A recent study found that babies that started eating peanut, wheat, dairy, eggs, fish, and sesame by 3-4 months had a lower rate of food allergies. But it also calls into question whether this protocol would be appropriate or even possible for all babies.
There is a persistent myth about infant gut development that comes up in nearly every online discussion of starting solid foods. It’s the myth that infants have a “virgin” or “open” gut until around 6 months of age. I’ve received so many emails, Facebook posts, and comments about the virgin gut over the last few years that I thought it was finally time to take a look at the science – and lack thereof – behind this myth.
I have written before, in my book and on my blog, about the controversy around when to begin introducing solid foods to a baby. Some health organizations recommend 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding, while others recommend starting to offer solids between 4 and 6 months, following baby’s cues of readiness as your ultimate guide. Based on my analysis of the most current science, I believe that the second approach is more evidence-based and helps parents to focus on their baby’s unique development rather than the calendar. I also think that it’s just fine to wait until 6 months if that is your preference.
However, whenever I discuss this science, someone lectures me about infant gut development, and they usually send me a link to KellyMom’s page on the topic, which urges parents not to offer solids before 6 months. Here’s what it says:
“In addition, from birth until somewhere between four and six months of age babies possess what is often referred to as an “open gut.” This means that the spaces between the cells of the small intestines will readily allow intact macromolecules, including whole proteins and pathogens, to pass directly into the bloodstream. This is great for your breastfed baby as it allows beneficial antibodies in breastmilk to pass more directly into baby’s bloodstream, but it also means that large proteins from other foods (which may predispose baby to allergies) and disease-causing pathogens can pass right through, too.”
Wow, that does sound scary! I can see how this “open gut” idea would worry parents approaching the transition to solid foods. But here’s the thing: There are no references given to support these statements, and in all my reading of the research literature on readiness for solids, I have not encountered science backing this concern. Yet somehow this idea of the open gut comes up over and over in online discussions, complete with judgment for parents who offer solids before 6 months and non-evidence-based suggestions about how to “heal” a baby’s gut. All of this only serves to increase anxiety in parents, which is the last thing any of us need.
It’s time to get to the bottom of this. Let’s look at some science…
What do we mean when we talk about an “open” or “closed” gut? How do we measure this? Read more
BabyM is almost 14 months old already. It’s crazy how quickly the first year of his life flew by, and I know the subsequent years will be no different.
The upside of that passage of time is that we’re all sleeping pretty well now, and that is a wonderful thing. To be honest, though, I actually enjoyed watching my baby’s sleep develop this time around. I know that time softens my memories, but I already miss those quiet middle-of-the-night feedings with my baby.
Long-time readers of this blog know that I wrote a lot about sleep when Cee was a baby, in the early days of the blog. I also wrote about evidence-based sleep strategies for my book. I’ve read hundreds of papers on sleep since Cee was a baby, and that changed so much about my approach to M’s sleep. Lots of readers have asked me about how M’s sleep went, so I finally wanted to share his sleep story. Read more
This time last year, I had a week-old baby, and my New Year’s resolutions were simple: Be present with my family, find gratitude in each day, and take care of myself. These goals were simple but not always easy. Still, it helped me to come back to these intentions for the year when I started to feel overwhelmed. I’m reaffirming those resolutions for the coming year, but I’m also feeling more ambitious and inspired about bringing more creativity, fun, and learning into each day with my kids.
I love books for inspiration, especially for projects with Cee. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I get too easily side-tracked or overwhelmed on Pinterest. I like to find great books and work my way through them. So for each of my resolutions, I’ve found a book or two as a jumping-off point for the year. (All of the Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, so I receive a tiny commission if you buy through a link, at no extra cost to you. More here. I received no compensation for this post, and unless otherwise noted, I purchased these books myself.)
1. Do more art together.
I think everyone needs to make space in their life for creating something, and kids naturally want and need to explore different ways of doing that every day, whether it’s through building a fort, making music, cooking, or painting. This year, I want to do more creative art with Cee. We often need a quiet activity in the afternoon while BabyM naps, and this feels like a special way to spend time together.
Inspiring this resolution is the beautiful book, The Artful Parent, by Jean Van’t Hul. This book immediately drew me in and kept me up late for a couple of nights of reading and scribbling notes about how to set up a great space for doing art, supplies that I want to add to our collection, and projects I’d like to try. But before I even got my hands on this book, Cee intercepted it and thumbed through it carefully, leaving sticky notes on every page that showed something she wanted to try.
Pregnancy can be incredibly overwhelming. How do we sort through the huge amounts of advice - solicited and not - to make evidence-based choices? Who do we trust? Readers offered their suggestions on my Facebook page, and I've compiled them into a handy list for you!
Hi everyone! I’ve been quiet these last few weeks as we’ve celebrated Cee’s 5th birthday (I know! I can’t believe it! Amazing girl…), had house guests, and already celebrated Thanksgiving on Sunday. My husband is working on Thursday, so we made some adjustments this year so we could all be together. We’re already on to turkey soup in our house!
A quick post today to get the word out about a free online parenting summit, featuring video interviews with 21 parenting writers and educators – including me! I recorded my interview with Jeanne-Marie Paynel of Voila Montessori this morning, and I enjoyed chatting with her about the challenge of sorting through overwhelming parenting information, as well as what science tells us about how newborn babies sense the world and how we can best care for them. Other speakers in the summit will discuss child behavior, development, mindful parenting, nutrition, and sleep. The summit includes a closed Facebook group for discussion about the interviews. It starts on December 1, and my interview is scheduled to be the first released. If you sign up, you’ll have access to a new interview each day of the summit. You can join the Be the Best Parent You Can Be summit HERE. I hope to see you there!
More science, coming soon!
The newborn vitamin K shot prevents rare but potentially devastating vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB). If you're concerned about the ingredients in the shot, I've investigated the science behind each one so that you can understand why it's included in the shot and why it's safe for your baby.
Health organizations recommend roomsharing without bedsharing as the safest place for babies to sleep. Some parents love roomsharing, but others find it too disruptive to sleep next to a noisy baby. In this post, I look at the science to see how roomsharing affects sleep - both yours and the baby's - and how roomsharing protects infants from SIDS.
I realized, late in the day, that today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I want to send a big virtual hug to all of the families that are hurting, today and every day, because of babies lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss. It brings back memories for me of our first miscarriage, a pregnancy conceived in this month in 2012. This is the first October since then that I’ve held my baby boy. Every day, I feel grateful for him and how he has made our family feel whole. Most days, though, I still think about those lost pregnancies, and I feel so much empathy for families who are suffering and waiting for a baby. It’s really, really hard.
Today, I dug back to find this little piece of writing and thought I’d finally share it. I wrote this after my D&C procedure on January 4, 2013. By then, we had known that the pregnancy wasn’t viable for two weeks, and the D&C was needed to finally end the pregnancy. (I wrote more about this miscarriage here and here.) It’s a very strange feeling to be carrying around a non-viable pregnancy for a so long, but it is even stranger to wake up from general anesthesia and feel such complete emptiness.
Come and Gone
Little one, you are gone this morning. All that remains of you is a feeling and a memory, and what I write on this page.
You were conceived in late October, in a cozy state park cabin rented in the off-season. The next morning there was snow on the ground, and the world looked brand new.
You were unexpected fatigue and sore breasts. You were two little blue lines on a pregnancy test, and then another just to be sure. You were the good news we shared.
You were my nausea and aversion to cheese, mushrooms, and leafy greens. You were the return of my linea nigra, stretching from belly button down to groin.
You were my July baby. You were visions of long walks on perfect summer days, of blankets laid out in the grass. We would lie down together to watch leaves wave from tree branches and the clouds drift by above.
You were so real.
But on the ultrasound, you were a smudge of grey without form or movement. You were the doctor’s furrowed brow and the tear on your daddy’s cheek.
You were a clump of cells, inside a set of membranes, in my body that didn’t realize you were already gone. Your heart might never have beat at all. You were already the most you would ever be.
You were an expanse of possibility inside of me that then shriveled away. You were a dream, unraveled to a wisp of thread. I will keep it just the same, wrapped in the more substantive fabric of our lives.
You were a life that was part of my life for a time. Your handful of cells held some of me and some of your father. You were made of our fathers and mothers and theirs before them.
You were a love not proportional to your size, so big it took us off guard. Only in losing you did we see how much of our hearts you had filled.
You have come, and you have gone. You were not quite right for this world. You were our miscarriage.
A science note, because I can’t help it: At the time that I wrote this, I’m not sure if I knew that fetal cells can remain in a mother’s blood and tissues after pregnancy, even one that is lost. So, I guess the first two lines of the piece above aren’t quite accurate. I probably still carry cells from my lost pregnancies in my body, and they may even be part of BabyM as well. That’s a wonderful thought, actually.
Since last week’s shooting at Umpqua Community College, I’ve been thinking a lot about the problem of gun violence in our country. This isn’t a typical topic for me, but of all the things that we worry about as parents, this should probably be among the top of our list. Read more