Let me introduce to you, Sarah Roy, RD. We teamed up to write about a topic that’s near and dear to our RD Mama hearts. She loves to cook but despises spending hours in the kitchen. Much of her time is spent seeking ways to provide tasty, nutritious meals for her family in as little time as possible as well as providing tips for pleasant family mealtimes on her professional Facebook page.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “food before one is just for fun.”
But have you heard similarly catchy and untrue phrases that rhyme?
Food before one is just for fun
Food before two is bad for you
Food before three should come from a tree
Food before four just ends up on the floor
Food before five is technically unnecessary for your human offspring to thrive
Cutesy rhymes don’t always give the best nutrition advice.
If it rhymes, people remember it, and if people remember it, they repeat it. No matter how false it is.
That’s how a bald-faced lie like “food before one is just for fun” manages to become a popular phrase that influences how people feed their children, and endangers those children in the process.
Let’s please remember that just because it rhymes, doesn’t mean it’s true.
Here’s why food before one is not just for fun.
#1) Food before one is for iron
Make no mistake, breastfeeding is the best way to feed a baby (assuming all systems between baby and mama are working 100%. Formula is also a fantastic substitute). Lives are saved by breastmilk. It’s truly an amazing substance. I have taken a course that would enable me to become a lactation consultant. I’m a big proponent of breastmilk!
But…. it is not a cure-all. We need to understand breastmilk’s capabilities, and its limitations.
One limitation is that breastmilk cannot provide enough iron for babies once they reach six months old.
Yes, the iron in breastmilk is highly bioavailable (meaning that a lot of it actually gets absorbed into a baby’s blood stream) compared to formula. But there’s not enough of it.
Breastmilk contains about 0.25–0.29mg per litre. A six month old baby will drink about one litre a day, therefore getting about 0.25mg/day. The actual daily needs for a baby this age are 11mg. On breastmilk alone, a baby is only getting 2% of the iron they need!
Science of Mom goes into some theories about why breastmilk is so low in iron. Basically, it’s because of differences between modern babies and the babies of history.
- Dirt. Historically, babies ate a lot more dirt. Iron is found in soil. Babies used to play on the ground a lot more than they do today. As you very well know, everything a baby touches goes into his mouth, so babies would have been getting more iron from dirt.
- Umbilical cords. Historical babies weren’t getting their umbilical cord clamped immediately after birth. By delaying clamping for even 2-3 minutes after birth, more blood can continue to circulate into the baby’s body. This additional blood has been shown to provide enough additional iron to last a baby an additional month (putting the total up to 7 months).
- The risk of too much iron. While iron deficiency can cause mental delays, too much iron can increase the risk of intestinal infections. Harmful bacteria in the colon thrive on iron. Since babies were getting iron from dirt and complimentary foods, the content in breastmilk remained low to protect against infection.
Why is iron so much more important than fun?
Babies arrive into the world with a certain amount of iron stored in their bodies. After 6 months of wiggling around like a… baby, their iron stores slowly start to deplete. Without eating iron rich foods, babies are at risk of iron deficiency anemia, which can affect baby’s growth and well-being. It can cause long-term reductions in cognitive, motor, and behavioural functioning. The iron deficiency can be reversed, but the damage can be permanent.
This is a serious problem, and it’s far too common! The current rates of iron deficiency are between 12 and 64%!
#2) Food before one is also for zinc
There’s a lot less research done about zinc, but we know that zinc is closely related to iron. Babies need it. Zinc is low in breastmilk, so they need to get additional zinc from solid food.
#3) Food before one teaches babies about food textures
Babies have a short window of time when they can best learn how to eat foods with challenging textures. The window starts to open up around 6 months and closes around 10 months. If babies are only fed liquids or purees past this window, it will become harder for them to learn how to chew and swallow other food textures. In this study, the babies who were kept on liquids and purees until 10 months were more difficult to feed and had a harder time learning to like foods later in life.
Transitioning a baby from an all-liquid diet to a mixed diet is gradual. It’s a learning process.
Alarm bells go off for dietitians when we hear of a 10 month old baby who doesn’t accept table food, or a baby who is regularly gagging, spitting, and crying at the table. In cases like that, intervention from a professional is worth seeking. The problems can often be easily managed with some changes to mealtime atmosphere and structure. Alternately, the situation might require further investigation into physical or sensory abnormalities that baby is dealing with.
The one thing that should never happen is that these problems are brushed aside with a trite saying that rhymes.
Food at any age is fun
Feeding children is a very fun and rewarding experience. So is feeding yourself! In a perfect world, food would always be fun.
But food is never JUST for fun. Of course, this phrase is meant to do good, by comforting worried moms who are having problems feeding their babies. But it sends a dangerous message as well, giving the impression that it’s not important to introduce solid food until WELL after babies need it.
So, the next time you hear “food before one is just for fun” please debunk this old wives’ tale. It’s not true. Babies need to be introduced to solids around 6 months of age.
And please don’t take this article as a reason to get paranoid about iron deficiency or obsessed with knowing the absolute best way to prevent it. This is a very simple problem that’s very easy to avoid, which is why we felt the need to tell you about it!
Let us ease your mind
I know that starting your baby on solids can feel overwhelming and you may have other worries such as…
- I’m afraid my baby will choke!
- I’m afraid my baby won’t be getting enough of the right nutrients!
- I’m afraid my baby will have an allergic reaction!
- I’m afraid my baby is not eating enough… too much!
- I’m afraid my baby will be a picky eater!
We have created a FREE guide for you to address these fears and most of all, help you work through them! Just enter your email below and you’ll get the guide sent to your inbox.