I’m trying to figure out how I can schedule feedings for my nursing baby. He’s five months old, and just started two servings of rice cereal per day. He used to nurse every 2-3 hours, then changed for a few days to every 3 hours, but now it is hard to guess when he’ll eat. Shouldn’t this be easier?
Answer: I think that you may be making this whole solid food thing more complicated than it needs to be, especially because your baby really doesn’t “need” any solids at his age.
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends that for optimal nutrition, babies should be exclusively breastfed for at least six months before solid foods are introduced. Breast milk is a very complete food for infants, and they don’t need nutrients from any other sources during that time.
From 6-12 months, an “educational diet” is recommended. This means that others foods gradually begin to provide for nutritional needs that milk alone can no longer provide, and your baby gets used to different tastes and textures as well. While you should avoid potentially allergenic foods like eggs and dairy for awhile (especially if there is a family history of allergies), there is no specific correct order in which to introduce peas versus bananas versus carrots, etc. All of these have some nutritive value, but not nearly as much as your breast milk. You want to make sure that you don’t end up substituting an inferior food (like cereal) for a superior food (breast milk) by filling him up on solids. Some babies like the taste of solids so much (especially the sweeter ones like fruits) that they cut back on their nursing if they are fed too much solid food. It’s a good idea to nurse the baby first, and then offer solids.
Breast milk or formula should be the main source of calories up till the end of the first year, and should still constitute about 75% of his diet at 12 months (25% solids). The need for iron increases after the first six to nine months, so it is good to include iron rich foods like meats and iron enriched cereals during the latter half of the first year.
Since breast milk is the most nutrient dense food you can give your baby, solids should be started slowly and not over-emphasized in the first year when the baby’s brain is still growing so quickly. Cereal is mostly just filler. It may be iron fortified, but doesn’t contain the fat, protein, and calories that babies need during this critical period.
The article Starting Solids contains lots of additional information about this topic. I think that you will find the answer to many of your questions there.
Anne Smith, IBCLC