Should I be concerned if my baby is refusing solids?
Q: I am struggling so hard with my 7-month-old son eating ANYTHING other than from me. I have been nursing him since he was born but he refuses to any solids, even eat rice cereal, any kind of baby food, and even refuses a bottle. My doctor and his doctor keep telling me to feed him solids because I can’t keep up with nursing and it’s actually affecting me and my health. My question is, could refusing solids be a sign that there is a more serious problem and what can we do?
Baby Refuses Solids
A: The important red flags of your question are that you are “struggling” and it’s “affecting your health.” Before worrying about solids, it’s important to note your baby’s growth pattern. As a general guide, if his doctor is not worried during his normal check-ups, you needn’t worry.
- Is your baby growing optimally?
- Is your baby happy and healthy?
- Is he having one or two bowel movements daily and without discomfort or straining?
With that background, here are some general guidelines for you to consider.
Some babies will instinctively refuse solid food because their intestines are not quite ready for them. Usually, around seven months of age the intestinal lining undergoes what is called “closure,” meaning that the lining matures enough to selectively allow the right nutrients in, yet screen out those it is not yet ready for. Because your milk is the perfect match for your baby’s intestinal health, perhaps your baby’s “gut feelings” are that his intestines are not quite mature enough to accept anything else. Also, there are special nutrients in your breastmilk that will help mature your baby’s intestinal lining. Yet, if your doctor feels that your baby is undernourished and not able to thrive (“thrive” means growing optimally) on your milk alone, then here are some tips on introducing solids:
It’s good that he refuses rice cereal because he doesn’t really need that yet. The nutrient your baby needs is primarily fat. Your breastmilk calorie content is forty percent fat. Babies need a lot of fat for two reasons:
- It’s the largest source of calories
- Their brains (which are 60 percent fat) have a voracious need for fats.
A way to remember this is, “I am feeding my little fathead.” For this reason, my top starter solid is avocado, the fattiest fruit. Not only is it one of the most nutrient-dense solids (packing the most nutrition per calorie), but it has a delightfully mushy texture that enables baby to enjoy the “mouth feel” of a bit of ripe avocado swishing around on top of his tongue. Baked sweet potatoes are another nutrient-dense solid. And smashed bananas, or small bits of ripe banana, are also a baby-preferred starter because of the sweet taste. (Because there is little to no fat in rice cereal, we suggest you hold off on that food for a few months.) If you are spoon-feeding your baby, try just putting small bits of the food in front of him instead. Some babies want to explore the food with their hands and get it into their mouths that way – messy but more baby-friendly than the sometimes-dreaded spoon.
- Foods to start with – Another trick to win your baby over to accepting and liking solids is for you to “act like a baby” when eating the avocado. When baby is in a receptive mood, put a little mashed avocado on your lips or tongue and exaggerate the “yum-yum” expression as you savor the avocado. At seven months babies are in the “copy mommy” stage of development, so it’s sort of like what little monkey sees big monkey do, little monkey also wants to do.
- Refusing bottle – Don’t worry that your baby refuses a bottle because that’s not only very normal but very healthy. That means your baby loves your custom-made milk – and the soft feel of its “containers” – that a bottle is foreign to his discerning taste, so he rejects it, a sort of “what’s wrong with this picture?”
- Increase milk supply – To increase your milk supply, nap nurse as much as you can. Since seven-month-old babies oftentimes are so interested in the goings-on during the day and their newly found motor development, such as sitting and crawling, they “forget to feed” and become all-night suckers. While that quirk can help your milk production, and it’s good for baby, it is often exhausting for mommy.
The second red flag was it is “affecting my health.” This is where I would have a serious talk with dad, grandparents (if nearby), trusted friends, and your healthcare provider about ways that they can help you become more rested so that you can continue to give your baby the greatest gift and inheritance you can ever give a child – mother’s milk as much and as long as possible. One of the top pieces of advice that I’ve learned in my nineteen years of breastfeeding our eight babies and as a lactation consultant counseling hundreds of mothers is: baby needs a happy, rested mother.
Finally, realize that this normal and healthy breastmilk dependency stage will soon pass. Savor the fact that your baby is enjoying one of the most smart-start interactions you can do with your baby – breastfeeding.
Martha Sears, RN
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”