In early February, baby food-related articles began making their way through mom groups, parenting websites, and health advocates blogs everywhere like a tornado. Overnight, millions of American parents began throwing away cabinets full of baby food jars, purée pouches and infant snacks with fear for their child’s health, and distrust of baby food companies everywhere.
Believe it or not, this is not the first time that toxins such as lead, arsenic, heavy metals, and pesticides/herbicides such as glyphosate (common ingredient in products like Round Up) have been found in foods that parents trust to put in the most pure of bodies. I can remember similar articles and baby food investigations being released when my first baby was getting ready to start solids back in early 2017. The USDA allows pesticides and chemicals in farming, cosmetics, and foods that are banned in dozens of other countries. It’s no wonder they’re making their way into baby food.
Among companies in the spotlight for these toxins are big name brands such as Gerber, Beech Nut, Earth’s Best Organics, and Nurture Inc.
The FDA considers many of the ingredients such as mercury, arsenic and lead to be extremely toxic, and pose a threat to health and development of humans everywhere.
When babies show physiological and developmental readiness for solid foods, parents use many deciding factors to determine what kind of food to feed their babies. Purées, pouches, and baby-led weaning, are common methods used for introducing solids. Parents document these first bites with excitement, pride, and trust that these foods are contributing to overall health and wellness of their child. So when information comes out that certain baby foods can cause harm, it’s natural to wonder what you should do.
So what are your options?
(*Disclaimer- We are not nutritionists. We don’t believe anything is one size fits all. Trust your instincts. Consult your pediatrician or trusted sources for more guidance* )
1. Evaluate If Your Baby Is Even Ready For Solid Foods.
If they aren’t, you have even more time to research your options and make feeding choices that feel best to your family. Most babies are ready beginning at 6 months (also recommended by AAP- American Academy of Pediatrics) although some pediatricians still say 4 months. There are a few things to look for that can help you decide!
Can the sit unassisted?
Can they use their pointer finger and thumb to try and grasp things?
Have they lost the tongue thrust reflex?
Was your baby premature and may need more time?
2. Things that DON’T necessarily mean they’re ready:
They’re reaching for your food. This doesn’t mean they’re ready for solids. It means they’re mastering reaching for objects in front of them, and mimicking you.
They’re eating more formula or breastmilk. Breastmilk or formula should be a baby’s primary source of nutrition for at least 12 months.
They don’t sleep through the night. Sleeping through the night is a neurological milestone that every baby hits at different stages. It is a myth that feeding them more will make them magical unicorn sleepers.
So now let’s say you’ve determined with your partner that your baby is ready for “real food”! HORRAY! You have options. Feeding your baby solids is not a one size fits all. So here you go:
BABY LED WEANING:
Baby led weaning is a philosophy of food introduction where the baby is in control of pace, portions, textures, etc. Essentially, this method is the easiest on parents because you feed them what you prepare for yourself. Sure you may have to cut things smaller, steam a little longer, etc. But say bye bye to cold dinners for yourself because you spent 20 minutes spoon-feeding your baby while your food got cold. Now, everyone can eat together as your baby is in charge. They’re gross and find motor skills will be challenged and fostered by the repetition of picking up pieces of food, and bringing them to their mouth. Another skill that can bloom in this method is hand-eye coordination! It fosters independence, and the progression of many flavors your baby may not experience until much later otherwise.
Baby Led Weaning can intimidate a lot of parents because of the fear of choking.
“What do you mean I’m supposed to just put pieces of food on their plate and let them eat it?”
Well...that’s exactly what advocates of this method are suggesting. But here’s a helpful rhyme to settle your fears when it comes to choking:
If they’re gagging and red- go ahead.
If they’re silent or blue- they need help from you.
Babies learn how to control their gag reflex, control bite sizes, and learn how to eat with practice . There is bound to be some gagging with any type of solid food introduction method.
*Its a good idea to know the basics of the Heimlich Maneuver when introducing solids to your baby regardless of which method(s) you start with.
Let’s move on to another option!
Making your own baby food can be such a rewarding feeling. Knowing each and every ingredient, and where it was sourced from can bring a lot of comfort to new parents. Perhaps you feel like this is a happy medium between store bought purées, and baby led weaning! Or maybe, your baby has developmental, sensory, genetic, or anatomical reasons for needing pureed textures, and making your baby’s food brings you some sort of feeling of control in your baby’s eating journey.
If you’re expecting, you’ve likely seen countless sponsored ads by now by companies trying to sell you the best new gadget to purée and blend food for your baby. Not to mention the dozens of options for how to store it. Ice cube trays, reusable pouches, disposable pouches, glass jars, plastic jars- you name it!
Creating your own vegetable and fruit blends for your little one can be so exciting. There are endless possibilities, and you can make combinations that you won’t be able to find in the store. And in all honesty....it can be so much more economical that the pre made baby food jars or pouches at the store (if you have the time).
However, aside from being time consuming, there are some things to keep in mind when it comes to prepping your own baby food.
It seems to be a shock to parents when we mention the possibility of nitrate exposure being too high when you make your own food. It’s not that nitrate exposure doesn’t exist in processed baby purees, it’s just that large companies have the ability to test levels. But at the same time, we’ve all seen that nothing is fool proof, and just about anything can be contaminated these days. Nitrates can be both organic, and inorganic. Natural nitrates are commonly found in foods that grow close to the ground (spinach, carrots, bok choy, peas, etc). Inorganic nitrates are thought to me more likely to cause health complications over time and are found in processed meats and foods like bacon, ham, and even... processed baby foods.
So in conclusion, buying organic fruits and vegetables when possible to reduce additional chemicals like pesticides and herbicides can help. Rotate through your baby food. Don’t just feed carrots for a month ( for more reasons than just nitrates).
STORE BOUGHT BABY FOOD:
To wrap this up, we end on one of the most widely used baby food options for many American parents- store bought food. There’s nothing like the convenience of buying what you need, throwing a jar and spoon in your diaper bag, and hitting the road.
Store bought baby food has clear nutrition labels, a long shelf life, and takes the guess work out of food combinations when making your own food. But as we’ve learned, can also come with some hidden ingredients or higher-than-ideal levels of heavy metals, nitrates and pesticides.
WHAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
I can’t answer that. But I can tell you that when it comes to parenting and babies, nothing is a one size fits all. There are pros and cons to every method of feeding when it comes to introducing solids. Do what feels right for you! Do some more research. Try a combination. Many parents will do a mix of baby led weaning (because it takes the guess work out of needing a blender, special pouches, or even extra ingredient. Just...feed them what you eat but in smaller pieces. Don’t worry! They can handle it) and store bought pouches on the go.
There’s no one perfect way. But we hope this helps you weigh the pros and cons to your options, and navigate knowing when your baby is ready to begin this new journey! Bon appetit!