Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Feeding a Baby the French Way (sort of )

Since the French are often held to be the world experts on eating well (and according to some, also on bringing up children!), I was interested to see what the advice would be when we moved SCB on to solid foods.

Confusing, would appear to be the answer.

To be fair, the guidelines in the carnet de santé are fairly straightforward. Fruit, vegetables and meat can be given from 4 months and should definitely be given from 6 months. Most cereals can and should be given from 8 months. (The exception is baby rice, which is possible from 4 months but never actually recommended.) For most things, there should be a gradual progression from purée to lumpier textures and then solid pieces.

Go beyond the carnet de santé, however, and the simplicity stops. My GP, despite the fact that SCB didn't start solids until nearly 6 months old, said that she should have a month of nothing but vegetables, followed by a month of nothing but fruit, then a little bit of meat, and finally carbohydrates. When I asked about quantities, he said, "Oh, just use the jars. They're very good." Laurence Pernoud, meanwhile, keeps suggesting putting baby rice and even purée into bottles of formula. From other research I knew that the most important nutrients to introduce for exclusively breastfed babies were zinc and iron, while baby rice is mostly full of empty calories and apparently arsenic too, so I wasn't too keen to follow either of their advice!

In the UK, the NHS advice is to begin solids when the baby shows certain signs of readiness which generally appear around six months. There is less emphasis on the order, although it is suggested to start with fruit and vegetables, and giving finger foods early on is recommended. Baby Led Weaning is also very popular. In France BLW (DME, la diversification menée par l'enfant) is almost unheard of - the only time I ever heard it mentioned was at meetings of La Leche League, and even there it wasn't common.

In the end, we did a mixture of what the carnet de santé recommends along with some finger foods as per the NHS advice. We were a bit more lax about the order we introduced things, but with hindsight I'm not sure that was a good idea, as I suspect some of the terrible nights we had in the 7th month were due to poor digestion. At the same time, SCB was clearly hungry for solid food by this point, so I'm glad we didn't try to feed her on nothing but fruit and vegetable purée for two months! I've read elsewhere that the World Health Organisation recommendation to breastfeed exclusively for six months is largely due to the risk of food poisoning in developing countries, and that introducing certain foods before that can reduce the risk of allergies, so perhaps the answer is to start a little earlier, but with smaller quantities. Unfortunately, whatever country you're in, it seems that nobody is totally sure what's correct (or if they are, they're probably being contradicted by official advice from elsewhere), so it's very hard to know.

Three months on, however, we have settled into a nice little routine. SCB has cereal and fruit for breakfast, then mashed up vegetables, carbohydrate and protein for lunch. With the nanny, she has some yoghurt because she isn't having as much milk. She has more fruit in the afternoon, then dinner is a bit more random, as it depends how hungry or tired she is whether she'll eat much or not. I liked the idea of BLW/finger foods, but I find if she does nothing but feed herself for a meal, she'll eat very little and most of it will end up on the floor, so we tend to give her bits and pieces to munch before or alongside the spoon feeding.

I guess only time will tell whether she ends up needing to drink Perrier after meals to help her digestion like a true French person or whether she'll have British-style insides that can stomach a big fry-up for breakfast ...

(Just in case you missed the link earlier, the Science of Mom blog has lots of interesting reading about studies relating to infant nutrition and other aspects of parenting.)


  1. I think moderation and common sense! I think I will start offering finger foods a la baby led weaning between 5-6 months and will include strips of meat and veggies and fruit and just offer small portions and then at 6 months offer some mashed foods depending on hunger cues. Just have to see how it goes I guess!

    1. That's what my mum said - just try things out and see what works!

  2. When I was a kid, I remember loving the sweet "petits pots" (you know, the jars from Gerber). I still have the occasional one if I can't find yogurt :-D The apricot one is awesome... ahem, the chocolate pudding too. Might have stole them from my baby brother back in my teens.

    I mostly used common sense (or what I had left of it) with Mark because Canadian recommendations are the opposite of French advice. It was very clear from the start that he HATED being spoon fed and didn't like mashed stuff. What worked for us were bites, i.e. banana, rice crackers (we have a baby cracker brand here)... ahem, sushi...

    He hates milk, though. Still does. He eats cheese and yogurt so I'm not too worried.

    1. That's interesting that the Canadian guidelines are completely different. (I never seem to get Canadian search results online so I didn't know!)

  3. This is fascinating as we are just starting our diversification adventure. Thanks for adding that link also---I read a comment about "weaning" at 6 months the other day and was quite confused. Littlest has a lot of excema though so we'll have to go a bit slow.

  4. Hi! I have been cross-reading your blog, especially older posts. I have a job offer in Paris, the job sounds great and would be a career step. However, I am hesitating to move to Paris. The office is out of the périph in the south west, so I would be commuting a lot. I am worried about the buzz, always being surrouned by tons of people, never finding a quiet spot and nature and tranquility seem so far! I have been moving around a lot over the past 6 years and am getting tired of always being on the road. You say you never meant to live in Paris and yet now you do. How was your experience? Maybe I can e-mail you and share some thoughts? Thanks!