It should come as no doubt that I love food – good, wholesome, nourishing food. Indeed, I take great pleasure in cooking, but one of the greatest pleasures I’ve encountered is the gift of nourishing my family. There is an immense sense of satisfaction in knowing that I’ve fed my family well and in a way that satisfies their hunger for flavor and for health.
It began easily enough with breastfeeding. And while those first few weeks of nursing were anything but easy, a motherly drive in me and my husband’s unwavering support encouraged me to persist through thrush, through a wicked case of mastitis, through milk blisters, cracked nipples and other annoyances until my son self-weaned a little after turning 3. But, he relied on me and only me as his entire source of nourishment for six months and, truly, my body remained his primary source of nourishment well past his first birthday.
Seeing him at six months in all his lovely chubbiness provided me with such an enormous sense of gratitude – gratitude for my body and my ability to nurture and nourish him in the most healthy way possible.
Most importantly, I took care of myself so that my milk could nourish him well and help him to grow. I ate well, and though my diet was largely vegan at that time (thank goodness I know better now!) it was based on whole foods without soy as that aggravated his reflux. While what a nursing mother eats invariably effects her milk to some degree, it is important to note that even the milk of a mother whose diet is poor is still superior for an infant than artificial breast milk substitutes like formula.
We knew it was time for him to begin solid foods when he began exhibiting clear signs of readiness: sitting without support, a pincer grasp and the loss of his tongue thrust reflex and we introduced solid foods. Initially, I went through considerable effort to steam and puree his foods and package them into tiny little amounts. After two weeks of trying to spoon-feed him, only to have blueberry purees and mashed squash spat back at me.
Then, I was introduced to the concept of child-led solids. It makes sense as I look back. Solids in the first year provide little sustenance for growing infants and their purpose, contrary to popular belief, is not to serve as a source of calories or nutrients as much as it is to expand their concept of food.
Solid food’s primary purpose during that first year is to help babies develop motor skills like the pincer grasp necessary for self-feeding and to expose them to a wide variety of tastes, textures and flavors. Breast milk which is higher in calories, micronutrients and fat than most baby foods provides sufficient nourishment and, for that reason, babies should always be offered the breast before solid food.
So, understanding that his primary source of nourishment (my breasts) was sufficient for his continued growth and development, we relaxed our approach to solid foods and we simply fed him whatever it was that we ate. He’d gnaw on a ripe pair or chew on a floret of steamed broccoli. Some food got into his system, most didn’t and he grew beautifully.
As he grew more proficient at feeding himself, solid foods grew to be more important in his diet. His need for breastmilk waned, and solid foods became his primary source of nourishment, but that didn’t happen until he was well over a year old. It was a slow process, as it should be.
Still, we enjoyed providing him with whole foods. It was about this time that I discovered traditional foods through Nourishing Traditions and the Mothering Traditional Foods Forum. I slowly modified our diet to include bone broth and wholesome fats and, eventually, meat.
Now he’s completely weaned, and he has developed a love for nourishing foods. It warms my heart when he asks for more kefir or sauerrÃ¼ben. Or the way he can down salmon egg nigiri at the sushi bar and ask for more.
There’s an enormous sense of gratitude and pride to know that I nourished my son’s body and mind to the very best of my ability.