A Brief History of Baby Food

March 25th, 2011

Since Buggie has reached the ripe old age of six months, I’ve been thinking a lot about baby food of late.  I’m reading a fascinating book called Baby-Led Weaning, by Gill Rapley.  Her history of baby food totally blew my mind.

It goes something like this:

In the early decades of the 20th century, the Medical Powers that Be (who, at this point in time, were almost entirely men) decided that mothers could not be relied upon to properly feed their babies without help.  The idea of scheduled feedings was introduced and quickly became all the rage.  Mothers were encouraged to feed their babies on a strict schedule, every so many hours, and to limit the amount of time they spent nursing.

But breast feeding doesn’t work that way.  Not surprisingly, the mothers’ milk supply decreased and many babies failed to thrive.  This led to an assumption that, after a certain amount of time (several months), breast milk (or even formula) was no longer sufficient to meet a baby’s nutritional needs.

The problem was, a three or four month old baby obviously couldn’t feed herself.  Hand-eye coordination aside, infants under six months of age have a strong “tongue thrust” reflex that pushes food back out if it goes in (it helps prevent choking).  By pureeing foods and offering them on a spoon, parents could get past this reflex and get foods into their babies’ tummies.

Thus came the rise of pureed baby foods and the watery gruel that is baby cereal.  Baby food, in all its squishy glory, has become a unquestioned part of parenthood.  But is it necessary?

To be continued…

3 responses to “A Brief History of Baby Food”

  1. G'Mom says:

    I find this fascinating – and it makes me very cross that women were deemed to be so ignorant by the medical profession. grrrrrr.

  2. Kate says:

    Me too! That paternalistic nonsense has caused a lot of problems over the years. The author commented that, prior to her study (she did a big research study on the developmental stages babies go through when eating) no one had really studied this at all. No one had bothered to find out how babies actually learn to eat, so much of the prevailing wisdom on baby feeding was just guesswork and assumption.

  3. G'Mom says:

    I wonder how long it will be before mainstream pediatricians buy into this? Or if they ever will…

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