Monday, July 28, 2014

The Journey to Solids

Shortly before Little Bug turned six months old, my mother-in-law sent us a box that had been carefully packed with jars of applesauce.  Beautiful homemade applesauce, made with organic apples and no added spices and as little (organic) sugar added as possible, only as much as was necessary to make it safe to can.  She ran it through the food mill several times, to make it as smooth as possible.  It was really quite thoughtful, but anyone who knows my mother-in-law wouldn't be surprised by the gesture at all.  That's just the kind of person she is.

Little Bug, however, wanted nothing to do with the applesauce.  He wanted nothing to do with any kind of pureed food, really.

Almost seven months old, "eating" the aforementioned applesauce.

We offered Little Bug his first "solid" food somewhere around six months, just like all of the good books recommend.  It's probably indicative of the kind of parent that I am that I honestly can't remember what his first food was.  Probably mashed avocado, or maybe banana.  I don't think it was the applesauce, although that was something he tried early on.  I know it wasn't any kind of grain (I was pretty set against "baby cereals"), but I don't remember what it was any more than I remember what Little Bug's exact age was at the time.  These kinds of small details just aren't that important to me, I guess.

Anyway, the road to "solids," the road to eating real adult-ish food, was a pretty long one for us.  I definitely worried at times.  I wondered whether I was doing things wrong, whether I should be pushing him to eat more or offering different foods in different orders.  And the more time I spend talking to other moms, the more I realize that those worries are pretty much universal.  We all worry that we're not doing things right.  We all think everyone else is more knowledgeable than we are.  We are afraid to fully trust our instincts.

I had heard the term baby-led weaning before, and had known for awhile that it seemed like the best way to go (for us).  In case you've never heard of it before (and if you haven't, I encourage you to go read about baby-led weaning), here's the basic idea.  Baby eats what you eat.  He eats what he's hungry for, and he feeds it to himself as desired.  He continues nursing as his primary source of nutrition until at least his first birthday, and he increases his solid intake at his own pace.  He eats what he can feed to himself, meaning real foods and not things that necessarily require spoons.

Pretty simple, really.  Much easier than buying baby food in jars, or even pouches.  Certainly a lot cheaper.  Less time-consuming than making your own purees.  Probably much tastier.  And much more intuitive, which was what sold it for me.

Eight and a half months old, nomming lettuce from the CSA box.  For the record, he had a hard time swallowing uncooked leafy greens until well after his second birthday.  He didn't choke on them, but they'd float around in his mouth until he finally spit them out.

And, in my experience anyway, it truly was the best approach for us.  As much as I believed in the idea, I still tried purees occasionally.  (Fruit and/or veggie purees, that is; as I said before, I don't like the idea of baby cereals.)  We did offer Little Bug his grandma's homemade applesauce.  He ate a bite or two, probably mainly to placate us, but most of it dribbled down his chin.  I got tons of jars of baby food from WIC, but he found that even less appealing than the applesauce.  (And I certainly can't blame him!)  I ended up using my WIC checks primarily to get jars of various kinds of applesauce, which I could use instead of oil when baking, or other purees that I could use in specific recipes.  (I have an awesome brownie recipe that uses pureed prunes, of all things.  I made lots of pumpkin bread, which Little Bug loved much more than the jarred "winter squash" that I used to make it, and I even made sweet potato muffins.  Nothing went to waste!  And Little Bug ended up eating it, just in different, much more appetizing forms.)

So baby-led weaning it was.  I would make dinner.  I would make a small bowl for Little Bug, and take his portion and mash it with a fork, or cut it into tiny pieces (I stuck with larger chunks of soft things, to make it easier for him to pick it up), or in some way make it possible for him to eat it without me worrying about him choking.  We would nurse, than we would sit down and eat together.  And by that, I mean I would eat, and Little Bug would play, and sometimes some of the food made it into his mouth and he'd swallow it.  Really, at that age it was more about fun, and about introducing him to new tastes and textures.  After all, the "experts" (the ones I trust, anyway) say that food before one is just for fun.  He was still breastfeeding full time, and that was definitely where the bulk of his calories came from.  And it was good, perfect nutrition, and I was not concerned at all that he wasn't more interested in solids.  Around nine or ten months, he started being a bit more adventurous with trying new things.  (Forgive me for not having a better timeline; I didn't exactly write these things down!)

We definitely didn't follow any kind of schedule with regards to how I introduced him to new foods.  It probably sounds rather callous of me, but I just wasn't that concerned.  Food allergies don't run in either of our families, and I know that by waiting until at least 6 months, his guts were better sealed up and better able to handle solid foods.  I avoided egg whites and peanut butter until he was 10 or 11 months (although in retrospect I think I wish I had offered both earlier; there is so much conflicting information out there about how to reduce the risk of food allergies!), and he got no honey until well after his first birthday.  I made a mental note every time he ate something that was truly "new," but that was about it.  And, thankfully, we never had any problem with sensitivities or allergies.

Nine months old.  In case you are wondering, that is a sweet potato fry.

What kinds of foods did he eat?  Everything!  Lots of fruits and veggies: bananas, mashed slightly with a fork at first and then given whole; avocados, cut into chunks; apples, cooked until they were soft and sprinkled with cinnamon, and eventually whole raw slices; strawberries, cut into slices; blueberries, generally left whole; broccoli and cauliflower, steamed and lightly seasoned; mashed potatoes; sweet potatoes, cut into chunks and sauteed in coconut oil; kale or spinach or collard greens, sauteed to perfection; beets, roasted in the oven and then cut into pieces.  Hard-boiled eggs; he ate the yolk, and I would eat the white.  Beans, mashed with a fork at first and then eventually left whole, and lentils by the spoonful.  Cooked brown rice.  Bites from my morning oatmeal, lightly sweetened with maple syrup or brown sugar and full of dried berries, ground flax, and chia seeds.  Almonds and walnuts and other nuts; early on, I'd chew them a few times for him, until he got some molars and was able to adequately chew them up himself.  Baked goods: pancakes and banana bread and cornbread, fruity muffins, and even a bite or two of my occasional brownies or cupcakes.  When I say he ate everything, I'm pretty serious.  He ate almost everything I ate.  Only in little bites, and it was not uncommon for more to end up on his face than in his tummy, but he sampled most things and refused to try very little.

And then Little Bug's first birthday approached.  And passed.  And he still wasn't particularly interested in food that wasn't mama milk.  I started to worry that I was doing things wrong.  I made more of an effort to introduce him to new things that might tempt him more, although I kept it healthy.  Somewhere around thirteen or fourteen months, he started eating a little more regularly, but he didn't let up on breastfeeding.  He still wanted mama milk every two to four hours, day and night.  (Yes, he was still nursing at night.  I was okay with this, because it's perfectly normal behavior.)  But the transition from breast milk to solid foods was definitely a slow one.

One year, seven months.  Blueberries have long been a favorite!

I remember a friend asking me, when Little Bug was around eighteen months old, exactly how weaning worked, and when he'd be done with breastfeeding.  I didn't have an answer then, and all I can say now is that it's probably different for every baby, unless you impose some kind of schedule on them.  And I definitely don't want to bash the parenting decisions of others; baby-led weaning has been great for us, and while I believe most babies would probably thrive on it, it's not always the most practical approach for everyone.

My son was never on any kind of schedule for breastfeeding (and in most cases, trying to put any baby on a schedule is not a good idea; that I do believe), and I was never keen on the idea of trying to "drop" feedings like so many baby books recommend.  (How does that even work, anyway, when baby doesn't nurse at specified times?)  I just continued to offer my son more and more solids, and trusted that he would eat them as he wanted to and as his body started to demand more nutrition and calories than he was getting from my milk.

And you know what?  He did get there.  Around twenty or twenty-one months, he started eating substantially more "real" food.  By his second birthday, he was definitely getting more calories from solids than he was from mama milk.  At two and a half, he still nurses a few times per day (scandalous, I know), although my milk supply is pretty pitiful these days.  He's a bit of a grazer; it takes him hours to get through meals, and there are plenty of snacks in between, but I'm perfectly okay with that.  For breakfast, he eats oatmeal, or a scrambled egg with sauteed veggies on the side, or I make us pancakes with fruit.  Lunch is frequently macaroni and cheese (usually from a box, cause I'm lazy sometimes and he loves it, but at least I usually get kinds with whole grain noodles and organic cheese) or leftovers from the previous day, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or whatever I am making myself for lunch.  Dinner is whatever D and I are eating, be it soup, veggie pizza, baked beans, quesadillas, or baked tofu.  (This boy absolutely adores baked tofu, and asks me for it regularly.)  I always have fruit and cheese and yogurt on hand for snacks, as well as things like olives and vegetables that I can prepare for him quickly.  He has no issues with textures that I am aware of, and he eats most everything we eat without complaint.

Two years and four months, enjoying his eggs and spinach.

From what I can tell from talking to other people, the timeline Little Bug followed is not unusual, although we all worry that it is because no one really talks about just how long it can take for babies to transition to solids.  When left to their own devices, it seems to be perfectly normal for babies to still be nursing, regularly and for most of their calories, long past when the books say they should be weaned.  This was definitely the case for Little Bug, but I had faith in him, and I trusted my intuition, and he eventually got to eating solids all on his own.  He's not completely weaned yet, but I'm not really in any hurry for that to happen.  Like everything else regarding food, my baby will get there when he's ready.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Great Books for Your Pregnancy

I have read an awful lot of pregnancy books over the last few years.  When I was pregnant with my son, I read a number of books, mostly from the library; I didn't know what kinds of books I was looking for, and I didn't know what kinds of books were out there, so I picked up a handful of "mainstream" pregnancy books (which you won't find on this list).  During the process of certifying to be an instructor for Birth Boot Camp, I read a ton more.  (And many of those are on this list!)  And as a book reviewer for San Francisco Book Review, I am pretty sure that I review most of the pregnancy books that come through (and I specifically have them request others that I hear about through the grapevine).

So I wouldn't say I'm any kind of an expert on pregnancy books, but I have read a lot of them.  Thus, this list.

What you will find on this list are all of the books I now recommend to friends who are expecting a baby.  They are all the books I wish I had known to read when I was pregnant.  And while I am a big fan of natural birth, these books don't all push the idea down your throat.  (Well, some of them are very strongly in favor of natural birth.  But most of them just want women to have a good birth, which is not necessarily synonymous with natural.)  Instead, these books tend to promote evidence-based care in pregnancy and birth, which is something that I strongly believe all women are entitled to.

Part of my collection.

Books for Pregnancy & Birth

The Healthy Pregnancy Book 
~William & Martha Sears
Just to let you know now, this list contains a number of books from the "Sears Parenting Library."  I love Dr. Sears, and I am not ashamed to admit it.  (And did you know that he loves Birth Boot Camp?  Just sayin'.)   The Healthy Pregnancy Book is quite possibly my top pick for pregnancy books at the moment; if you think you will only make it through one book before your baby is born, this should be it!  Published in 2013, it's very up-to-date.  It covers all the important things you need to know to have a healthy pregnancy (diet and exercise, as well as things like sleep, reducing stress, and important lifestyle changes to consider), and it also covers pregnancy in a month-by-month format.  I love that this book promotes looking at pregnancy and birth as a normal, physiological process, and while it advocates this mother-centered style of care (often called the midwifery style of care), it approaches everything in such a way as to be appealing to readers of all stripes.  No matter what you think you want your birth to look like, this book will be a beneficial read to you.
For a slightly more detailed review, check out:
My review of The Healthy Pregnancy Book on San Francisco Book Review
My full-length review of The Healthy Pregnancy Book on this blog

Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn 
~Penny Simkin, Janet Whalley, Ann Keppler, Janelle Durham, April Bolding
You're probably wondering why it would be necessary to read more than one "complete" pregnancy book.  The reason is because not every book contains the same information, because not every book has the same focuses, and because every book is written in a slightly different way; you will no doubt find some books more appealing than others (for a variety of reasons).  Things I specifically loved about this book: descriptions and pictures of yoga poses that are beneficial during pregnancy, an entire no-nonsense chapter devoted to potential complications (I'd rather have them all in one place than scattered throughout the book, like some pregnancy books tend to do; this way, you can get your worrying out of the way all at once!), and a really detailed section on comfort techniques to deal with labor pain (because even if you think you'll want an epidural, you still can't get one right away, so you need to some ideas for how to cope in the meantime).  Lots and lots of good information in this book!

Birthing a Better Way
~Kalena Cook, Margaret Christensen
Back before I even knew I wanted to have a baby, I reviewed a copy of this book on a whim.  It is still not a particularly well-known book, but I recommend it to every pregnant woman I know.  Birthing a Better Way is the first book to introduce me to the concept of natural birth, and for that, it will always hold a place in my heart.  This book presents twelve essential "secrets" to help women have the natural birth they dream of.  After everything I've read and after having had a natural birth myself, they all seem so commonsense, and that's why this book is such a great place to start if you're interested in having a natural birth!  From the importance of "shopping around" for care providers and birth places, to understanding the purpose of labor pain and having strategies to cope with it, to finding expert opinions to back up and support your own decisions, this book has a lot of good information.  It's packed with facts, not to mention a handful of good birth stories!  If you want a natural birth, or are even just considering it, this book is a good one.

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth
~Ina May Gaskin
The natural birth community loves Ina May Gaskin.  And with good reason!  If you've never heard of her, Ina May is a famous midwife and the founder of the Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee.  Thousands of babies have been born naturally there, under the care of trained midwives, with very few complications; Ina May herself has attended more than 1200 births over her lifetime.  The first half of this book is a collection of birth stories; some of them are pretty "hippy," many of them will likely be nothing like how you will experience birth, but they make for a powerful read that will reaffirm the fact that natural birth is possible!  The second half covers "The Essentials of Birth," and includes topics such as what really happens during labor, the sphincter law (fun fact: when I was in labor, most of what I had learned about birth evaporated from my mind, but I did remember the sphincter law!), the third stage of labor (delivery of the placenta), VBAC, and the importance of choosing a good care provider.  This book was very inspirational for me!

Journey Into Motherhood
~Sheri Menelli
A good friend of mine recommended this book to me early in my own pregnancy.  Positive birth stories are, in my opinion, a very important part of your pregnancy reading.  Birth does not have to be scary, or traumatic, and reading empowering examples of how others have rocked their births will help you gain confidence in your body's own abilities.  And this collection of 48 stories is one of the best I've read.  The focus of this book is natural birth, but even if that's not your stated goal you will enjoy these stories; I challenge you to not find yourself crying in response to the beauty and passion of these women!  There are lots of collections of birth stories out there, and there are many websites full of them as well (I'm a big fan of Birth Without Fear), but this collection is by far my favorite.

The Birth Book
~William & Martha Sears
Another good one from the Sears Parenting Library.  This one is a bit outdated at this point (published in 1994; here's hoping they're working on a revised edition!), but it most of the information in it has not changed, so it's still a great one to read.  While The Healthy Pregnancy Book discusses your options for giving birth, The Birth Book really covers this topic in depth.  There are so many things to think about when it comes to giving birth, and the decisions can be a bit overwhelming even to someone who has given birth before.  This book can help you work your way through your questions, enabling you to have your baby in a way that is both safe and empowering.

Books for Special Interests & Special Circumstances

The Pregnant Athlete
~Brandi & Steven Dion, Joel Heller, Perry McIntosh
Who says that working out while pregnant means brisk walks and prenatal yoga?  Certainly not the authors of this well-researched book!  It is pretty well-known now that staying active throughout your pregnancy is beneficial to both you and your baby.  This book is for the driven athlete who wants to maintain her edge as best as she can through pregnancy and start getting back to work as soon as possible after giving birth.  With information about how pregnancy changes your body (and how this affects your workouts), nutrition information for an active lifestyle, and even special workout plans, this book will help you stay as fit as possible.

Your Vegetarian Pregnancy
~Holly Roberts
I faced more questions about my vegetarian diet during the months of my pregnancy than I had during the entire eight or so years prior to becoming pregnant.  Where are you getting your protein?  Are you getting enough folic acid/iron/B12/etc?  Are you gaining enough weight?  Yes, yes, yes, it is very possible to have a perfectly healthy diet on a vegetarian (or even vegan) diet.  I had spent years adjusting my diet to make sure I was healthy and getting enough nutrients prior to getting pregnant, and while it was hard to get up to the 80+ grams of protein per day my midwife wanted me to be eating, it was by no means impossible.  This book discusses all of the important parts of a healthy diet, and offers a variety of vegetarian sources to help you meet your body's needs.  I love the question-and-answer format, too; it feels like having an informative discussion with your care provider over a cup of (non-caffeinated) tea.  If you are in need of reassurance, or even if you just need some concrete facts to present to well-meaning family and friends, this book is a fantastic resource.

Beautiful Babies
~Kristen Michaelis
On the other side of the dietary spectrum, women who embrace a traditional/primal/Paleo type of diet (forgive me for lumping them all together; they all look pretty similar to me) are bound to also have concerns about how their eating habits will affect their growing babies.   I have read a handful of books focusing on traditional foods during pregnancy (I know, this is strange for a vegetarian to admit, but it's true), and Beautiful Babies is the best, hands-down.  Kristen Michaelis isn't a doctor (and she makes that abundantly clear), but she has spent a lot of time researching the topic, and her book is an excellent summary of how such a diet can help women improve their fertility, have a healthy pregnancy, breastfeed, and get babies off to a good start with solids.  I love the non-judgmental tone of the book, and how there is information that everyone will find useful, no matter what your personal eating habits are.
For a slightly more detailed review, check out:
My review of Beautiful Babies on San Francisco Book Review

The VBAC Companion
~Diana Korte
So your first baby was born by cesarean section.  For many women, that doesn't mean that you can't have a vaginal birth with your next one!  VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) is recognized as a safe option by many birth experts, including ACOG, but that doesn't mean it isn't a bit scary too.  But as with all things birth, educating yourself is important, and this book is a great first step in that direction.  Most pregnancy books touch on VBAC, but it is worth your time to read a book that specifically addresses how your prior c-section can affect your birthing decisions this time around.

Books for Baby Care

Sure, we all like to think that caring for a baby will come completely naturally to us, but the truth is that we could all use a bit of guidance when it comes to caring for our little ones, especially in those early confused and sleep-deprived days.  Read some books on baby stuff now, during your pregnancy, to give yourself a head start before you even give birth.

The Other Baby Book
~Megan McGrory Massaro, Miriam Katz
I generally refer to this book as a primer on alternative parenting practices.  Meaning, this shouldn't be your only stop if you're interested in, say, co-sleeping or baby-led weaning, but it's a great introductory point.  The authors discuss natural birth, common newborn procedures (like the vitamin K shot, antibiotic eye drops, circumcision, and vaccination), the myth holding and touching your baby too much can "spoil" him, breastfeeding, baby sleep habits, elimination communication (sometimes known as infant potty training), and much, much more.  This is another book I recommend to everyone, if only to let people know that there are other options and ideas out there.

The Baby Book
~William & Martha Sears, Robert Sears, James Sears
I can't even tell you how much I relied on this book during the first few years of my son's life.  Even now, I still turn back to this book for reliable information from time to time.  The Baby Book planted the seed for my love of attachment parenting; it gave me the support I needed as a vulnerable new parent to just follow my instincts and parent my baby in a way I felt was right.  Covering the first two years of your baby's life, this book touches on pretty much every topic a new parents will want or need to know about.  Dr. Sears's books are always so straightforward and approachable; he presents ideas and methods and facts in a completely non-threatening way, making this book an excellent source for everyone, including friends and family members who don't understand why you're doing some of the things you're doing.  If you only get one book on baby care, this one would be my recommendation!

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
~Diane Wessinger, Diana West, Teresa Pitman
If you plan to breastfeed your baby, learning about the process ahead of time can save you a lot of grief.  Yes, breastfeeding is hard work, but I promise you that if you can make it for the first six weeks or so, you will be good to go!  In my opinion, there are a few factors that can really make a big difference for the woman who wants to breastfeed.  One is tenacity: decide early on what you want, and be determined to make it work!  Another is support: surround yourself with others who are or who want to breastfeed, attend La Leche League meetings, and find a good lactation consultant.  And, arguably, the most important is education.  The more you know about how breastfeeding works, about the eating patterns of babies, about how your milk is what your baby is naturally designed to eat (it's not "best;" it's biologically normal!), and about how to deal with any issues that arise, the better your chances are of meeting your goals.  Every woman who wants to nurse her baby should start reading this book before baby comes, and then keep it close at hand.

The Happiest Baby on the Block
~Harvey Karp
This book may have saved my sanity more than once during the first few months of my son's life.  In it, Dr. Karp lays out his theory of the fourth trimester, which helps explain why babies spend the first three months or so of life wanting to nurse frequently and be held almost constantly.  It also lays out a rather magical formula for soothing an unhappy baby.  Magical, I tell you.  This book also taught me how to swaddle effectively, which helped my baby fall asleep on many occasions.  It's worth reading this one ahead of baby's arrival; you'll want to have some ideas to soothe your baby before the sleepless nights start.

The Vaccine Book 
~Robert Sears
Vaccines are a complex issue, and it sometimes seems like those who are strongly for or against their use rely primarily on fear to convince parents one way or the other.  Here's what I think: the decision of if and how to vaccinate is a major one, and you owe it to yourself and your child to research the topic thoroughly so that you can make your decision an informed one.  If you're leaning towards vaccination, you deserve to know what's in the shots and what kinds of reactions your baby may experience.  If you're leaning away from vaccinations, you deserve to know the likelihood of your child catching the disease in question and how potentially serious the illness could be.  The Vaccine Book does a very good job laying out all of these factors and more for each vaccine currently in the recommended schedule.  This book is a great source for unbiased information on a highly derisive topic.