Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Baby's First Foods

First Foods

“The book says to take it slow,” my husband called from the living room where he sat leafing through a baby advice book. “Just introduce one new food at a time and wait for at least four days in case the baby has allergies. It’s called the Four-Day Wait Rule.”

I was standing by the stove whisking brown rice I had blended into flour into a pot of boiling water and cooking a yam to mash for our six-month-old daughter who we were just starting on solid foods. She was babbling happily in her high chair, flailing her little legs and cooing in time to her own music. I already had the menu in my head: mashed yam, mashed banana, rice mush, and some cold water to wash it down. But my husband’s caution made me realize I had to choose just one food for today’s mushy feast. Darn!

Starting a baby on solid foods is exciting. They raise their eyebrows at you, pucker their little lips, and look shocked and pleased as they roll the new food around on their tongue, not sure what to do with it. Invariably more food ends up on their bib (and on you) than in their mouths the first few times they try to eat. But get your camera ready—there’s no more photographable moment than that first look of surprise a baby tries solids.

When to eat?

How do you know when your baby is ready to try solid food? Your baby needs to be able to hold his head up by himself and to sit in a high chair, though you may want to hold him on your lap for his first feeding.

“Babies often start showing interest in foods you are eating by watching your movements and opening their mouths,” says Jani Rollins, M.D., a pediatrician in Ashland, Oregon. “They may even reach over and dive into your plate. Most babies have extinguished their tongue thrust reflex by four months. However, most recent recommendations are to wait until closer to six months to start solids,” adds Dr. Rollins.

While six months is a good rule of thumb, there is no reason you have to start babies that young.

My oldest daughter was an eager eater but my second child ate very little solid food until she was well over a year old (she threw up almost everything we offered her). Gauge your child’s interest in food and take your cues from her.

What to eat?

Once you’ve got the bib poised and the highchair ready, what do you feed your baby? The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends starting babies off with iron-fortified rice cereal. Ruth Yaron, author of the bestselling book “Super Baby Food,” adds that other perfect early foods include avocado, banana, and cooked mashed sweet potato.

According to Dr. Rollins, an easily digest high fiber vegetable like puréed cooked squash is an excellent choice for babies who get easily constipated. “Occasionally in babies who tend toward constipation or less frequent pooping, using squash or some other vegetable may prevent worsening of that problem at first,” says Rollins. “You can introduce cereal after that.”

Yaron’s super baby food diet is primarily a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet with the exception of dessicated liver (which is high in vitamin B12, amino acids, and other nutrients), which Yaron recommends adding as a “healthy extra” to a young child’s food. Although I was a vegetarian for 20 years before having children, my husband and I decided to include some organic, nitrate-free meat in our children’s diet. The first time my daughter tried chicken she liked it so much she growled! That said, a baby can be a vegetarian and enjoy good health.

“With careful attention to requirements for iron, vitamins and protein, I think it is safe for babies to be vegetarian,” says Dr. Rollins. “Parents must educate themselves about food options that contain these nutrients.” If you do decide to introduce meat, wait until your baby is eight or nine months old.

Whatever foods you choose to feed your baby, both Rollins and Yaron agree that all of a baby’s early diet should be organic. “If there are pesticides and insecticides in the food—and these are used to kill living things—it’s just intuitive not to put that in a baby’s body,” says Yaron.

What about milk?

Many parents wonder when to introduce cow’s milk products into a baby’s diet. While cow’s milk should not be the staple of a baby’s diet before the age of one, other milk products, like plain whole milk yogurt and cheese, can be introduced to a baby who is nine or ten months old.

Because yogurt contains healthy bacteria that support the digestive system (and help fight against things like yeast infections), doctors often recommend introducing a baby to yogurt first.

“Many families will try a little bit of dairy in the form of yogurt or cottage cheese,” says Dr. Rollins, who also advises her patients to mix cow’s milk with breast milk or formula to get a baby used to the taste.

If you have a history of food allergies in your family, or a sensitivity to dairy products, there is no need to rush to offer your child cow’s milk. The more developed your baby’s digestive system, the more likely he will be to tolerate cow’s milk. Goat milk, goat yogurt, and goat cheese are healthy and more easily digested alternatives to cow milk products and are readily available in most health food stores and conventional supermarkets.

While soymilk has also become a popular alternative to cow’s milk, nutrition experts are finding that this trend is misguided. Recent studies have shown that eating a lot of soy can have negative health consequences for women. According to Paul Buck, Ph.D., a retired professor who held a joint appointment in the Department of Food Science and the Graduate School of Nutrition at Cornell University, the plant hormones in soy products are similar to human hormones and can actually interfere with the production of hormones. “Soy products should never be more than 5% of a female’s diet,” says Buck.

As an excellent source of calcium, cow’s milk is a healthy food for a growing child. However, breastfed babies do not need to drink cow’s milk. Children between the ages of one and three do need 500 mg of calcium a day, according to Dr. Rollins. Nondairy foods high in calcium include beans, green vegetables, and fish such as salmon.

What about fat?

Despite the current fat-free craze in America, experts say that babies need to have a certain amount of fat in their diets in order to grow strong and healthy. “Babies should have fats in their diets,” says Yaron. In fact, fat is both a good source of energy and an essential component of brain development. The AAP recommends that no fats should be restricted from a baby’s diet until after age two.

According to Paul Buck and other nutrition experts, it is a misperception that saturated fats are bad for you. It is hydrogenated fats, also called trans fats, that are highly processed foods and categorically bad for your health. While parents should not allow babies or young children to eat any food containing these processed fats, children (and adults) should have a diet that includes a good balance of saturated and unsaturated fats. Read the labels. If any of the ingredients include the words “hydrogenated vegetable oil,” “partially hydrogenated,” or “trans fat,” put the item back on the shelf!

It is a lot of fun to introduce healthy foods to a baby, who has no preconceptions about how things should taste.

“It’s so easy to feed kids a 100% perfect diet because they don’t know about sugar yet, they don’t know about chocolate yet,” laughs Yaron. “What you feed them, they will eat.”

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Marriage Less Important Than Prenatal Bonding

There's a fascinating new study published in the December issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family about the importance for dads to bond with their babies in the prenatal period in order to establish a stable family life and continue being an involved parent.

As reported in a News Bulletin on
In their analysis, Cabrera and her colleague, Jay Fagan at Temple University, found that fathers involved during pregnancy were significantly more likely to remain involved in raising their child at three-years-old.

"The unmarried father is much more likely either to maintain or move into a more committed relationship if he's involved before the birth, and that's the critical difference," Cabrera says.

"As you might expect, research has consistently shown that creating a stable home life predicts whether a father will be an active participant in raising the child, but what we've learned here is that the prenatal months are when that kind of family structure is most likely to coalesce."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

And Baby Makes Five

This essay was originally a column in the Ashland Daily Tidings.

And Baby Makes Five
by Jennifer Margulis

My mother-in-law knew before I did. I clutched my stomach going down a twisty slide at the park and stumbled getting up.

"Ugh - ever since I had kids I can't go on these things anymore," I complained, so nauseous I had to stop chasing my daughters around and sit quietly for a moment.

"Really?" My mother-in-law raised her eyebrows.

That night back at her apartment I slouched over my soup. "I'm so tired." I eyed the floor like it was a comfortable place to sleep. "It must be the jet lag."

"Oh yeah?"

My girls and I were visiting my mother-in-law in Atlanta where, in February, the magnolia trees and the dogwoods boasted bright white and pink blossoms. James stayed back in Massachusetts to shovel snow and work. Hesperus, three and a half, and Athena, almost two, were enthusiastic travelers. The minute they went to sleep I fell into bed.

It wasn't jet lag.

I was pregnant.

I always wanted a big family. My husband, an only child, thought he wanted "maybe one" kid until we met. But my enthusiasm grew on him, as did his awareness of being lonely a lot, and alone, as a child. Our first daughter emerged into the world with ears that stuck out at right angles, just like his, and a heartbreaking calmness. While we heard ear-piercing screams from other newborns in the hospital, Hesperus made little cat-like squeaks, "ut-ut-ut-ut," when she wanted to nurse.

She was so placid and mild-mannered and we were so keen on having a big family that we thought it made perfect sense to get started on Baby Number Two right away.

What we couldn't know as a blissful threesome was how hard it would be to go from being a family of three to a family of four.

Athena, like the goddess after whom she is named, came into the world whooping a war cry. At almost exactly the same time Hesperus morphed into a strong-willed toddler. I made up a song about her: "Hesperus Wesperus's favorite word is 'no, no, no, no, no, no.' Hesperus Wesperus could say 'yes,' but 'yes, yes, yes' is rarely heard." She stripped naked at the car mechanic's, put a pussy willow up her nose, refused to eat a bite of anything without Favorite Fork, and howled with rage if James drove the car when she wanted me to: "No Daddy drive! No Daddy drive!"

That first year with a spirited toddler and a fussy newborn cured us - we thought permanently - of the idea of having a big family. It was the stereo crying at 2 in the morning that was the hardest. I felt like I was robbing my firstborn of a long babyhood (she was 19 months old when Athena was born) and robbing my second born of a tranquil infancy.

So when a pink line on a white plastic stick confirmed I was pregnant, it was hard not to worry. Since going from one to two had been more than twice as hard, I reasoned that going from two to three would be more than six times as hard.

Etani was born in the middle of a wine-dark night in October in our farmhouse in rural Massachusetts. "I love him more than all my stuffies," Hesperus announced, holding her floppy hours-old baby brother on her lap. "I'm so happy there are tears in my eyes, Mommy."

"This is how you jump, Baby," Athena showed him. "This is how you run. This is how you walk." At 4 and 2 1/2, Hesperus and Athena were fascinated but not threatened by the baby. Athena had gone from being a fussy infant to a deeply compassionate, cooperative toddler and Hesperus had outgrown some of her most challenging behavior. Best friends, they became even closer after Etani's birth. And I had changed too. I knew to ask friends to bring food, pick up supplies, and take the girls out for playtime; I knew that a messy kitchen didn't matter as much as a well-rested mama; and I knew that it was OK (though antithetical to my upbringing) to ask for as much help as I needed.

A few days after his birth I sent my mother-in-law an email. "I didn't know how much I wanted a son until after he was here," I wrote with a lump in my throat. I imagine she smiled knowingly when she read it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Learn As Much As You Can Before You Vaccinate Your Baby

It's overwhelming to have a new baby -- in a wonderful, fearful, giddy sort of way -- and there's a lot that you'll wish you did differently after the fact.

But here's one mistake not to make: Find out about vaccines before you start shooting up your child.

The Hep B vaccine is administered a few hours after birth. But Hep B is a sexually transmitted disease. If you and your partner are monogamous and do not use drugs or share needles and do not have Hep B, you should not give this vaccine to your newborn or your child at any age. (Hep B tends to be a mild illness in adults but a dangerous one in very small children.)

Vaccinating a newborn against Hep B is not only not necessary but it is also dangerous to your baby. The vaccine is known to cause adverse reactions. The link there is to the government's National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Here's another link to a less mainstream source that discusses the dangers of the Hep B vaccine. The small chance that you child could have an adverse reaction, including anaphylactic shock, is more of a risk than the disease, Hep B, itself. The long term immune consequences and potential harmful effects of megadosing children on vaccines have yet to be studied.

There is nothing wrong with vaccines. Though some skeptics argue that diseases like Polio were already on the decline because of improved sanitation, chlorine added to swimming pools, and natural immunity--as well as the normal epidemiological trends--most people agree that the Polio vaccine helped save many children from being crippled or worse.

But Polio has been eradicated in the United States and most countries in the world, which is a good reason to think and consider before giving your baby that vaccine.

All of this was the subject of a lot of debate during a CDC vaccine community meeting in Ashland, Oregon. You can read more about that meeting here.

I am writing a feature for a national magazine about whether unvaccinated children put others at risk. If you want to weigh in on the debate, please contact me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Saving Money With a New Baby

We like this post from DadJam about how to save money when you have a newborn.

In a nutshell, Head Jammer says:

1) Breastfeed for the first 6 months because the food is free. We'd add that you can breastfeed for a year exclusively and have the healthiest baby (and wallet) on the block. And keep breastfeeding for as long as you'd like. Two of our three breastfed for more than four years.

2) Get a used crib. We bought one and used it for three kids, now it's on loan to a friend who just had their first. Despite being 10 years old, it's in really good shape. We always borrowed those cradle thingies. Or you can skip the crib completely, use a drawer with a blankie in it the old-fashioned way, and have you baby sleep in your bed.

3) Get hand-me-downs! It's shocking how NICE used clothes from cousins can be.

4) Use cloth diapers. Absolutely! And instead of buying wipes and adding them to the landfill, use washcloths and warm water. One family we know has white ones for wiping tushies and colored ones for hands and faces.

5) Forget toys. Well, that's not exactly what Head Jam says but we're paraphrasing and misrepresenting to further our own anti-materialist agenda here.

6) Don't have a car. He doesn't. If you do, though, invest in the safest and most expensive car seat you can. Not the kind that pop out (carry your baby close to your chest. It's good for both of you) but a steel reinforced good one. Car accidents kill too many babies a year.

7) Suck it up that you'll be spending a lot of money on coffee.

We have a few more suggestions:

1) Ask well-meaning friends and relatives to bring FOOD after the birth, especially things that can be frozen, instead of gifts. The baby doesn't need anything. You need to eat (healthy, organic, whole grain food).

2) If the well meaners from #1 really need to give you something, ask them to contribute to a college savings fund or buy Baby a savings bond. In this down market, bonds have been doing gangbusters!

3) The baby will be spitting up, pooping, and growing like crazy. If you can't get hand-me-downs, go to Good Will or the Salvation Army and buy clothes there. We live in a relatively wealthy area and people give really nice, often new stuff to Good Will. So, the lady shopping next to you will be slapping her grandson. But you're saving money.

4) Use olive or avocado oil on your baby's skin instead of expensive lotions that will cause a rash anyway.

5) Wash laundry in cold water. You save money and energy. The clothes get clean. Even the pee pee diapers (maybe not the poopy ones--wash on warm for those...) You don't need bleach of any kind, even though it is cheap...