I lived in Asia for over a decade where I often saw women making baby food. In the US, baby food come conveniently pureed and packaged in cute baby-sized servings. Many Asian moms, however, simply chew the food for their children and then spit it into their mouths — much like a mother bird feeds her chicks.

I remember doing this for my first child at a restaurant in Washington, D.C.. It wasn’t until I noticed lots of people staring that I asked my then-wife, “Oooops, they don’t do that here, do they.” “Nope,” she said, “they don’t.”

I looked around once more and then said, “What the hell.” and kept feeding my hungry child.

To give some substance to this post, I poked around:

  • A 2008 Pediatrics paper indicated rates of premastication in the United States might be as high as 14 percent.(this and this article were con)
  • 63% of Chinese university students received premasticated food as infants (this article was pro)
  • Non-human primates premasticate too.

Note: We are a weird family: co-sleepers, slow on vaccinations, no sweets in the house, no comercial TV and a premasticator to boot!

Questions to readers:
Did you give or receive premastication?
What do you think about premastication?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

6 responses to “Premastication

  1. The Vicar

    Dunno about premastication, but two things occurred to me on reading your post:

    1. “slow on vaccinations” probably isn’t a problem, provided you’re not taking your children to places where the illnesses for which they would be vaccinated are problems. Herd immunity does exist, after all, even if it isn’t perfect.

    2. A lot of western child-rearing ideas have their roots in Victorian pseudo-science. Some of the underlying science has been validated, some of it has been disproved, but many of the practices live on regardless.

    For example, the west doesn’t practice swaddling. Small children (and sometimes even not-so-small children) used to be bundled up into a kind of package which kept their legs (and sometimes their arms) firmly inside, and then they would be slung over the shoulder or occasionally just hung on the wall. To the Victorians, this was obviously bad — not because it seemed inhumane (it would take a lot more than that to make a Victorian worry about child abuse) but because wrapping up a child’s limbs must prevent them from growing properly, so it must be bad for health! It’s common sense!

    As it happens, later research in third-world countries which still practice it has shown that as long as the child isn’t swaddled the majority of the time — quite easy, given how much of the day a child can spend in a crib or in bed — swaddling is developmentally harmless. And it lets parents who don’t have the privilege of servants or labor-saving devices work without having to worry about whether their youngest kids have gotten into anything dangerous. Nevertheless, medical science in the Victorian era managed to stamp out the practice so thoroughly that you just don’t see it in the west.

    (Source for the above claim about swaddling being harmless: the excellent book “Counting Sheep: the Science and Pleasures of Sleep and Dreams” by Paul Martin.)

  2. The Vicar:
    (1) Yep, polio and hep-B were no rush for my kids. And I don’t jump on every vaccine to protect from the sniffles.
    (2) Interesting about swaddling!
    May I ask how you found this post?

  3. Jimmy

    A popular book I’ve read is “The Happiest Baby on the Block”, by pediatrician Harvey Karp. He firmly advocates swaddling as one method to calm fussy babies. It certainly worked for my two, and it’s not cruel or harmful at all as long as you’re not using safety pins, velcro, or duct tape to hold the swaddling cloth/blanket together. If baby wants to fidget out of the swaddle, (s)he’ll do it without too much trouble.

    Re: premastication. We didn’t go that far, but we did make all of our own baby food with fresh fruits & vegetables in the blender. Dollop the blended food into ice cube trays and freeze. One cube = one serving “unit”. Easily scaleable. Canned baby food tends to have a lot of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in it as a preservative, but it caused a lot of GI tract upset for our son when my wife took him on a trip and couldn’t use the fresh stuff.

    I wonder if premastication has any benefit beyond the mechanical softening of food (and a little bit of pre-digestion I suppose)?

  4. jezibelle

    I think Americans typically respond to premastication in the same way they have reacted to public breast-feeding. If our views became any more Victorian (I’m sorry… Does this skirt show my ankles?) we would have to hide in the loo to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. You know: that place where people deficate and the only place breast-feeding mothers can find to “decently” feed their infants while in grocery stores, shopping malls, etc.

  5. Premastication is one of those under-practiced acts in modern Western society, due to the current “ick” factor we have towards it. Like breastfeeding, it allows the baby to receive needed immunological protection from the mother. On top of that it allows the baby to quickly acquire nutrients important to its growth in a predigested form not present in mechanically ground foods and breast milk. Also assuming the mother does not have serious infectious diseases, premastication also allow the child to inherit the helpful gut microbials cultures the mother has acquired instead of doing so by chance through the babies surroundings.

    On the other-hand, I think its important for children to get their polio, hep-B, and MMR in good time (though perhaps not everything at once) since these diseases have long-term consequences on the child’s health.

  6. @ Jeanpetr,
    I essentially agree with you!

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