

While I recognize that many people think it is strange or extreme that I am still nursing my 4 and a half-year old again (after stopping for 5 months when I figured I’d  personally had enough), is because I came to the logical conclusion that if children have a physiological need for so much saturated animal fat, then first and foremost nature and tradition would have that, it means they would best thrive on the milk of their own species! HUMAN BREASTMILK!

And so there you have it! And because I know y’all are gonna ask me how I could produce breast milk after stopping for 5 months, all I can tell you is that if there isn’t a physiological “defect” of some sort (and realistically that only pertains to 2% of women), any block that we have to breastfeeding is a psychological one. I intended to breastfeed and I did. Her very first nurse after 5 months ended in a big belch (just in case you are thinking that my breast milk production would be negilable). Our breastmilk is first our blood, and it only takes as long as it takes our blood to move through our milk ducts to be transformed into milk to make breast milk!  I just didn’t entertain the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to make milk! I just put her on the boob and let nature do its thing!

Without further adieu, I would like to suggest that offering a solution for introducing solid foods at an early age, is not meant to be an alternative to breastfeeding, but rather an alternative to commercial formula feeding. Let’s be thankful that a bridge has been created by the Weston Price Association between where we are as a culture with real food and with breastfeeding.

In the meantime, send your hard feelings Dr. Mercola’s way….just kidding….totally kidding….Yip it could be a bridge too…..we can be both/and. While I do believe that “breast is best” and I am not afraid to stand for that, when it comes down to the harsh reality of our world, truth be told, if a baby isn’t being breastfed, it is in their best interest at the individual level that I support healthy alternatives. It doesn’t serve the babies whose moms aren’t breastfeeding them, (for whatever reason) that I should try to suppress the alternatives just because I don’t agree that they are necessary 98% of the time (and I don’t).  As women who stand up for breastfeeding, we are better off putting our energy towards that which we are for- in this case breastfeeding, than pushing against something we do not want. That which we resist persists!


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