Saturday, June 4, 2011

Third World Green Daddy Part 19: Eating solid food

Our Sam is a big boy. After a recent checkup, I did my obsessive US parent thing and checked how his height and weight compared to other babies his age. According to the World Health Organization website, Sam was in the 97th percentile or something in terms of his height, but only in the 50th in terms of weight. So he is a long, lean young baby. This shouldn't surprise me, as he comes from a long line of tall, skinny men, on both sides of the family. But I had a moment of panic, wondering if he was somehow undernourished despite our diligent breast and bottle-feeding from my wife Caro's abundant milk supply.

Everyone knows by now that babies should ideally receive only mother's milk until they're six months old, after which you're supposed to gradually introduce solid foods. But even after starting "solid" foods (actually various mashes and purees of once-solid food), mother's milk should be the main calorie source until a year of age or so. I believe doctors everywhere stress the breastmilk-only-until-six-months line, but especially in developing countries it's important, because in lots of places the major formula companies carried out big publicity campaigns in the mid-20th century that left mothers with a mistaken view of breastfeeding as antiquated and synthetic formula as man's grand improvement on nature.

Nevertheless, in that recent doctor's appointment, the pediatrician saw how big and alert Sam was, and recommended we start feeding him solids then, at four months of age. Indeed, Sam by that point was apparently teething, biting everything in sight. He was also showing interest in our food when we'd eat at table, and we'd even offered him a taste of a few soups and juices. The doctor seemed to be recommending solid feeding as a way of satisfying Sam's voracious appetite, beyond what my wife's breastmilk could offer.

I filmed Sam's first non-milk meal of granadilla juice to send to friends and family (accompanied by Strauss's Thus Spake Zarathustra, the 2001 theme). Thus began an intensive campaign, led fanatically by me, of mixing a bunch of homemade baby foods and trying to fill our baby with them (which inevitably led to more formidable, solid shits to deal with). The need seemed all the more urgent after Sam got over a flu that had seen him eating little for a few days. Once he got better, he wanted to eat everything in sight, as if making up for lost time. When we would offer him puree of fruits like apple, mango, and pear, Sam got impatient with the slow pace of spoon-feeding, so I tried to give him these fruits or cooked rice in a sippy cup or a baby bottle. Of course these liquified foods were very thick, and hard to suck through the small holes of these drinking vessels. I began to make odd concoctions of sagu starch (extracted from the bulb we know as Canna in the US), cow's milk, mashed fruit, water, and soy or plantain powder. I thought that perhaps this way we might make up for any supposed shortfall in my wife's milk, in a form that Sam could suck down much faster than we could spoon-feed him.

Just the other day though, I had a revelation as I looked at a particularly watery bottle mix I'd made. As Sam drank about six ounces of it, I thought, "This can't possibly be anywhere near as nutritious as Caro's milk". It was just a clear, soupy mix of sagu starch and granadilla fruit juice. I began to do some calculations and saw that no mix I could make would have anywhere near the fat content of Caro's milk unless I loaded it with so much powdery, pasty soy flour as to make it inedible. If not, every ounce of watery mix I filled Sam's belly with was robbing space from nutritious, fatty breastmilk. Was I becoming one of those clueless parents who in the name of homemade, "natural" methods ends up starving their kids?

My wife and I did some research (among other sources, this Spanish website on natural childraising is really interesting) and found that my obsession with "improving" Sam's diet was dangerous and misled (though thankfully short-lived). As voracious as our baby's appetite might be, Caro's milk supply would adjust. Now we're back to the healthy viewpoint that solid foods will be simply a minor complement to breastmilk, serving mainly to stimulate Sam's senses and to introduce him to the social ritual of eating with the family. The above-linked Spanish website is less doctrinaire than many sources about solid feeding. Aside from avoiding excessive salt and certain hard-to-digest vegetables (mainly crucifers like broccoli), it has no recommendations as to whether to start with fruits or vegetables, soups or mashes, etc. If at this point solid food mainly serves a socialization function, the best thing is to blend up whatever the family is eating at a particular meal and serve a bit to the baby, with a spoon. This way the baby gets used to eating as the family does, and you don't create a precedent of always making something separate for the baby.

I'm excited about making new foods for Sam, and perhaps someday even expanding our family jam business into natural purees like guava, arracacha (another Andean root), and peas. I've even gotten some high-end baby food ideas from a recent Chicago Tribune article. But I'm not going to go overboard; for the next few months Sam's primary food source will be the same old mother's milk that's kept him big and healthy thus far.

Sam's favorite triumvirate--mango, pear, and apple (with a random squash that we haven't tried yet)

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