Learning to Eat, Learning to Feed

first began making my own baby food nearly two-and-a-half years ago, when my oldest daughter was about four months old. This spring, I started again, as I was ready to introduce my second daughter, just over four months old, to solids.

I know I’m not the only mother who feels that feeding our babies elicits all sorts of emotions. Whether we’re nursing, weaning, introducing solid food, or practicing some of all the above, the responsibility to satisfy our children and provide them with sound nutrition is profound and, at least for me, filled with all sorts of ups and downs.

Like Kate was, Caroline is a petite baby. For the first four months, I nursed her exclusively and, what felt like, around the clock. At about two months, I decided I needed to refine her eating and sleeping schedule. She was nursing just about every hour-and-a-half and several times throughout the night. We were both exhausted, and, what was worse, she never seemed satisfied—at least not for long. I began pushing her to two and then three hours and she started sleeping better at night. There were still times, though, that my milk just didn’t seem to fill her up, and what’s more, she appeared to have an upset tummy much of the time. When we visited the pediatrician for her four-month check up, she hadn’t gained much weight and I was concerned about her tummy issues. The doctor suggested that I either offer medication to help with her digestion or start her on solids. I wasn’t sure how introducing real food would change things, but I preferred that option to medicine. This is when everything started to improve.

At the doctor’s recommendation, I immediately offered little Caroline oatmeal and fruit puree (my doctor suggested starting with pears, peaches, or plums). Unlike her big sister, Caroline took almost immediately to both. Once she figured out how to maneuver her tongue around the spoon, she gobbled up my concoctions with great enthusiasm. In addition to beginning her on food, I also started supplementing her on formula, again something Kate always refused. Once we found a bottle and formula Caroline liked, she settled in to a regular routine of these new menu items, began gaining weight, and, astoundingly, her tummy issues markedly improved.

So, why the emotional tumult, you ask? Well, when I saw her take so well to the food as well as the formula, I immediately began to feel that perhaps it was my milk that was causing her discomfort. Further, I felt guilty that maybe my milk had been insufficient and that she had just been crying out in hunger all that time. And then, while I was feeling all this and also relieved to have some respite from constant nursing, part of me wished that I could have satisfied her with my milk and just continued to breastfeed exclusively. Yes, I was in an emotional whirlwind with feelings of guilt, sadness, joy, and gratitude swirling about me everyday.

These early days have turned into weeks, however, and I’m much better. Caroline is developing beautifully, and believe it or not, I’m hoping that with this near cessation of breastfeeding I might actually be able to conceive again sooner rather than later. I still feel somewhat guilty about having to move away from nursing, but it appears that my second baby just needs more food and a greater variety of it at this early stage. I am confident we will both be just fine.

As for the fruit I am preparing for her these days, I have stuck pretty exclusively to my roasted pear puree. She is obviously fond of it, and actually my two year old likes it, too. Think of it as a flavorful alternative to applesauce. There really is no recipe for this dish. Once you understand the simple method, you can use just about any fruit you like (apples and stone fruits work particularly well) to prepare just about any quantity you want. If you wish, make enough to freeze, or just prepare smaller batches to serve fresh from the refrigerator. I usually go through a couple of cups in four days or so.

Here’s how I make the Roasted Pear Puree. I cut three ripe pears lengthwise into quarters. Don’t bother removing the stems or seeds. Arrange them in a small casserole dish (mine is a 10-by-6 3/4 glass dish), sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of water over the fruit, and roast them in a 350-degree oven until soft, 30 to 40 minutes. If the pears were very ripe and soft to begin with, they might need less time. I like to roast them until they smell fragrant and caramelized. Set the pears aside to cool a bit in the dish, remove any stems and seeds, and push them through a food mill. This will make for a lovely textured, somewhat chunky puree. It’s fine for toddlers, but for very young babies, you’ll want to process it further. I use a mini food processor and puree the pears until they are silky smooth and glossy. (If you don’t have a food mill, remove the stems, seeds, and skin from the roasted fruit and then puree them directly in the processor.) Transfer the puree to an airtight container. It will keep in the refrigerator for about four days. This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of puree.

In the weeks to come, please visit http://www.the-essential-infant-resource-for-moms.com/ for more yummy recipes, as well as for thoughtful, helpful information on all things baby.