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Your Baby's Digestive System & Solids

If you’ve been following my journey for the last year and a half, you know that I waited until about 8 months to give Stella tastes of solids aka purées. And why is that? Well, because an infant’s digestive system is not fully developed at that age. Your child might be showing an interest in foods at an early age, but that does NOT mean that you should give them a taste. Their digestive system is not fully mature and is not ready for solid foods until they are around six months of age or older. Why is that? Let’s look at the science:

  1. Your baby’s body is not capable of producing sufficient levels of enzymes to digest starches until approximately six months of age

  2. The enzymes that digest complex carbohydrates do not reach sufficient levels until approximately seven months of age

  3. Bile salts and lipase (which help digest fat) do not reach full levels until between six to nine months of age

Between four to six months of age, infants have something which is known as an “open gut”. This “open gut” allows proteins to pass directly from the small intestine and into the bloodstream. This process happens to allow antibodies from a mother’s breastmilk to enter the baby’s bloodstream. But the larger molecules from solid foods can also pass through which may cause:

a) Allergies; and/or

b) Illness (molecules can carry pathogens along with them)

Once the umbilical cord is cut and the placenta is expelled, your newborn’s digestive and excretory systems are suddenly forced to set into action. Being inexperienced in what they do, it also takes time for both systems to ramp up and function properly. This is why it is important for parents understand how immature their baby’s digestive system is and how they can best support it during their first few months.

Transitioning From Womb To Birth

Your baby’s stomach is very small (approximately the size of a marble) and his digestive system is not accustomed to ingesting anything other than what was delivered to him through the placenta. This is why babies may lose anywhere up to 10% of their body weight in the first couple of weeks after birth.

The small size of your baby’s stomach is also why he will need frequent feedings, whether that be by formula or breastmilk. Breastmilk is biologically designed to be high in fat during the first few weeks of your baby’s life. This is to ensure that your baby receives enough calories to pack on the pounds.

Another benefit to choosing breastmilk is that your newborn baby’s pancreas is not fully developed. This means that your baby’s body produces significantly reduced levels of digestive enzymes. Breastmilk contains enzymes which help make up for this shortcoming.

After the first several days your baby’s stomach will expand to be about the same size as a ping pong ball. But he will only still be able to hold up to 60 ml at a time.

You may also find that your baby spits up frequently until he is 3 months of age or older. This is because the lower esophageal sphincter which separates the stomach from the esophagus is weak and immature.

The Digestive Lining Issue

The digestive system of healthy human children and adults has a layer of mucous which protects the gastrointestinal tract from microbes and other contaminants which may be present in the foods or drinks we consume. Infants have a very thin and immature barrier which puts newborns at a greater risk of infection.

Fortunately, breastmilk has antibodies which help protect your bub until that digestive mucosal lining is fully mature and he is able to produce his own antibodies (this occurs at around six months of age). Studies have also shown that through breastfeeding, your baby can give your body germs so that your immune system can manufacture antibodies for that germ and help protect your baby.

As if that were not enough, breastmilk has also been shown to  help engineer the gut of your baby, and it may have a long lasting impact on his health. The antibody SIgA which is found in breastmilk helps your baby set up the correct community of gut microbes. This helps keep your baby healthier now and it can result in fewer chronic illnesses as he ages.

Support A Fellow Mama

Tell her she is doing amazing. Make sure she is hydrated and well fed with nutrient-dense foods and make sure she feels secure with her decision to feed her baby.

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