Friday, March 14, 2008

oh for the love of pity pete, would somebody just tell me what i can feed the baby?

A few weeks ago I had a chat with the nurse at our pediatrician's office about whether it was okay to give Monkey a teething biscuit.

The pediatrician had recommended them at Monkey's six-month appointment, but I was a bit doubtful about the long list of ingredients in the ones I bought--especially the common allergens corn and milk, neither of which Monkey had had before. (Yes, yes, I know the box clearly says for nine months and up--but the pediatrician said teething biscuits; the box also says that crawling is a sign that the baby is ready for these biscuits, and I don't know what on earth crawling might have to do with food allergies).  So the box sat on the counter, taunting me, for two weeks, until I finally decided to just go ahead and be That Mom and call and ask about it.

I talked to the nurse for about five minutes, but I still have no idea whether it's okay for my daughter to have one of these teething biscuits.

There were any number of answers that I would have been happy to hear from the nurse.  "Sure, go ahead!" for example.  Or, "No, not until 8 months," or maybe something like, "Corn and milk are fine at this age, but introduce them separately first."

Instead what she told me went more like this: "Is there any family history of food allergies?  Is she sitting up pretty well? [Insert several sentences full of referent-less pronouns here.] Mmm-kay [this in that chipper-yet-impatient tone of voice that implies we really need to wrap things up]?"

You might imagine that what I am really complaining about here is our pediatrics practice, but I don't think so, because after I got off the phone I poked around several published sources and other handouts I've accumulated on the subject of introducing solid foods, and I am more confused than ever.

A handout from a lecture I went to says no dairy until 9 months and "wait on corn" (until...kindergarten? college?).  A handout from our pediatrician says cow's milk should not be introduced until 1 year, but nothing about corn.  But a poster-style chart (also received from the pediatrician--is this a test to see if I'm paying attention?) assures that at 6 to 7 months one can introduce "teething foods" including teething biscuits.

Our reference book from the American Academy of Pediatrics is worse than useless on this subject, full of airy obscurantism (representative passage: "If you started with cereal and your baby has accepted it, you can start introducing him to other foods slowly.  One possible order is meat, vegetables, and fruit."  We didn't, and we keep a vegetarian kitchen, so now what?).  And the Searses are not much more helpful, mentioning teething biscuits at 7 to 9 months, but implying that dairy should wait until 9 to 12 months, and keeping mum on the subject of corn.

The only really useful advice I found came from a handout from the "First Foods" seminar (scroll down) that Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn coauthor Ann Kepler, RN, MN, runs quarterly in Seattle.   (I haven't attended the seminar, but my sister-in-law passed the handout along to me and it has 104 references, be still my heart!)  Keppler writes, "By 7 months, an infant's intestines will have matured to the point that they are not as likely to take the whole protein molecules from his food into the system which are the cause of allergy," citing Ellyn Satter's book Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense--which I'd been meaning to check out and has now been vaulted to the top of my list. 

So I thought I'd wait a couple of weeks, then try dairy and corn separately, and if that turned out well I'd let her go to town on the teething biscuits.

In the meantime, the nurse recommended some rice-based biscuits called Baby Mum-Mums.  If you can get past the unnecessarily cutesy name, the horrendous overpackaging, and the total lack of stimulation for the taste buds (they're basically rice crackers, but without the sweet, umami-spiked glaze--so, without anything to recommend them, really) they are alright I guess.  When I hand one of these biscuits to her Monkey reaches for it and gums it eagerly, makes her "Really? You want me to eat this?" face, and then soldiers on.  They disappear pretty fast--"teething biscuit" is a bit of a misnomer, but their quickness to dissolve is said to reduce the possibility of choking.  I've seen Monkey make chewing motions to mash up the pieces of biscuit that break off in her mouth, so at least she is learning a useful skill.

Oh, and the second ingredient in Baby Mum-Mums, right there on the label after that hallowed hypoallergenic rice?  Skim milk powder.

Mmm-kay, indeed.

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