Sunday, June 23, 2019

Mush

When I first thought about "weaning" I imagined a situation where yes I'd still be nursing, but if something came up - say, if I needed to be out for more than an hour, or to do something decadent like sleep through the night - my husband could offer our child some food. I don't know if I could call my persistence in this belief naive exactly, because I spoke with many other mothers of slightly older babies - first at postnatal exercise classes, and then, at library baby time - and learned that "weaning," in this context, for a long time just means adding an extra step to your schedule, without any reduction in time or frequency of nursing. But I kept on imagining the time was imminent that my husband could just hand our baby a sandwich while I caught up on sleep.

Well! Baby is now solid-foods months old, and the other mothers were correct. This *is* an additional daily task. But an exciting one. Like most of humanity, I'm a big fan of food, and so I'm looking forward to introducing my child to more of it. But...how?

The old model, I guess, was purees from jars. There are now purees in pouches, but these are Bad and for emergencies only. Cheaper and (allegedly) easier: purees you make at home. This I have been doing, and just requires some advance planning. It fits with my own general approach to meals, and seems fine? And it turns out if you roast sweet potatoes for a long time, then puree them, that's really good! Not a new discovery in general but not something I'd otherwise have had the patience for.

But I'd read and heard good things about something called baby-led weaning. Just give your baby small bits of your own meal! Which sounds even better. Food is great! Purees, not super appetizing, although the freezer is now an interesting multicolored array of ice-cube-tray fruits and vegetables (and, less effectively, tofu).

There are a few issues with the baby-led weaning approach. Such as: this concept of an adult "meal" seems to have been imagined by someone with a lot of technical cooking skill (everything has to be just so texture and shape-wise) but zero interest in cooking itself. As in: what is this food you're preparing for yourself, without any salt or oil? (No sugar, either, which I could see getting annoying but is less immediately difficult in cooking.) And why no oil, if babies are supposed to be getting enough fat? Why is fat Very Important if in yogurt but not if in butter or oil or whatever? Why are you meant to give your baby cheese and bread and things of that nature, but watch out for salt, which is an ingredient in everything purchased outside? What if you're still in the eternal-seeming stage where you're slowly introducing ingredients - then can you offer foods containing more than one?

The idea is to avoid raising a picky eater, but make sure there is no sauce on any of your baby's food, except if it's a dipping sauce, which is the only way "BLW" babies are allowed to eat puree. If you put a spoon in your baby's mouth, it might as well be a joint, is the impression some of the books give. Some but not all - some are realistic about foods having different textures and that maybe putting some mashed-up avocado on a spoon and offering this up to an enthusiastic enough baby will not be - I mean, read the news! - the worst thing that could happen to a baby, and is in fact a good thing to happen to a baby, all told. Other books, however, are more like, purees, even of fresh ingredients you prepared yourself, are setting your baby up to never learn to talk or lift a spoon or whatever and - and this (not rejection from Harvard!) is the undercurrent of apparently all parenting advice, except I'm imagining some subset of it that's out to consciously avoid that theme - be fat.

Which, who knows, but also remember that at six months, babies start needing nutrients from more than just milk or formula, so "food before one is just for fun" isn't actually a thing. But also, iron-fortified oat cereal is processed and therefore unacceptable, except when I have oatmeal myself, I mean, someone or some machine has presumably processed the oats in question.

Also: choking. Which could happen regardless but seems as if it would be more likely if you're handing your baby an ear of corn or a drumstick, but what do I know.

Oh and: one of the books had the nerve to say that if your own family meals aren't baby-food compatible, as in if there isn't something salt-and-sugar-free of the correct texture and nutrient content, all ingredients verified - you could hand your baby, then there's clearly something wrong with how you eat and by the way here are a bunch of nauseating-sounding quinoa recipes as suggestions. It's like some extended, extra-bonkers version of the thing where pregnant women are said to be infantilized by health tips. And, I mean, I was fine with the nine months not drinking thing! But am I about to cook only unseasoned food and once again stop eating runny cheese?? Hmm!

Meanwhile it would seem that babies can indeed go from milk to purees to soft foods to regular food without the world ending if a step or two in the middle aren't skipped. There are also sensible advice-givers out there, prepared to admit that you can try both these methods, at the same meal, even, without the sky falling in, or winding up with a baby who'll grow up to eat only mushed banana. And I can - I tried this evening! it worked! - cook without salt, and only add the salt after (along with a gallon of soy sauce) and not quite as much oil as I might have otherwise. It's fine!

The same part of my brain that's able to turn off 'get wild salmon not farmed because reasons even though wild is $50 a pound and often tastes worse' when it comes to my own food consumption can do that as well for the baby-food variant. But oh, do I see (she types, having spent 10 minutes trying to figure out which is the appropriate First Yogurt, like Borat encountering the cheese section of an American supermarket) how it could all lend itself to making someone sort of lose it, when just as you're finally getting a tiny bit more sleep, but only just, you're meant to become instant expert in a dreary sort of home cooking, all for a person who is, simply on account of their age, more likely to offer the food in question to a can't-believe-the-luck dog than to put the carefully-prepared chicken shreds into their mouth.

7 comments:

Miss Self-Important said...

I have never understood how BLW is weaning. Weaning is when you stop breastfeeding, period. If you're nursing and also feeding solids, you're still nursing. No weaning has occurred. It's true though that if you're still nursing after a year, it's probably only once or twice a day and not your kid's main source of sustenance, but that kid is still not weaned.

Anyway, BLW is a waste of time. Purees from jars are fine. Pouches too, but more expensive. You can't prevent their desire for bad food b/c bad food tastes really good, which is also why you eat it. Whatever you eat in front of them, your kid will, by age 2.5, also eat. Unless it's really healthy; they won't eat that.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

I took "weaning" in this context to mean a (very) gradual process. Which is presumably taking place, with food gradually becoming more of what the baby consumes, and breast milk getting phased out. But the phrasing is misleading and probably does get at why I imagined I might be able to skip a night feed in favor of my husband giving baby a sandwich.

What I think confuses me about the whole topic is, it's unclear - because baby! - which rules are things aimed at having a slender, Alice Waters-inflected, Park Slopier-than-thou child, and which are things you absolutely have to do because you're otherwise injuring your very young child. As in, I have no interest in trying to raise a child who never eats sugar. But if sugar's something you can't feed an infant, I'm not going to feed sugar to an infant. Things like that. And the books are very vague about those lines.

Isabel Archer said...

1. The Americas Test Kitchen Baby and Toddler Cookbook is a really good source of practical ideas. It starts with sections on purees for really little babies but also meals that are BLW-compatible for those who choose to do it, most of which are actually pretty appealing to adults.

2. The recently turned 4 year old is super picky. The 14 month old eats pretty much everything. I introduced some things earlier with the younger one and maybe that helped a little, but honestly, while you can move flexibility and desire for healthy eating a little bit at the margin, you kind of get what you get in terms of your child's innate personality. This principle applies well beyond the context of food.

Miss Self-Important said...

Well, maybe another thing to remember is that the baby food stage is (like all baby stages) only a few months long. I now can barely recall the timing of anything that happened to my daughter before 18 months, but I think it was by 12 months that she was eating regular food, just in smaller servings and cut into smaller pieces, rather than purees or other special preparations just for her. You still have to avoid choking hazard foods for a while longer after that, but since they eat so little at each meal, you can almost always find some parts of your regular meal that will suffice for their whole meal - a few bites of salmon or chicken, bread, berries, etc. - so you don't really have to meal-plan around them. Then we used the pouches for trips or out at restaurants, and the cans of pureed veggies for a few more months to supplement, since we rarely eat steamed or otherwise softened vegetables in our adult meals.

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