Well Being

The Goal of Exclusive Breastfeeding for the First Six Months

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Welcome to the January Carnival of Breastfeeding! This month's carnival entries (see links at the end of this post) focus on breastfeeding goals. My little Nicole just turned six months old on January 17, so my discussion is on the goal of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.

When my first daughter was born in 2002, the recommendation from the medical community had changed from four months to six months of exclusive breastfeeding, but the word had not reached me, or, apparently, my daughter's pediatrician. So around my daughter's four-month birthday, I sat ready with the video camera as I offered her spoonfuls of rice cereal mixed with breast milk. Now I cringe when I watch that video. Sure, she was meeting the signs of readiness for solid foods — sitting up independently, showing interest in other people's food, not exhibiting the tongue thrust reflex — but that first experience was not what I think it should be today. Now I think first baby foods should be whole foods — mashed banana, avocado, sweet potato or unprocessed oatmeal for example. I also think the baby should lead the way by grabbing the spoon and bringing it to her mouth (rather than my trying to coax her to open her mouth to take the food in) or better yet, her grabbing the food with her fingers. Those first feedings are not about nutrition, since breast milk continues to provide all the nutrition baby needs, but about experimentation and learning!

When my second daughter was born in 2004, I had learned of the six-month recommendation and I was eager to be among the shamefully small percentage of mother/baby dyads who make it to six months without introducing other liquids or complementary solid foods. I was proud we met that goal, and of course I sat there and documented the first feeding on video.

This time around with Nicole, I simply assumed I would wait six months to introduce solid foods. Heck, I consider it easier to breastfeed exclusively. Once we got the hang of it, exclusive breastfeeding had become easy and it's clean and portable and all that good stuff! Solids are fun when the baby is ready, but have you ever tried scrubbing oatmeal from every crevice on a chubby baby?! I guess even her soft skin could benefit from a gentle, all-natural oatmeal scrub, but it's quite the clean-up job!

Imagine my surprise, though, when at around five months, my baby looked with such longing at my apple core that I couldn't resist letting her have a little suck of the juice. Then my husband let her have a lick of pineapple. And finally Nicole grabbed a cracker off the cracker-and-cheese plate at a party and ate a third of it before anyone even noticed (she was in my arms, facing away from me as I talked to others at the gathering and I didn't realize she could reach the plate). Now that's some stellar parenting right there! What's worse is that when I took the cracker away from her, she cried so piteously that being the good indulgent soft-hearted mother that I am I gave it right back, and two more after that. Yup, stellar. Thank goodness she didn't choke or have any allergic reaction to the mix of ingredients in the crackers.

Nicole was so happy with that solid food experience that I have no regrets about it. Do I recommend it? No, but I don't regret it either. She clearly showed us she was ready for solid foods, and I have come to believe we should listen to a child's cues about feeding, whether it's responding to baby's cues about when to nurse, or recognizing a baby's readiness for solid foods. Nicole's next, more official, experiences with solids were just as happy events for her. Mashed banana was a huge hit, as was oatmeal (as you can see in the photos).

Now I generally strip her naked (it's been 86 degrees in California, so don't worry, she's not cold), seat her in her high chair, and let her have at it. Feeding is a full-contact sport in which she is allowed to make a tremendous mess. Afterward, I hose her off with the spray attachment in the sink!

So, we didn't make it to six months of exclusive breastfeeding. But I found a new goal: listening to my children's cues when it comes to food. Does that mean I indulge my four-year-old when she asks for four cookies? Absolutely not. But it does mean I let my six-year-old have four clementines if she wants them. I swear she really said, “These are so good, I just cannot eat them in moderation!” Guess she's been listening when I talk about eating all foods in moderation. 🙂

Other Carnival of Breastfeeding Entries

~ Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: Breastfeeding education and activism goals
~ Zen Mommy: 2009 breastfeeding resolutions
~ Secrets of Orual: Relax and be brave
~ Hobo Mama: How to meet the personal goal of breastfeeding long-term
~ Beautiful Letdown: Goals as an extended tandem nursing mother
~ Milk Act: Balancing the needs of baby and mother
~ Blacktating: Child-led weaning
~ Mama Knows Breast: Helping women feel comfortable breastfeeding
~ BreastfeedingMums: Publishing my breastfeeding book