Starting solids with your baby is usually exciting and fun. It marks the beginning of weaning from milk to family foods and is a major milestone in your lives.
The spectrum of approaches to introducing solids ranges from ‘baby-led weaning’ to spoon feeding. Baby-led weaning is a more child directed approach and involves allowing the baby to select their own food, usually from the family foods at the table. Spoon feeding involves offering the baby a purée on a spoon, with the most popular first food being rice cereal.
Unfortunately, for some mamas introducing solids is a time fraught with fear and trepidation. If your baby suffers from reflux then it’s possible you already know about their food intolerances. Perhaps you’ve eliminated the offending food proteins from your diet or your baby is on an elemental (amino acid) formula like Neocate. In most cases the big offenders are dairy and soy, but even if you steer clear of the identified food proteins the introduction of solids can still be a time of major reflux flares and night wakings.
The key is to go slowly. Start with one food at a time, for at least 5 days, and keep a strict food diary to record any reactions (including, if you’re breastfeeding, what you’re eating). If you choose to use the baby-led approach ensure that baby is only accessing one food (a range of options will come later – for now just try to be patient).
Another thing to remember is that reflux babies usually have a very sensitive gag reflex, so only offer small amounts of food and don’t be alarmed if baby appears to gag on everything! It just takes time and familiarisation and you mustn’t force them to eat anything lest they develop an oral aversion.
With regard to what food to introduce first: remember the mantra ‘every baby is different’. Just because rice cereal worked for the lady down the road or your Great Aunt Nell doesn’t mean it will work for your baby. In fact, rice cereal can be the worst thing to introduce first to a food intolerant baby! It can also be the trigger for ongoing constipation issues with some toddlers because it slows down their gut motility. Conversely, for babies with reflux that isn’t caused by food intolerances it can be great as it helps the stomach contents to stay settled.
In our case, A started with homemade chicken stock (broth) made from simmering the bones of an organic chicken in water for four hours. I had read about the healing qualities of bone broth and I knew that A’s gut needed healing.
The first lot of broth went really well. She loved it and had no reaction at all. The second time I used the bones of a BBQ (rotisserie) chicken from my local supermarket because we’d eaten the chicken for dinner. It was a free-range chook but it was a total disaster. Poor little A broke out in a rash around her mouth and very quickly showed signs of intestinal distress – extreme flatulence, mucous in her stools, frequent night wakings and irritability. I’m pretty sure those chickens are basted in soy, so that was a silly move on my part.
The second food we introduced was butternut pumpkin (squash). This also went well with no reaction. Zucchini came next and provoked a big reaction so then we tried swede (rutabaga), which was fine.
We continued to trial foods, adding one new one per week (carrots – fine; banana – epic fail; etc) until we had a solid list of meats and vegetables and a few fruits. We avoided grains for quite a while with A because we wanted to be as kind to her gut as possible. I mixed slippery elm and probiotics into every single purée in order to soothe and fortify her gut and all was going quite well, even if at a seemingly glacial pace. We retrialled zucchini with success and gradually began to add more and more variety, including gluten-free bread and rice.
At eleven months it was time for me to return to work and this is when things got tricky. Our beautiful day care centre has an in-house ‘chef’ who prepares morning and afternoon tea and lunch. I gave the centre A’s list of safe foods, and they dutifully stuck to it, but we found that when we picked her up at the end of the day she was STARVING. I was pumping milk for her at work but she was refusing to drink it at day care and my supply was dropping. On top of this she was miserable because she wanted to eat what the other babies were eating.
We stuck it out for another five months, introducing a new food each week until at 14 months we had an appointment with an immunologist who basically told us to remove all restrictions from both of our diets. The day care centre was overjoyed and A was no longer hungry at the end of the day. We transitioned pretty smoothly to a normal diet but after a few weeks we noticed that sleep started to become elusive again and the reflux was back.
I’m now at the point where A is seeing an osteopath again and we’ll try four sessions with him before I try restricting her diet again. My instinct tells me it’s still food intolerances, but the thought of putting her on a restricted diet at 20 months fills me with dread.
I would love to hear anyone else’s story – please comment below! Did you try the GAPS diet with your LO? Or the Failsafe diet (as I did)? Did your LO grow out of their intolerances without intervention?