by Linda Folden Palmer
My 30-year-old daughter has a beautiful 9-month-old baby girl. Mom does not want to feed her any grains, no sugar, no salt. She has just now started her on some fruits. Mom keeps calling me and asking what she can do to get baby to sleep through the night. Previously baby was sleeping about five hours. I think that she needs more solid foods, and my daughter insists that babies cannot digest food this early. Can you help?
I assume baby is breastfeeding? If baby is formula-feeding, then iron-fortified foods are very important by this age, and fruits and vegetables make up for many of the nutrients that are so hard to get from formula.
Exclusively breastfed babies should be nutritionally sound at this age. However, once they begin eating their first foods, iron coming into their diets makes the iron (lactoferrin) they get from their mothers' milk less accessible. Also, the dietary iron feeds the more dangerous (more adult) bacteria now allowed to take hold in their intestines. The net result is that there is less iron for babies to absorb.
I'm not saying this is bad -- breastfeeding babies all need to make the transition to foods some day, obviously. What I'm saying is that there are some breastfed babies who get a little anemic when they first begin to eat solid foods, if their first foods are not either completely void of iron (hard to do) or very high in iron.
So what should babies eat? Meats are great. Also try dark greens, apricots, prunes and iron-fortified cereals. But remember that the iron-fortified cereals aren't strictly necessary. Grains are more a negative than a positive in many ways at this age, considering many babies' difficulty digesting gluten, the potential for increasing allergies, and poor nutrient balances in cereals as well as their high carbohydrate content.
There is no need for sugar or salt -- these only set up babies' palates for a preference for these things. If Mom wants her baby to be at lower risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer, then it's a good idea to avoid starting these things so soon.
It's not natural, however, for a naturally fed (breastfed) baby to sleep through the night at such a young age. It sounds as though Mom's wanting to go with the healthiest and most natural choices; if so, she needs to accept the whole package. Sleeping through the night at this age isn't best or healthiest for a 9-month-old breastfed baby. If she keeps her baby in or very near the bed, night feedings shouldn't be too much effort. You can help by reminding her that baby is only small for a very short period of time!
If your daughter's baby is formula fed, things will be a little different. Formula is very difficult for babies to digest and absorb. It takes a long time and it tires baby. This is why formula-fed babies (those who are not having intolerance reactions to the milk proteins) sleep for longer periods. They are often left to cry longer while preparing bottles or following schedules, as well, tiring them out.
If Mom wants to imitate this longer sleeping pattern, she can try filling baby before bed. Grains, while being lower in valuable nutrients, are higher in calories. This is the common lore as to what works -- and it might. Fats and proteins are typically more satiating, however, and it would make sense that these would actually satisfy baby longer during the night. Foods such as walnut butter (for protein, iron and omega-3 fatty acids) and egg yolks (although the whites are potential allergens) that have important kinds of fats as well as protein, iron and other good nutrients; soy yogurt or tofu; and baby food meats would be more likely to satisfy baby longer, provide better nutrition and could help her sleep for longer periods.
I may not have touched totally on your grand-daughter's food digestion ability. Baby's stools will tell you whether baby is digesting well. If you feed baby bananas and you see little wormy-looking things in the stools, then baby is not digesting. If pieces of the stools look like they did when they went in the mouth, then they're not digested. By 9 months, digestion is pretty good usually if food is pureed or baby is chewing it well (although it's usually a little early for that at this age). The maturity of baby's teeth might be another clue.