Question: I am still breastfeeding my eleven month old who nurses several times a day, but she isn’t interested in eating solid foods. I love breastfeeding her, and it seems like the natural thing to do rather than force her to eat several meals a day. I want to know if it is okay to breastfeed her and only feed other foods when she is interested, or if I should cut back on nursing and try to make her eat solid food. Can she get all the nutrients she needs from breast milk?
Answer: I wouldn’t worry at all about your baby eating primarily breast milk and not being very interested in other foods. Human milk is such a complete food that it can meet your baby’s nutritional needs much better than any other food that you could give your baby, even though the baby food companies spend a lot of money trying to convince you otherwise.
It’s not unusual for a toddler’s interest in solids to vary from day to day. One of the many nice things about breastfeeding is that you have your nutritional bases covered. Breast milk is a very complete food, and it really doesn’t matter how much solid food your baby takes in at this stage, as long as she is nursing, having good urine and stool output, gaining weight, meeting her developmental milestones, and generally acting healthy. If she isn’t gaining weight adequately, then she needs more breast milk, not more solids. Breast milk contains lots of the protein, calcium, and fat that she needs during a time in her life when she is growing rapidly. All the other food is just extra, more to get her used to new tastes and textures than because she really needs it.
If you or your pediatrician are concerned about your baby’s iron levels, a simple test in the doctor’s office can determine if you need to get more iron in her diet. If her hemoglobin levels are low, (which is unusual in breastfed babies), you can offer her more iron rich foods, or give her an iron supplement.
Breast milk is a very complete food for at least the first six months of life. 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.
Since human 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 and other solids don’t contain all the fat, protein, and calories that babies need during this critical period.
By 18 months, months, 50% of the diet should be milk (preferably breast milk) and 50% solids. By 24 months, toddlers should still have about 20% of their nutritional needs met in the form of milk, and about 80% by solids.
Your baby may also binge on certain foods, deciding to eat nothing but bananas for several days, for example. That’s normal, too. Just offer her small quantities of nutritious foods, and keep nursing. She’ll be just fine. A healthy breastfed baby who nurses on demand and is offered a variety of healthy foods will get all the nourishment she needs.
Anne Smith, IBCLC