I recently was asked to weigh in on an old debate regarding introducing infant cereal at 4, 5 or 6 months old to help baby sleep better at night.
Read the label on any infant cereal on the market and you will see that it is predominantly carbohydrates. Carbohydrates make you sleepy because they cause your body to produce hormones (serotonin) associated with sleeping. So when our parents and grandparents added some infant cereal to our bottles full of cow's milk or formula at 3 or 4 weeks old, they were doing it because someone else told them it would help the baby sleep. And it did. Alcohol has the same effect, but we don't give alcohol to our babies, right?
So here's where tradition and education hit a huge crossroad...baby’s gut isn't fully developed – that’s correct. When is it fully developed? That’s dependent on multiple factors including genetics and mom's pregnancy habits. So to give an exact date would be a disservice. There is a gradual development of the baby’s intestinal flora and therefore ability to digest different foods. And yes, much of it is developed in response to exposure. Exposure, however, comes in many forms…the dirty rock baby licked outside, the toys that went in the mouth that 10 other sniffling kids played with in the last 20 minutes, the pet dander on the couch, the bacteria that you tracked in on the bottom of your shoes that now resides on your living room rug. Let’s not forget the birth process – after all, there is a reason the baby exits the birth canal so close to the single largest bacteria concentration on our bodies. But we also have to consider the exposure to (hopefully) a wide variety of foods that mom has eaten which are being passed through the milk. I'm a huge proponent of exclusive breastfeeding for minimum 6 months and longer if possible. I understand there are rare situations where mom cannot produce milk; for now let’s discuss best possible scenario. Even the World Health organization has recommended 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding for all babies. Exclusive meaning nothing, not even water, goes into that baby except breast milk. Baby's sick and you're worried about dehydration - more breast milk. Baby's hungry, tired, cranky, growing, cutting teeth, happy, healthy? Great - more breast milk. With EBF, or exclusive breastfeeding, a major concern is the long-term effect on baby from introducing foods too soon. Yes, baby may sleep well with a full belly, and may not even wake up throughout the night to feed. But is that really our goal? A few extra minutes of sleep for us at the expense of their lifelong health? When you think back over all of the things you’ve done and the sacrifices you’ve made for your babies, are a few extra minutes of sleep really that important? Besides, if you’re sharing a bed with your baby, you shouldn’t have to wake up for baby to nurse.
So as you can tell, I'm passionate about this, very passionate. While 6 months is the minimum recommendation, I prefer to see moms EBF for the first year. Lower incidence of food allergies, asthma, type 2 diabetes, etc. For baby’s first foods, provided mom is still nursing, I prefer vegetables so that babies develop a strong liking for veggies. While I enjoyed reading the article that got this conversation started, and I think the author made some great points, I am not a fan of liver - raw or industrialized - due to it being a dirty organ. And the thought of giving a baby butter - especially mass produced butter such as you'd see in a restaurant - just doesn't sit well with me. That being said, I respect her research and efforts and she's got some valid points.
As an FYI - I graduated 2nd in my class with my Bachelor's in Nutrition from the #1 Nutrition program in the country, prior to earning my doctorate...just so you know where I'm coming from. At the end of the day, you have to ultimately make the decisions for you and your family. We are here to help provide you with some options.