by Diane Avoli
From Breast Milk
to Solid Food
Breast feeding an infant is the most natural and wonderful experience for mother and child. The composition of breast milk is perfectly suited, it is naturally and completely digested, and has immunoglobulins which provide protection against bacteria and viral infections. Breast fed babies are less likely to develop allergies and the mother can control the quality of the milk by what she eats and the life-style she lives.
When to Start
The time to introduce solid food to a baby differs from child to child. There is no rule on when to start. A baby who is steadily gaining weight, alert, active, with good sleeping and eating patterns (This means: taking two naps a day for one to three hours at a time, mostly sleeping through the night, and not wanting to be fed every hour night or day.) does not need solid food however old the baby is unless the breast feeding mother is exhausted and/or under weight. For an infant that is not having it's nutritional needs met by mother's milk for one reason or another, a homemade grain milk can be used. Other liquids and water can be offered to a baby. Watered down apple juice, homemade barley or rice tea and the unsalted liquid left after cooking sweet vegetables all make acceptable drinks. These can be used to change baby's condition, fill in when mom is away or to give dad a chance to feed baby.
A baby may show signs of needing solid food earlier, but most are between the ages of four and eight months. Mother's milk changes to meet the needs of the baby as the baby grows older but many other factors influence the quality and quantity of the milk. The food and liquid quality and amounts the mother consumes, how often she eats, her activities and amount of rest she gets and how stress free she is are the most important factors. There may be an adequate amount of milk, but it may not be thick enough to satisfy an active baby's needs.
The need for solid food is apparent if the baby is not gaining weight, sleeping patterns are poor, hungry often, constipated or abnormal bowel movements, irritability or any other change in the baby's normal healthy development. In a healthy baby a sign that the baby is ready for solid food is when the teeth are ready to come in. In most macrobiotic babies the teeth come in very slowly and very strong. Drooling is usually the firs sign along with the baby gnawing on everything and anything. Sometimes the baby will have restless sleep, a low fever and/or diaper rash. A sure sign is when the baby wants to be held constantly, especially during the night and nap times.
Sometimes parents decide to introduce solid foods to help the baby sleep through the night or because the mother is going back to work and expressing milk to save for the baby is not always enough.
Whatever the reason to start, do not wait too long, the older the baby is the harder it will be for the baby to accept the consistency and taste.
The time of day the food is offered varies depending on what works best in the parents' and baby's schedule. Dinner time usually works best because there is more time during the day to prepare the food and the baby sleeps better at night with a full tummy. Sold food should be offered before the breast to develop good eating habits and because the baby is more likely to accept the solid food if really hungry.
Baby's First Solid Food
The most common first food is cereal. Cook whole grain brown rice very soft with a tiny piece of sea vegetable (1/8 to 1/4 inch dry piece of kombu or wakame per cup of grain simmered in about ten cups of water) squeeze through cheese cloth or push through a strainer to remove hard pieces. Medium or long grain rice not pressure cooked usually works best.
The baby will continue to receive all of the nutritional needs from the breast milk until a balanced diet is given, and that should be by the time breast feeding is finished. One or two teaspoons are enough to start with and half of that will be spit or drooled out until the baby gets used to it. The water content lessens as the baby gets older, after one week introduce other grains, one at a time, giving each one a week, then mix the grains so that the baby gets use to variety and having foods both alone and mixed. The other grains best suited for babies are barley, sweet brown rice, oats, and millet.
Some parents put grain sweetener in the cereal, this may cause the baby to reject vegetables when offered.
Vegetables are usually given next. Introduce one at a time to give baby time to get use to it and to see if there is any negative reaction. Vegetables should be simmered on a low/medium heat until soft and then mashed in a suribachi, put through a baby food mill or put through a strainer. Cut pieces very small so that they will cook quickly. Boiling makes the vegetables more moist than steaming and easier to grind. Vegetables can be mixed at times and sometimes mixed into the grain.
When to Salt?
Babies are small and we want them to grow bigger. Salt, which causes contraction, is usually avoided in baby food. Salt, shoyu, miso and other seasonings are cooked into the food gradually after age one or later. Roasted unsalted ground seeds such as sesame can be added to grain cereals after a month or two of eating solids especially if weight gain is needed. Beans, sea vegetables and fruits are added slowly after vegetables so that by the time the baby is weaned they are having a balanced diet.
Cooking food for baby separately from adult food is very important. The needs are very different and difficulties in health and behavior can develop if a baby eats adult food. Babies do not need oil or fat as long as the breast milk is rich. Oil is added the same time as salt.
Some parents like to introduce their healthy older baby (between two and three years old) to some "binge" or eating out type foods just for fun or so that their system will not be so sensitive if they eat something outside their normal diet when visiting friends or relatives. This has to be the decision of the parents and the health and behavior of the baby should be watched carefully, along with explaining about "fun" and "binge" foods.
Widening the Diet
Make children are often eating a diet with the same cooking and seasoning methods as their mother by age three and a half to four. Female babies are doing the same between ages four to six.
Meal times should be happy times and foods should not be introduced and taught as good or bad, but be explained (at any age) as perfect, healthy and special for a particular person, such as: "strained squash is great for you (baby) it will help you grow and be happy. Pickles are perfect for daddy, they help him digest his food!"
Diane Avoli, an expert on diet and life-style for children, lives in western Massachusetts. She is a macrobiotic counselor and cooking instructor. The mother of eight children, all born and reared with macrobiotic diet and life-style principles, she has experienced it all! She has two grandchildren with two more on the way this year. The author of A Chef for All Seasons published by One Peaceful World Press, she is in the process of sharing her vast experience with a series of books on Pregnancy through the Teen Years. She loves working with and counseling children and families. She is available for phone counseling as well as teaching in your town. She also teaches at the Kushi Institute. For counseling contact her at: 976-632-8112.