We sat in a circle, our babies perched in front of us, drooling over the teething rings, unbreakable mirrors, and rattles the facilitator had laid out on the floor. Each mother took a turn sharing her story of initiating solids. Then it was my turn.
I’m going to delay solids for a little while.
A stunned silence.
The facilitator asks, how old is she?
Six months. Six months, today, in fact.
The mothers look at me squinting, their heads tilted, not understanding. They hadn’t taken me for one of those “Breast is Best” people.
How come? Another mom asked.
Where do I start? I launched into my list of practical reasons, beginning with the most trivial:
I’m not ready for her poop to stink
I’m not anxious to take on the added work of preparing baby food, feeding her and cleaning up
It took me forever to get to a point where I could breastfeed painlessly and I don’t want her to self-wean prematurely.
But the real reason, the one that I am slightly embarrassed about:
I am in no hurry for her to grow up
Already those early days spent in pain and exhaustion—recuperating from the hematoma while feeding Sophia around the clock—are barely visible in my minds’ eye. I need my friend Elisa, who helped bring Sophia into the world, and my mother, who stayed up with me night after night and lifted her into my arms to feed, to be my memory.
The thing is: I may never have another child. Sophia might be it. I feel so very grateful for this opportunity to be her mother. And so I have to cherish every minute of her babyhood.
I take pictures. I write. Hoping to capture and preserve this thrilling present. But, like everything, it slips away and only that which has a strange salience remains.
Sophia has her whole life to eat solid food.
And how do we know six months is the magical month anyhow, when suddenly they need something more than that which has sustained them for and made them double in weight in half a year? When I was born, the pediatrician told my mother to give me solids after one month. Now, the research tells us that a baby’s digestive system isn’t ready to handle solids, and a baby doesn’t have the fine motor skills to eat until 4-6 months. If breast milk is such a perfect food, why not delay even longer? I’ve read the studies—the three primary concerns are:
- Nutrients: Iron, in particular—an infant is born with iron stores that he/she utilizes over the early months. Breast milk contains very little iron. After these stores are depleted, the infant needs another source of iron. But that might not occur until somewhere between 9 – 12 months, depending on the size of the infant at birth. Babies are typically assessed for anemia at 9 months.
- Growth faltering: The baby fails to gain weight and grow longer.
- There is a window in which you need to introduce new tastes and textures or the baby will be a picky eater.
Only the first reason has any science to back it up, and still, it doesn’t point to the necessity of starting at six months.
To soften the blow, I told the group that I was going to check in with my pediatrician about it. The facilitator exhaled, relieved. The mother next to me whispered, I’m the opposite of you. I can’t wait until he’s out of this stage. Her baby kicked the air, like a turtle on its back.
At the pediatrician’s, the nurse weighed Sophia. She was right at the fiftieth percentile, just an ounce under 15 lbs. I was disappointed to learn that our regular doctor was out sick. Dr. Cromley, who had never met Sophie, would be standing in.
I asked Dr. Cromley if she thought I could wait. She looked at me like I had three heads, why would you want to do that. This surprised me a little. I didn’t expect it to be quite such an uncommon request. Again, I went into my reasons, this time feeling a bit more selfish and a bit more irrational. Dr. Cromley launched into the “picky eater” argument, surprising me again. I thought for sure she push the nutrients one. When I told her I wasn’t able to find any research supporting this notion, she said her years of experience with countless babies who became picky eaters was evidence enough. (I doubted this, since it didn’t seem like very many people were trying to delay solids in the first place.) She begrudgingly told me no later than eight months. Okay. Fair enough.
Then, a few nights ago, I had a dream: Sophia was dead. I hadn’t fed her enough. My mother was hiding her from me in the car, but I found out. I was screaming with grief and wracked with guilt.
Might I cause her harm, simply because I’m not ready?
As a parent, you are always trying to decide what’s best for your child. Sophie will get her first taste of rice cereal on Father’s Day—when she’ll be exactly 7 months. Until then, I’ll enjoy that I am building her face, her body, her brain with my body and my body alone.