I usually keep my posts short — NO, NOT because I’m lazy, shut up!
ANYWAY, although I usually keep my posts short, Bodie Parkhurst sent me this long one that’s just too good to prune. Bodie is coming out with a new book, BENCHMARKS: A SINGLE MOTHER’S ILLUSTRATED JOURNAL. It’s an absolutely beautiful book of Bodie’s words and Bodie’s pictures, and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Now, here’s Bodie:
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Back in the early days of proto-mom-hood, food was a huge issue for me, largely because nothing would stay down. I heard a great deal about the need to eat healthy stuff “for the baby.” Unfortunately, no one had brought my baby in on this particular loop, so while I was trying to eat healthfully for him, he was merrily rejecting everything I sent down.
I’d send a salad down. “Do you want this?” I’d ask.
“Nope.” he would say, and throw the salad back at me, after first having rendered it inedible by anyone or anything except possibly one of the dogs that roam my neighborhood rolling in dead animals and consuming…but perhaps we should draw a tasteful veil here. Back to my stomach.
“Would you like this?” I would inquire anxiously, sending down a nice, bland, warm bowl of potato soup.
“Uh uh,” said my proto-son.
“How about this?” And down would go a few dry crackers.
“You kidding?” And back would come the crackers.
And then one happy day I discovered what it was my baby wanted. He wanted V-8 juice. Heavily laced with red peppers. With a floating island of cottage cheese on top.
So that was what I ate. For months. And then one day I woke up, fixed my morning V-8 Juice and cottage cheese–and discovered that if I never saw either again, it would be too soon. Fortunately my baby arrived shortly afterward.
That experience should have taught me an important fact about the baby who would grow up to be my son–he would be one of those children who can happily eat the same thing. For every meal. For months at a time.
When he was little I nursed him. When he got to be a few months old people began saying, “When are you going to be starting him on hard food?”
I looked at my son. He looked at me. He looked at the bowl of hard food. He tried a bite. And then he reached for my boob. At first I felt like we were somehow defective. I mean, here was this baby, five months old, who didn’t care at all about having a varied, interesting diet, attractively presented on a Beatrix Potter plate. What he wanted was milk, and lots of it. Fortunately, that was precisely what I had.
It took me several more months to realize that my son’s devotion to mom juice was actually a good thing, for a number of reasons.
First, it was easy. My boobs went with me everywhere. Though I always carried a can of formula and a bottle with me, I seldom had to use it.
Second, it kept my baby healthier. Babies absorb antibodies from breast milk. When I caught a cold, I encouraged my baby to nurse as often as he could–and while he sometimes caught colds, they were seldom very severe.
Third, it made flying more comfortable not only for my baby, but for whole planesful of people. Anybody who has listened to a baby’s agonized screaming during take-off and landing knows that babies and planes are not natural companions. However, nursing the baby during take-off and landing helps babies’ ears to equalize pressure easily and naturally. And it often puts them to sleep. My son snoozed his way to Hawaii and back (twice), from LA to Seattle (once) and from LA to Southern Oregon (once) in the first few months of his life.
Fourth, it made night-time feedings simple. Pity the poor woman who must stumble from her bed, prepare a bottle, give it to her baby, put the baby back to bed, and then stumble back to bed herself. Breastfeeding means that “prep” involves inserting one nipple into one baby’s mouth. If you go the “family bed” route, and let your little one snuggle down with you in bed (and I highly recommend it) mother and baby can handle nighttime feedings without anybody even having to wake all the way up. Not only are night time feedings simple, but bedtime becomes not a time of tension and screaming, but a time of warmth, comfort, and slow relaxation. Many babies like to sleep with their parents. Mine did.
Fifth, if the mother is clean and healthy, breast-feeding is just plain healthier for the baby. Bottles, milk-based formula, and heat–three constant factors in bottle-feeding a baby–can be veritable petri dishes of infection. Breast milk is calibrated for the human infant’s needs. If the mother is careful what she eats, it generally always sits well on the baby’s stomach.
Finally, and perhaps most important, breast-feeding your baby is an excellent way to establish one of the cornerstones of a happy family–spending time together and sharing a pleasurable activity. Babies love to be held. They love the warmth and comfort of nursing. As a mother, I can say that, once my body had adjusted to the process, nursing was soothing for me, too. Because I nursed my baby I could count on being able to sit down several times a day, hold my son, talk to him, touch his cheek, and know that in this one area, at least, I was giving my child exactly what he needed to grow both physically and emotionally.
So, what’s the point? Very much the same point that I found myself making over and over in writing Benchmarks, A Single Mother’s Journal. At its core, feeding a baby–like mothering a child–doesn’t have to be a complex, daunting process. Keep it simple. Stick with the basics. Don’t get fancy. You’ll do just fine.
The days when your baby is happy to subsist on boob-juice will eventually end. When that day arrives, you will find yourself in the Valley of the Shadow of the Baby Food Aisle. Here are a few tips for surviving your passage through this trying time more or less intact and nausea free.
1. Make peace with mess. Believe it or not, your baby is learning Important Things when he throws that handful of glop at the wall. When he pours that grape juice onto the carpet he is learning about Gravity. When he smears pureed peaches on the table he is learning about Art. And when he blows that mouthful of oatmeal and applesauce at your face he is quite likely forming the basis for what we all hope will be a varied and extensive Cursing Vocabulary. Feed your baby in a high chair with a wide table. Set the high chair on a hard, easily-cleaned surface, surrounded by other hard, easily-cleaned surfaces. Then stay out of the way. Let him eat with his hands–it’s good for hand-eye coordination. Learn to laugh at the mess. You like spaghetti on your cheeks. You love oatmeal in your hair. You are at peace with peas smooshed into flat green little pancakes. Life is good.
2. Don’t buy baby food vegetables and meat. While fruits tend to survive the transition to baby food jars reasonably well, meats and vegetables do not. I didn’t feed my baby meat until he was well past two–too much of a choking hazard for one thing. If you want a healthy, appetizing, baby-friendly first food try this:
Cook mixed vegetables thoroughly. Boil an egg. Put both through a fine chop food processor. Don’t be afraid to let it run a bit–you want this to be in tiny, tiny pieces. Add a little water, and a little butter or margarine, to make a soft, thick paste. Don’t add salt (or, sugar, obviously). Your baby will love it. You might, too. You’ll certainly like it better than the pureed peas and beef stew from the baby aisle.
Speaking of which, that food grinder will become your best friend. With a few notable exceptions (honey, for one, check with your doctor or doula for others) babies can eat very much what grown-ups eat once they’re beyond the “breast is best” stage. The important thing is to make sure that the food is pureed, that it’s not heavily spiced, and that it’s not too strongly flavored.
To avoid unnecessary stomach upset, introduce one new food at a time. If it doesn’t sit well, try something else.
3. Add a little formula powder or baby cereal to fruit sauces. Your baby will love it. Try pear sauce (cook the pears and run them through the food processor), applesauce (use as is), and mashed bananas, each mixed with baby cereal. They all work well. (One extra note about bananas, my dietitian aunt suggested using a mixture of baby rice cereal mixed with mashed bananas to help regulate your baby’s digestive system. She says it equalizes things both ways. I don’t know because that was never an issue we dealt with. You might check with your doctor, and give it a try.)
It would be wrong to end this without offering the one best piece of advice I got from the lovely woman who ran my childbirth class. It’s so good I pass it on to every proto-mom and new mom I see. Here it is:
There’s something about a burgeoning belly and a new baby that inspires people to walk up to you and offer you all sorts of advice. Listen politely, smile, say, “I had never thought of that,” and let them walk away. Later, if you like, you can try the things that sound good to you. But do so only if it feels like a natural, comfortable thing. If doing things the way your mom/aunt/grandma tells to you is making you and your baby unhappy, stop. Find the way that works for you, your baby, and your family. Every baby and every mom have to work out their own system. Love your baby. Hold it. Keep it safe. Those are the basics. You’ll work the rest out.
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Bodie also has a CafePress store, where she sells precious items using illustrations from BENCHMARKS.
Like this one.
And this one.
So buy her book and some baby stuff to go with it. Perfect gift!
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Write a baby or small child with odd tastes in food. REALLY odd.