Balancing Breastfeeding and Solid Foods for Baby
If you're planning to breastfeed for the long-term, these tips can help you find the balance between solid foods and breast milk that works for you!
Integrating and Introducing Solids to a Breastfed Baby
The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months of life, and then continuing to breastfeed through the rest of your little one's first year (or longer) while adding complementary foods to their diet. As your baby continues to grow into a toddler, their vitamin and nutrient needs change to support their rapid development. In particular, babies begin requiring more iron and vitamin D in their first year, and you may even notice your little one becoming especially interested in other foods around the six-month mark.
A few tips to consider when balancing continued breastfeeding and solid foods include:
- Knowing which foods are and aren't recommended for infants. For example, honey and unpasteurized items (typically juices, milks, and dairy products) are considered off-limits for babies under a year old. This is due to the potential presence of bacteria that is often harmless to most adults, but can cause illness or complications in your infant because their digestive and immune systems are still very fragile.
Pureed fruits, vegetables, and sweet potatoes are popular options for complementary foods. Meats, such as turkey, chicken, and beef, are excellent sources of iron and protein, though it is important to be mindful of seasonings and spices as your baby becomes accustomed to new tastes. Iron-fortified baby cereal is also a great option to provide your little one with the additional iron he or she needs, while giving you opportunity to mix in breast milk and ensure a steady balance of breastfeeding and solid foods.
- Understanding that solid foods are only meant to complement breastfeeding, until you and/or your baby decide it's time to wean. Consider offering complementary foods after nursing if your little one is still hungry or during times when your milk supply may be lower. You can also include breast milk in the preparation of solid or pureed foods like oatmeal or cereal. Finally, getting creative with things like breast milk popsicles or slushies for your baby to enjoy during the warmer months is a fun way of introducing solids to a breastfed baby while ensuring he or she still gets your liquid gold.
- Doing your research and setting your expectations. Though the World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding with complementary foods up to two years of age and beyond, there aren't as many official guidelines when it comes to extended breastfeeding. As your baby becomes a toddler, chances are that he or she will communicate how often they wish to nurse and when they want solid foods. Every toddler is different and some will nurse frequently for comfort and reconnection, some will breastfeed just one or two times per day, and others will go through phases of increased and decreased nursing. Be mindful of their cues and other things going on in their world that may affect breastfeeding - your toddler will usually let you know what he or she needs, when they need it!
Breastfeeding and Solid Foods with a Toddler
Extended breastfeeding with a toddler can present new, unique challenges, but nothing that preparation won't help. For example, your toddler may be talking more or even beginning to speak in sentences. Deciding what words to use and how to best communicate his or her desire to nurse - particularly when away from home or in a public setting - can help ensure your little one gets the nutrition they are seeking. It may also be helpful to carry healthy solid food snacks and/or pumped breast milk in a secured sippy cup (just be sure to follow the CDC's breast milk storage guidelines!) in case you are somewhere where you are unable to nurse or don't feel comfortable doing so.
Breastfeeding positions and your little one's latch are also likely to change as he or she grows from an infant to a toddler. At this age, he or she may be more likely to simply sit on your lap to breastfeed rather than be cradled or held (similarly to when they were an infant). This is because your toddler may become more easily distracted while nursing and may squirm or move around often. However, as long as you and your toddler are comfortable and able to effectively breastfeed then there is usually no wrong way to nurse.
Extended breastfeeding and solid foods can be a balancing act at times, but it's important to remember that every baby and toddler is different - and that they all go through various phases as they continue to grow and develop. Only you and your little one know what your unique breast milk feeding journey looks like and when it's time to officially wean. Remember, every drop of breast milk counts and has benefitted his or her health, development, and wellness - and that's amazing, mama.