Monday, 28 September 2009

The Globetrotter's Guide to Starting Solids

The Bambino is five months old and we are starting to think about when and how we might introduce him to some solid food.  You would think that there would be one and only one correct way to start a baby on solid food. In fact, this is apparently not true. It actually depends on where you live.

For the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Anglo-Saxons generally, the traditional first food is rice cereal at age four months. How many parents still do this?  Not sure.

The more educated Anglo-Saxons are well aware that the World Health Organization recommends waiting until six months before introducing solid food.  They might also realize that rice cereal is nothing but empty calories with iron fortification added and start the baby on puréed fruit and veggies at six months.

The most informed Anglo-Saxons have caught onto the Baby-Led Weaning movement, the latest trend in solids. Ditch the rice cereal, skip the purée phase altogether, and offer baby soft pieces of food that he can feed himself (banana, avocado...).

I should add that we Anglo-Saxons are great believers in freedom and autonomy, including for babies and including at the dinner table.  So even though most Anglo-Saxon parents initially spoon-feed their baby, they tend to allow and even encourage their baby to feed herself early on.   I have included a photo of the Bambina at age 10 months, eating some yogurt.

Let me emphasize that this kind of liberty is, as far as I know, offered uniquely to Anglo-Saxon babes.  I have yet to meet a little French, Italian, German, African or Asian infant under one year old (or, dare I say, in some cases, even under TWO) being anything but spoon-fed or finger-fed by an adult.

The French are very keen on introducing baby's palate early to the finer delights of French cuisine. When baby is between the age of four and six months, doctors recommend preparing baby a "soup" in baby's bottle - a mix of puréed vegetables and milk. This way, (1) the movement towards solid food is more gradual and 2) Baby learns to appreciate salty food before sweet food.

Of course, this method assumes that baby is being bottle-fed. It also assumes that this mixture would actually taste somewhat good, which I personally cannot imagine, but I digress.

Pasta in super tiny pieces (kind of like cous cous), offered at four months.  With some parmigiano sprinkled on top for taste and additional iron.  The kid will be eating the same meal (with pasta chunks gradually increased in size) for the next five or so years of his life so he might as well get used to it early on.

Prepare some rice with a little extra water than you would normally add.  Boil it until the excess water becomes kind of creamy and thick.  Drain the rice.  Give baby the residue. 

Now, my thinking on this is, I would never eat that, so why would I offer it to my baby?

This information does not come first-hand but I have a friend who spent many years in Mexico and had a baby there.  One day when the baby was a little over three months, the baby's nursery caregivers informed the baby's mother that they thought that baby was ready for solid food and so had started baby on chocolate that day!  I don't know about the health benefits of chocolate at three months but I can certainly identify with wanting to try it out.  Yummy!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Babygroup à la française

Let me just start by saying that until last week, I had always believed that the very idea of a babygroup was anathema to your average French maman. First, by the time your average mom is ready to attend a babygroup, maman is already getting ready to go back to work (and she's looking forward to it). There are very few French stay-at-home moms.

Secondly, I'm trying to remember the last time I heard French mothers talking to each other about their babies, starting solids, or teething. I can't.

I have heard French moms discuss Sleeping Through the Night. It's the first thing they mention when they see your baby: " Est-ce qu'il fait ses nuits?" they ask, their voices carrying undertones of quiet desperation, in case your six-week old is not yet sleeping 12-hours straight.

But apart from the question of Sleeping Through the Night, which is an obsession of all occidental mamas, I don't think that most French moms enjoy discussing babies the way we Anglo-Saxon moms do. They would rather focus on getting their bodies back into shape, getting their perineum ready for sex again (French social security actually pays for the six sessions of ré-éducation at the physiotherapist. Not bad, eh?), getting ready to return to work, etc. Sitting around with other moms to discuss breastfeeding obstacles or which infant formula one's baby is drinking? What's the point?

So imagine my grande surprise when I discovered that here in Tana, there is (gulp)a French babygroup. Actually, it's a playgroup of mixed ages, including babies. Having now attended the French Playgroup, I have taken it upon myself to write up the following list.

You know you are attending a babygroup à la française when:

1. Half the mothers, er, didn't bring their baby. They left the baby at home with the nanny. They just came for the company.

2. You're the only one breastfeeding. If there is by chance another mother who is still breastfeeding her 10-week old, she will probably get up to find a more private place to do so. Heaven forbid that anyone see her breast bared in a non-sexual context!

3. At least one mother is smoking (I am trying really hard to imagine the reaction of my Anglo-Saxon mommy friends to someone lighting up a cigarette at a playgroup but it's hard to imagine it without laughing).

4. The topics of conversation include anything but babies or children. The idea is to have some enlightened discussion about something (anything!) else, such as where you will be going on vacation, where you have been looking for work, the new house, politics. We Anglo-Saxons might be able to learn something from the French about conversations concerning things other than teething, solids and crawling.

5. Should you start to actually talk about the babies, the discussion will be about which infant formula to buy.

6. You show up in a T-shirt and sweats and find the other moms wearing pencil skirts, high heels and blouses.

7. All the mothers are thin and have perfect bodies, even the ones who have just recently given birth. Also, there is a bowl of cookies on the table but no one is eating them except you.

8. None of them have ever heard of, or care about, Dr. Sears, Dr. Brazelton, Dr. Weissbluth, Dr. Ferber, Dr. Grandsenne, Dr. Rufo or any other famous doctor, American, French or other, who has written some treatise on raising a baby. However, their own child's pediatrician is God.

All this to say that parenting is definitely cultural.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Cloth versus disposable around the world

Back in Canada when I was growing up, lots of parents used a cloth diaper service for their baby. Every week, you handed the truck driver your bag of dirty diapers and in exchange, you received a bag full of folded clean ones, all ready for your little one to sully.

When I was pregnant with the Bambina in France five years ago, I said to the Frenchman, "so I guess we'll just sign up for a cloth diaper service, n'est-ce pas?."

When it was clear that he didn't know what on earth I was talking about, I said "you know, the truck comes by every week and you hand over your dirty diapers and you get clean ones."

The Frenchman wondered at this point if I was not from another planet rather than just another country. "Zees does not exeest in France," he said. And he promptly went out to buy a jumbo pack of size 2 Pampers in preparation for the arrival of our daughter.

And at the time, he was right. Diaper delivery services didn't exist in France. So, imagine my surprise when I checked out the May 2009 edition of Parents magazine (purchased in Madagascar in August!) to find .... an article on cloth diapers! Not only do cloth diapers and diaper services now exist in France, they are actually becoming... dare I say it , trendy??

Of course, just as parents in the West are starting to consider cloth diapering as a serious option once again, arguments against using them are rearing their ugly head. In 2005, a study carried out by an advisory board to the UK Environment Agency concluded that cloth diapers had equal the impact of disposable nappies. I still don't believe it. The study assumed that you would be washing your nappies every day in 90 degree celcius water on the mega-long cycle and putting them in the dryer for drying.

Which brings me to the next point (for which I would like to thank Green Living Tips) - When you use cloth nappies, you can control how much you damage the earth - you can wash them every two or three nights only, you can wash them at 40 degrees celcius (totally sufficient), you can buy your cloth diapers used (why not? They're even more absorbant than the new ones), you can use hemp or bamboo nappies instead of the environmentally less friendly cotton ones, and you can dry them in the sun - the best natural disinfectant going.

You don't have these options when you use disposables.

Here in Madagascar and the rest of the developing world, avoiding disposable nappy use is even more important, for a few reasons:

1) Disposable diapers are expensive here.

2) You can only buy disposable diapers in packages of about 30, making it difficult to stock up. That's not an assuring situation when you consider that stores run out of stock quickly here. If you run out, you won't necessarily find more when you need them (or you might at least have to hit a few shops to find them). Also bear in mind that in the event of another coup d'état, you may not be able to shop at all for a few weeks...

3) Discarded disposible diapers contain human waste. Human waste that sits in landfills (especially landfills in developing countries) can contaminate the local drinking water with harmful bacteria and viruses causing intestinal illnesses, polio and hepatitis.

All that being said, I do put my baby in a disposable diaper whenever we are travelling and as his final diaper before he goes to sleep at night.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Nannies in the Colonial World

The typical expericance with nannies in former colonies can be described as follows:

1. Move into house. Say hello to the cook, the gardiner, the chauffeur and the nanny. They come with the house. You cannot fire them. (Well, you could try, but it would be hard and you would be in the bad books of half the local families, so not worth the risk). Welcome to your household for the next five years.

2. Hand the baby over to the nanny.

3. Kiss your baby good-bye.

4. Expect to see your baby again when he is five years old, unless you ask nanny before then if you might be permitted to, er, maybe hold or even (gasp!) feed the baby.

5. Expect nanny to take offence when you ask her this. After all, who are you to interfere with her job of raising your child. Go and find some other colonial mothers to play cards with!

6. Expect the baby to be speaking nanny's dialect better than your language by the time baby is two years old.

This is the scenario that people had warned me about and sure enough, our nanny, who has just started today (she didn't come with the house) seems kind of surprised that I, er, still expect to be with my 4 month old baby quite a bit and that (gasp!) she can't feed him (he's "still" breastfed, as she noted.)

"And when will he start to drink milk from a bottle?", she asked me.

"Never", I replied.

I think she realised then that I wouldn't be a typical neo-colonial mom.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Preparing Your Child for Life in the Third World

When I told our almost-five year old daughter that we were moving to Madagascar, I thought that I had been pretty thorough. We looked for Madagascar on the map, together. I showed her photos of lemurs. I showed her aerial photos of the capital city, Antananarivo (Tana, for short). I told her that the people there speak Malagasy (or malgache, as it is referred to in French), and that their skin was a different colour from ours (most are of Indonesian/Polynesian descent; some are black African).

What I didn't tell her was the following:

- The city is dirty. The roads are very dusty and there is garbage everywhere.

- The city is very polluted. You can't walk down the street unless you don't mind inhaling car fumes that were banned in the 1970s in Europe.

- Poverty and misery are everywhere, staring at you in the face.

The first day after our arrival in Tana, we drove (or should I say, our chauffeur drove us) down the main avenue of the city.

Bambina: Mommy?

Me: Yes.

Bambina (staring all around her, wide-eyed): I think the people here are very very poor.

Me: yes, they are.

Bambina: Mommy, why are the buildings here all falling apart?

Me: Because people here are very poor, honey. There is no money to fix up and maintain the houses and shops.

Bambina: In Rome, the buildings were beautiful. I want to go back to Rome.

The next day, in the car, after passing the umpteenth child with extended hands at the window of our car, the Bambina blurts out, angrily:

Naughty mommy for not telling me that people in Madagascar are poor. Naughty!

And every day thereafter, moaning and growing that Madagascar (or at least Tana) was not beautiful, that everyone is poor here, that the people here wear dirty clothes and have no shoes, that there was too much dust everywhere, that she missed her old house, her old friends and her old city.

My daughter was suffering from culture shock.

Yep, I should have told her more about the poverty and misery before we arrived. I think she has only just recently forgiven me for this error in judgment. The next move, I'll be sure to prepare her a little better for the shocking reality of the third world (not that I'll need to now that we are here).

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

What has happened since I last wrote in this blog:

End of March: My darling partner, the Frenchman, is released from house arrest (That's right, house arrest. The caribinieri had arrested him for suspected mafia activity. He was innocent, of course, but the Italian justice system has a nut loose. Poor Frenchman spent two weeks in a prison in Potenza over Christmas and then three months under house arrest in our apartment in Rome. Of course, he wasn't allowed any visitors or telephone calls while under house arrest so all he did all day was work on the computer (which explains why I was rarely able to update this blog...)).

April: The Frenchman's employer informs us that we are moving continents.

April 25: I give birth to a darling baby boy, the Bambino, in April, at home. I feel like a carwreck afterwards but am nonetheless thrilled about my little Bambino.

May and June: With the help of movers, I pack all our belongings. The Frenchman has already left to seek out a new home at our next destination.

End June: We leave Rome and spend two weeks in Paris (France, that is, of course).

Finally, in July, we move to.....


And so, the Globetrotter Parent will continue this weblog from her new island domicile...

(Now I just have to wait for someone to comment "I like to move it, move it. I like to move it, move it...")