A Peek into the Past – Baby Food and Feeding

Who knew a blender could be so profitable?

Baby food is a thriving $1.25 billion industry in the U.S. The average American infant “consumes” 600 jars of baby food by their first birthday. We use the word loosely, as there’s often as much puree on the baby as in the baby. And yet babies in Western Europe go through about 240 jars, and their Eastern European neighbors only taste an average of 12 jars in that first year! (Miriam and Megan’s babies tasted no jars, by the way.)

We can thank Justus von Liebig, a German chemist, for introducing prepared infant foods to the market. He invented what he dubbed the perfect infant food in 1867. His “formula” was a mixture of wheat flour, cow’s milk and malt flour cooked with bicarbonate of potash, a salt containing potassium. Yum.

Babies weren’t always opening wide for an airplaned spoonful of pureed bananas, though. Before von Liebig’s discovery, and even today in some non-industrialized countries, babies were given a homemade mixture of grains and water, animal milk, or broth as the start of the weaning process. In some cultures parents chew or slice fruits, vegetables or other foods and feed them to infants.

The industrialization of food around the turn of the 20th century launched an American love affair with processed food. We increasingly replaced backyard gardens and trips to the local farmer with canned goods, which afforded the luxury of eating fruits and vegetables all year round. This new convenience, along with doctors recommending earlier introductions of solids, paved the way for the birth of a new industry: baby food.

In the U.S., manufactured baby food reached more and more little mouths between the 1920s and the postwar baby boom of the 1950s. Gerber came on the market with strained vegetables in 1928, and Beech-Nut, Heinz, and Libby’s soon followed.

But what baby-food buying moms often didn’t know, because no laws mandated ingredient disclosure, was that commercial baby food included a lot of “others” – salt, sugar, fillers, artificial preservatives, and occasionally, lead and glass shards. In the 1980s and 90s, several major baby food products were recalled, but the industry suffered little. Even as recently as 2010, lead was found in baby food.

The Players
Currently, Gerber, Beech-Nut and Heinz control over 95% of the baby food market (of which Gerber enjoys a whopping 70%). Earth’s Best joined the game in the late 1980s, offering organic jarred baby food and juices, but only reaches 2.5% of the market.

Gerber works hard to stay on top of the baby food industry. In the 1950s, they ran a feel-good campaign touting their rice cereal: “You can’t feed children as well as we can!” Talk about truth in advertising – if nutrition- and taste-deficient rice cereal could match the benefits of breastmilk or garden-raised produce we’d be a much healthier society today.

The Science behind Baby Food
According to Dr. David Bergman, a Stanford University pediatrics professor, “There’s a bunch of mythology out there about [introducing solids]. There’s not much evidence to support any particular way of doing things.”

Parents feel we’re doing our baby best by offering pureed fruits and vegetables one. at. a. time. We interpret guidelines for food introduction as law, especially when coming from a pediatrician. Let’s not forget, however, that general pediatricians are not nutritionists, and their recommendations are often based on outdated and culturally-biased information. And that information was crafted and paid for by baby food manufacturers.

It’s clear to many in the scientific community – not to mention common-sense parents – that the standard early fare may not be best for baby, after all. Rice cereal is among the top suspects. It’s often given in bottle form and is baby’s first taste, aside from milk. But, according to Dr. David Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston, a specialist in pediatric nutrition, “These foods are in a certain sense no different from adding sugar to formula. They digest very rapidly in the body into sugar, raising blood sugar and insulin levels.”

There’s a growing movement to get back to basics when introducing solid foods. It’s been named Baby-led Weaning, by British pioneer, researcher and author Gill (pronounced Jill) Rapley. Keep in mind that in the U.K., “weaning” typically refers to the introduction of solids, whereas Americans typically think of it as the end of breastfeeding. So we’ll refer to it as baby-led solids to reduce confusion. Really though, it’s been an unnamed way to feed your baby for millennia.

Let’s circle back to our purpose in writing The Other Baby Book: reviving baby-care practices that are simple, natural, and intuitive. Give your baby what you’re eating. Let him feed himself. Yes, it’s that easy.


This content was trimmed from the vast archive of environmental and child-friendly parenting practices detailed in The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year by Megan McGrory Massaro and Miriam J. Katz.

A Peek into the Past: Flowing with your baby

Breasts are a great metaphor for motherhood. Both have a clear biological purpose that was hijacked by a social agenda. The roles, expectations and definition of a mother morph over time. Since we’ve allowed a chorus of voices to influence our self-perception, now is the time to cast off others’ opinions and let our ideas rule the roost. This is our moment to consciously reclaim mothering.

Colonial American mothers epitomized the Renaissance woman. They were spinners, seamstresses, brewers, chefs, teachers, businesswomen, staff supervisors, nurses, and super-mothers who raised an average of ten children! But men were right by their side, working together to make sure life ran smoothly.

When the industrial revolution led men to work outside the house, the home became the women’s world. As household chores were handed off to machines, marketers had a field day telling mamas which products would make their lives easier.

Science entered our homes in the late 1800s. As developmental stages became the new “it” thing, moms came under increased pressure to stimulate babies’ growing minds at each phase. Sound familiar?

About a hundred years later, our great-grandmothers jumped the gun by following the untested “scientific” theories of John Watson’s arm’s length mothering.  But, as families sought emotional healing after the Great Depression, John Bowlby’s research on attachment gained ground, and experts like Spock and Brazelton followed suit with slightly more baby-centered parenting advice. Motherhood was redefined, again, and many started to see light at the end of the tunnel of infant tears.

Today, women are delaying motherhood to pursue careers – the average age of a first time mom is at an all time high of 25 – and we’re starting the journey with more life experience. Once a baby’s born, women are expected to do it all: career, marriage and motherhood – effortlessly, and often without help. A full 55% of baby mamas work full time out of the home today. Mommy wars are being fueled by media eager to sell papers, with stay-at-home-moms on one side, and working moms on the other. Balance has become a catch phrase, with all moms asking the same question – how do I do it all?

We believe that the concept of balance is misleading. The idea that a mom can effectively juggle a successful career and a healthy marriage while physically, emotionally, and intellectually nurturing her children, and still tend to her own needs, is a guilt-inducing myth.

We’d like to move beyond the ideal of balance, to flow. Flow involves riding the waves of motherhood, with its peaks of baby neediness and valleys when mom can tend to her own boat. With balance, there’s a risk of tipping over. With flow, we’re fully wherever we are in the moment, in sync with the needs of whatever wave we’re riding right now.

Where ever you are, whatever you are doing, dive right in and embrace it. Ideals and other people’s standards are of no use to you. Know your own heart, tune into your baby’s needs, and live each moment as it asks to be lived.


This content was trimmed from the vast archive of environmental and child-friendly parenting practices detailed in The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year by Megan McGrory Massaro and Miriam J. Katz.

What parents need to know about household cleaners

Once you’ve created a warm, loving home for your baby, keeping it clean is the next step. Although there are many great products on the market, making your own stash of green cleaning solutions just might get you excited about ditching the dirty. Plus, it’s more economical, and environmentally friendly. You know exactly what’s you’re putting into the air and onto your belongings, and you’re not buying an endless supply of plastic spray bottles. If you have just a few essentials, you can conjure up just about any kind of cleaner imaginable. Baking soda, vinegar, water, and essential oils top the list. But first, we’re outing a major player in the cleaning world – bleach.

Chlorine Bleach: Not Mom’s Best Friend. Many day care centers use a mixture of bleach and water as their go-to disinfectant. While chlorine bleach is strong enough to kill most germs, it also leaves behind some nasty undesirable effects. When mixed with formaldehyde or very hot water, chlorine emits a carcinogenic gas. In its typical state, it can irritate eyes, skin, nose and throat. Long-term exposure in humans can harm the immune system and increase the risk of developing asthma or allergies, particularly among those who swim in chlorinated pools. But rest assured – Mother Nature has provided us with some nontoxic alternatives.

Vinegar. Vinegar is one of the most versatile home cleaners. A 50:50 vinegar to water mixture will disinfect counter tops, make glass and windows sparkle, remove strong odors from containers, and remove greasy or dirty residue from dishes or clothes. It’s also great for removing odor from the carpet (especially if you’re going diaper-free!). Just spray and let dry.

Essential Oil. Tea tree oil has potent anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Dissolve 2 teaspoons in 2 cups of water, and spray on areas affected by mold or mildew (but seek out a professional if you suspect the presence of toxic molds!). The scent will be strong for a few days, but the mold will disappear and likely never return, as long as you’ve corrected the humidity.

A few drops of lemon, orange, or lavender oil can be added to a quart of water and squirt of dishwashing liquid or pure castile soap for a clean-smelling counter top spray.

Baking Soda. Baking soda is an excellent deodorizer for just about any household purpose, and is especially helpful in the bathroom. Sprinkle in the toilet, add a half cup of vinegar, and watch as the two react and bubble up. You can add a drop of lemon oil for a clean scent. Then, a quick swish of your brush and the stains should disappear.


This content was trimmed from the vast archive of environmental and child-friendly parenting practices detailed in The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year by Megan McGrory Massaro and Miriam J. Katz.