Letting Life Lead
I wrote the following for a very wonderful woman for a now dormant site called Daily Momtra. It seems like such an eon ago when my daughter still smelled new with her feet firmly planted in babyhood, but she was facing the direction of Toddlerland. I know full well that I don’t follow what I am “supposed” to do (I’m a quiet rebel). I refused to discuss home birth plans with anyone but my husband because who needs that stress of having to feed of well-meaning, but maddening questions. I also didn’t discuss my determination (and success) to committing to elimination communication, using cloth diapers and wipes, baby led weaning, breastfeeding, or co-sleeping outside of our household. Why? Because this is my primate troop and all interlopers will be growled at until they leave. When Alicia Silverstone was all over the news because she masticated food in her mouth to feed her son I was unabashed — I saw that on a NatGeo special on tribal humans when I was a kid. Rock your inner mammal girlfriend. At the time I was also eating grapes by biting half and handing the other half to my baby so there’ s that. And a time or two a baby has drooled in my mouth or stuffed a half chewed piece of food in there before I could protest — thanks kid. I’ve got opinions just like anyone else, so take what you will of my experiences and philosophies. Enjoy!
A mother was preparing a holiday dinner, cut off the ends of a fine roast and threw them away. An observant little girl stared and asked her mother, “Why do you cut off the ends like that?” Her mother replied, “That’s the way we cook it.” Unsatisfied the child asked, “But why!?” Her mother said, “I don’t know, go ask grandpa.” The girl asked him and he responded the same and sent her to great-grandmama. The question was repeated and was met with, “Why dear I don’t know. My mother did it so I did too. ” Exasperated, the girl threw her hands up and asked the quite aged great-great matriarch. “What a silly question dear! Because that’s how I got it to fit in my favorite pot!”
The above joke sums up a lot of practices for me. I have a passion for the biological sciences and I know that we humans have both an advantage and disadvantage to our heavy reliance on learning rather than instincts.
I asked myself. Why do we use jarred baby food? Why do we feed babies, rather than helping babies feed themselves? Why do we grow up assuming that our cabinets will be lined with purees? Action without reason. Enemy, thy name is Gerber and Beechnut. Remember the baby food brand from the movie Baby Boom (1987 It was Country Baby? The quote from the movie when the Big Company wants to buy out Gourmet Country Baby hits hard, “You have discovered an untapped market…” Mothers are a market (just like teenagers). Convince your market that the old way is too much work, that your product saves time and is good for baby and you can wipe out common sense in one generation. This is just how it works.
Is your baby unable to pick up their own head? No problem, they have liquid peas that you can scrape and push scrape and push into the baby’s mouth with a patented rubber coated spoon, matching warmer dish, semi-reclining padded high chair, and starter bibs. Do a search for baby products and it is busier than floral wall paper from 1973. Never mind that most baby food tastes little better than paste, is half water, and baby can’t digest it that well so it comes out as pea-green poop. Can your baby sit up and is six months old? No problem, here is a bigger jar with slightly less water. Baby hate puree? Here is stage 2! Buy chunkier stage 3 for your 9-12 month old. Graduate with packaged toddler food! Supplement all this with Gerber baby juice and Gerber puffs (puff refined rice sprayed with vitamins. 1g sugar per serving. Fiber 0.) With some of the products out there, I might as well buy a box of Fruity Pebbles.
This marketing campaign isn’t just confined to baby food. Moms are big business; dads are their own pocket industry. What ever the interest or need there is a market designed for it. There is one note that we all share in common, however. Every single one of us had ended up with a product we thought we needed but never used. My mom gave me those mesh feed bags. I hate those things — just one more thing to clean. I appreciated the thought, but no thank you; they are still in the package.
Honestly, has anyone bothered to taste baby cereal? I’d rather lick a cheap envelope myself. Babies have taste buds and I’m sure they’d agree! Baby food banana is truly frightening to me. The texture is odd and it has a sheen and manages to have no banana texture or color. It is eerily uniform. It has about as much resemblance to banana as a fresh cranberry has to cranberry sauce that comes out as a molded can. And what does it say when you have to mix baby fruit on the spoon to trick the baby into eating their baby veggie that has a questionable smell ? Do I even need a visual for jarred meat? I have encountered one or two jarred baby foods in my life that I could eat; the rest make my taste buds hide.
I find it highly amusing when adults are given challenges to eating baby food:
And we wonder why kids turn their noses up at strange vegetables like green peas? They were weaned on canned goods. I can attest to the fact that I was a kid who despised certain vegetables until I actually tasted ones that weren’t canned. To solve the vitamin problem of a picky eater these days, there is a tasty drink for that too. It’s no wonder so many babies suffer from constipation when they start solids. Where is the substance and fiber?
You have to admit that advertisers are brilliant.
Organic is no better as far as advertising. And, yes, I will raise my hand and freely admit that I was at first enamored by homemade baby food. That is until I realized I was half convinced to buy a food mill, new blender, and accompanying accessories. I started to research how to freeze purees in ice cube trays. It was getting to be overwhelming and I begin to see that the conditioning runs deep. It’s a lie.
Listen up my friends. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BABY FOOD.
That’s the truth of it. Let’s the notion of baby food go. There is just food. Period. Some of it is soft, some hard. Raw or cooked. Fancy and fuss are optional. Mashed food isn’t special food. You don’t have to by jar food at all if you don’t want to.
All you need is:
A baby at least 6 months or preferably older
(teeth are optional an experienced toothless baby can destroy an apple to just seeds).
Some food of the veggie or fruit persuasion. Cook it if it is very hard.
A normal sized fork to smash it with or cut into small pieces.
A regular spoon.
High chair optional.
Pretty much everything but the baby is optional!
Ideally for non-puree feeding, a baby should be able to sit well unassisted, have lost the tongue thrust reflex, (a safety mechanism to keep solids out –purees bypass this safety feature) has shown interest in meal liberation (stealing from your plate), has the ability to bring food to their mouth, and has tongue control. That happens around six months (later is not uncommon) which is just about the time that the gut is maturing.
My first baby enjoyed a good suck on my whole apple, but she clearly wasn’t suited for the task of eating at six months with a strong tongue thrust. A month later she had tongue control and could move food and swallow. Even better, a baby who has developed a pincer grip has an even better digestive maturity. A baby who wants to share a meal communicates quite clearly. If free to move about, they will crawl over to sit or pull up to beg for some like the energy sucking small mammals they are. If in a high chair, there will be vocalizations and attempts to nab or entice morsels. Grabbing their open mouth is one! Banging the table or tray and screaming is less subtle. By a year old my daughter was devastating mango slices to nothing but skin, and she freaked everyone out at her party with her skills. My son wasn’t much interested until he was nine months old and he two could destroy and apple with no teeth.
Meal sharing is the idea.
Baby doesn’t need to eat a separate elaborate meal or have a special separate meal time–unless that is your thing (it’s not my thing). When baby eats well, you eat well! Share a nice ripe pear, avocado, or baked sweet potato. Enjoy kiwi, mango, and persimmon. Indulge in blueberries, steamed carrots, or share a chilly cucumber. Everyone likes apples and some are nice and soft for eating. Harder apples can be gently cooked in a small bit of water if you like a quick applesauce. It is deliciously chunky and makes a fine topping for pancakes or waffles. Want a meal to go? Toss a banana in your bag. Cheap. Easy. Biodegradable. Eating out? Order a baked potato or side of steamed broccoli or fruit. They sky is the limit! Asparagus, parsnips, and beets. Try them all. Do grains sparingly because most food gets pooped out not well digested, but grains especially. Some people even avoid meats and fish the first year, but that’s a matter of opinion.
Break bread with your baby! If you eat it they want it. It’s fine to use your fingers. Give baby the spoon. Let the baby squeeze every ounce of delight from a piece of butternut squash. Watch how your baby inspects, squishes, slurps, chews/gums, and moves their tongue. A mess can be cleaned. For when you don’t want a mess, let the baby control the food, but don’t put it in their mouth. Let the baby take it. Load and guide the spoon, but let the baby control it.
Don’t be alarmed when you see beans, bits of kiwi, or identifiable foods in the diaper. That is normal. Babies don’t digest solids efficiently. Purees only look digested because they went in mushed, so the come out mushed, but that doesn’t mean it was digested better. All nutrition in the first year comes from breastmilk (or formula) so there is no need to stress if baby doesn’t want solids or doesn’t seem to digest much. Food before one should be an enjoyable learning experience. Unless there is a medical issue there’s no need to worry if they ingest very little.
You don’t need a high chair, but if you do buy one here are some insights. Modern plastic high chairs with the cushions might be nice for some, but they are hard to clean in my opinion. Be sure that any padding can be easily removed and washed. Unless you want to clean butternut squash out of a screw head with a toothbrush, I suggest a plain wooden high chair or the type that that they have in restaurants with a tray. If you buy a plastic one try to find a type that doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles where food can hide. Even better when you want to let the baby “have at it” lower is better. Put a washable mat under where they are sitting. A floor level low seat with a tray on top of a the washable mat on the floor means that the food doesn’t fall so far and can be given back to the baby. It’s also fine to not use a chair at all. I often used an old coffee table and step stool as a chair.
Babies do gag. It’s a reflex to ensure that food doesn’t go down the wrong pipe or to dislodge a piece that stuck on the roof of the mouth. A baby’s gag reflex is much farther forward than an adults and so it is triggered sooner. Coughing happens too, this is also a safety feature. And sometimes a baby will vomit from a gag or cough (they usually ignore it and resume eating like nothing happened–gross). This isn’t choking. Choking means the airway is blocked. Everyone should know the baby Heimlich regardless and to know what to look for because everyone at any age can choke unexpectedly. Of course, never leave the baby unattended and eating should always be done with the baby upright (this is also a safety mechanism so food will fall forward.)
Give yourself permission. This is supposed to be an enjoyable learning experience. While the book I recommend helped me to get started and was a good read, nothing can take the place of parental instinct or day-to-day practicalities. People around you are going to be paranoid and skeptical and as a result you too will worry. You have to be prepared to be consciously confident. If you know that your baby can handle food don’t be afraid to give them bigger pieces even if there is disapproval. If they can’t handle it they will spit it out! Start with naturally soft foods and feel your way with your baby. Some babies are more aggressive than others or have different level of hand and mouth control. You are both learning. Begin with foods that give you confidence. I promise that eventually you’ll settle in and start tossing them food from across the room.
It’s okay if you don’t like waste. Don’t put too much on the tray. Two or three pieces is more than enough. You can still do baby-self feeding with guidance and minimize mess especially in a restaurant or over someone’s house. I don’t like waste either. The key is guidance and offering. You can hold a morsel in your fingers and let the baby take the food. It doesn’t have to be a big mess all the time. Because that wouldn’t be much fun now would it? Try low mess foods. When you do allow the mess-tacular…do it before a shower or bath. I often put soup separated from any solids in a shot glass and let my babies drink it that way and they ate the solid parts (if any) separately.
Go forth and feed the babies! Horrify your relatives! Scare the people around you at restaurants. Impress the old folks with a baby that has advanced spoon skills.
Baby-Led Weaning by Gil Rapely (BOOK)
BLW leafelet: http://www.rapleyweaning.com/assets/blwleaflet.pdf
Gil Rapely’s Article: http://rapleyweaning.com/assets/blw_guidelines.pdf
The Mush Stops Here: http://babyledweaning.com/
(40 years in the making)
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