I haven’t talked much on my blog about baby related things…apart from my posts about pregnancy here and here. I’m hoping to change that, however, as baby and child health/wellbeing is incredibly important, and as with health advice for grownups, there is a tonne of misinformation out there. Most of us adults are on a difficult path of self healing, after whole lifetimes of toxin exposure, processed and “fake” foods, lack of sunlight, exercise, and fresh air, etc. By allowing our children to thrive in an environment as close to the one we evolved in, we set them up for a lifetime of health. This is my goal with my baby. She may grow older and decide she wants to stay indoors on her phone all day and eat junk food (though let’s hope not!), but having a foundational base of good health will help mitigate some of the future damage.
I started looking after my baby’s health even before conception. This was not only to prepare my own body for pregnancy, but to ensure optimal egg health (eggs develop for 3 months, and are susceptible to environmental factors during this time), as well as harness epigenetics to optimize her future.
Today, I want to talk about how I’ve been feeding my baby. Please note I am NOT a child nutrition expert, I am just someone who cares deeply about nutrition and optimal health, and have decided on how to feed my baby based on the research I’ve seen, as well as honouring evolutionary biology.
First six months
I exclusively breasted my little one until 6 months. Despite what you may have heard, what a mother eats absolutely affects the quality of her breast milk; while some nutrients tend to be maintained regardless of diet, intake of fatty acids (including omega 3s that are critical to infant brain development), vitamin C, and fat soluble vitamins like vitamin D are related to the amounts found in breast milk. I have maintained a nutritious diet (full of meat, organs, occasional dairy, vegetables, tubers, fruit and fermented foods), AND made sure to supplement high dose vitamin D ( a breastfeeding mother needs to consume at least 5000IU vitamin D daily for enough of it to pass into breastmilk). Our ancestors would have been getting enough sunlight to maintain high vitamin D levels (or plenty of seafood), which is why supplementation wasn’t necessary like it is in the modern environment. I’ve also been taking high dose fish oil, and continued my prenatal. I am being extra careful to go above and beyond in terms of nutritional intake, as I have to nourish myself as well as my baby. If you are formula feeding, I don’t know which ones are more optimal than others, but I would choose one that contains the omega 3 fats DHA/EPA, probiotics, and healthy saturated fats (not seed oils), or look into the Weston Price homemade formula.
Toxins – just a note that toxins can and do pass into breatmilk (including alcohol, nicotine, mercury and PCBs from fish etc), so I continue to eat organic when possible, and choose only small fish low in toxins and heavy metals.
6 months +
After six months or whenever a baby shows signs of readiness (like sitting upright, reaching for food, opening the mouth when offered food, outgrowing the tongue-thrust reflex etc) you can start feeding solids in addition to milk. I went by the baby-led-weaning approach, due to preference but also because it makes a lot of sense to me. A baby’s gag reflex is strongest between about 6-9 months which means it’s a good time to teach them how to chew and deal with large chunks of food. Furthermore, picking up food and moving it to the mouth develops motor and coordination skills. I also just find it easier than spoon feeding…it saves me time, and the cleanup is no worse than with spoon feeding (no matter what, food will get into baby’s hair, and the floor!).
Another way I diverted from the “conventional wisdom” is I did not (and still do not) give my little one baby-cereal. Mushy grains are just about the least nutritious food to give, and as babies don’t eat much to start, I’ve preferred feeding her the most nutrient dense foods, like organic grass fed meat, organ meats, vegetables, fruit and good fats like butter, avocados, and occasional nut butter. Iron stores are low at 6 months (breastmilk is low in iron as iron supports growth of pathogenic bacteria, and the body stores of iron start to run out at about 6 months) so meat/eggs are an excellent first food. I do also give her porridge which is quite easy to whip up (also oats are more nutritious than rice or wheat) and I add a lot of nutritious ingredients (see super porridge, below). I also regularly give her fermented cod liver oil for the omega 3, pre-formed vitamin A, and vitamin D. Pre-formed vitamin A is superior to beta carotene which is found in some vegetables, and is often falsely promoted as vitamin A; humans can covert beta carotene to vitamin A, but absorption and bioavailability varies tremendously. The NHS here in the UK recommends all children age 6 months – 5 years are given supplemental vitamins A, D and C. Rather than supplements I try to get these from whole foods, e.g cod liver oil and liver for vitamin A, fresh fruit/veg for vitamin C, and vitamin D from sunlight with supplementation in the winter (the same way I keep my vitamin D optimized).
Luckily conventional wisdom recognizes the need for babies/toddlers to eat fat and cholesterol (for example full fat dairy), though unfortunately the false message that fat suddenly becomes bad for you when you hit a certain age is still ubiquitous. Healthy fats are extremely important for brain development.
The other thing to note with child nutrition is that most health agencies around the world reccomend against vegan (and sometimes even vegetarian) diets for children. The risks of nutritional deficiencies are just too great, and can be especially harmful to growing kids. Studies do indeed show that vegan children tend to have deficiencies, eg of vitamin A, D and omega 3s , and a study in Poland showed that vegan children were shorter and had lower bone mineral density than omnivorous counterparts.
My baby is one year old now, and I have continued to give her a wide variety of foods and textures; she generally eats what I cook for me and my husband minus any hot chillies or crunchy foods. And we continue to eat in a healthy way, following these main rules : NO seed oils (only healthy fats like butter, coconut oil and olive oil), only organic or pastured animal products, mostly organic fruit and veg, minimal sugar and refined grains, and no gluten. Not everyone can feed their babies in such a way (and not everyone will choose to), and sometimes it’s just not easy to prepare a nutritious meal, but it’s important not to let perfection be the enemy of good. The more you can do in general to build a good baseline of healthy eating, the better, as it’s much easier to start out this way than to reverse unhealthy eating habits later down the line. Most importantly this is easiest when the parents/caregivers eat the same way as the baby; modelling optimal behaviours seems to work much better than “Do as I say, not as I do”.
These are some examples of meals/snacks I feed my baby
- Slices of slow cooked lamb with roast peppers and sliced avocado
- Little burgers (made with minced beef, onion, garlic and herbs), with steamed cauliflower and broccoli
- Boiled Pinto beans with roast tomato and garlic
- A gently fried egg, cut into strips, with sliced avocado
- Lamb liver puree, or chunks of liver cooked in onions
- Roast aubergine with sumac and smoked paprika
- Baked sweet potato with butter and cinnamon
- Canned Sardines
- Chunks of (usually) unpasteurised cheese
- Butter beans with baked courgette in olive oil
- Green soup (usually leek, cabbage and spring greens) with olive oil and za’atar
- Super porridge – sprouted oats and fruit (usually blueberries or apple) cooked in coconut milk or bone broth, with cinnamon, butter, hemp seeds, infant probiotics and cod liver oil stirred in while warm (not hot)
- Vegetables and organic chicken in my Thai red curry sauce without the chillies