Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Feeding Bebe

Mademoiselle is 3 months old today!  But what really made me have one of those "oh, this time goes so quickly" moments (cue the cheesy music, please) was when our pediatrician told me that in just one month, it would be time to start introducing food to our petite fille. 

Food? Already?!

But let's back up a few steps, and talk briefly about Mademoiselle's nutritional journey to date.  For the first month of her life, she was breast-fed, with just a very few small bottles of formula given by Mr. Oil when I was truly desperate for sleep. 

At her one-month check up, the pediatrician asked if I was nursing, and I said yes but mentioned that she had been given a few bottles of formula.  "Wait," said the doctor, "what country are you from?"

"I'm from the US," I replied.

"But Americans do not do this.  Americans are very serious about the breast-feeding. They never give a bottle. Where did you come up with this idea?" said the doctor, quite shocked about my un-American behavior (he is French, of course). 

"Um, I was really tired?" I replied, a bit confused.  Was he going to chastise me?  Where was this heading? 

"This is so French!" he exclaimed.  "Of course you get tired, and it is better for your own milk if you get some rest.  This is very good!"  Phew. 

Anyone with a child, or who has any friends with children, surely knows that there is a great and ongoing discussion about the benefits of breast-feeding.  And there are significant amounts of judgment that go along with your decisions in this area.  I have no plans to expound on any of this here, and while I think the judgment exists just as much in the American expat community in France as in the United States proper, the French have a different outlook.  While nursing is encouraged, nobody is expected to nurse for very long.  In fact, one of the informational sheets I was given when I left the hospital with Mademoiselle stated explicitly that "long-term breast-feeding is not normal in French culture, and if you choose to do this, it will be difficult."    As an example of this, an American friend was at a dinner party here in Paris. She was still nursing her child, who was about 13 months at the time.  An older French woman who had never met my friend before said to her point-blank, "What, will you still be nursing him in university?"

When Baby Oil was born in the US, I was visited by lactation consultants in the hospital and had several follow-up visits with the on-site lactation consultant at the pediatrician's office.  In France, when I asked a question about nursing to one of the maternity nurses, I was told that the best resource for information on nursing was Message, the English-language expat moms' group of which I'm already a member. 

I stopped nursing 3 weeks ago, and it was absolutely the right decision for me.  Mademoiselle is thriving and smiling and happy, and I'm much happier too.  So right now I'm quite grateful to have had a baby in this country where women are not expected to subjugate their body to their child for months if not years on end (not that there's anything wrong with nursing, and yes I know that breast milk is best, and yes I know that the American Association of Pediatrics says blah-blah-blah).  I told the pediatrician at the three-month check-up that I stopped nursing and he gave me a blank look, as if to say, "why are you even bothering to mention such a trivial matter?"  

So at 4 months, we are supposed to start introducing food to Mademoiselle on a fairly regimented schedule.  While at least one American mom here has told me that she would ignore the French approach, I tend to agree with the pediatrician who explained that every year, a new set of recommendations comes out that changes whatever was recommended the year before.  But at the end of the day, we mostly end up doing what our grandmothers did, because we know that worked. 

At 4 months, we are supposed to give formula + rice cereal in the morning.  Then at "midday", give vegetable puree followed by formula.  At 4:00pm, fruit puree followed by formula.  In the evening, formula + rice cereal. 

The best part is the 4:00pm piece, because that implies that I am feeding my baby at precise times.  What happens if it's 4:30?  Will I anger the French food gods?

At 6 months, by the way, we give formula with cereals that contain gluten.  At midday, it's vegetables and meat or fish, followed by milk or "milk-based dessert" (because a 6 month old totally needs a 3 course lunch that includes dessert - good thing I bought those mini cocottes at the Le Creuset outlet - creme brulee is a milk-based dessert, right?).  More fruit and formula at 4:00pm. 

These decisions may have to moderated based on the fact that, as it turns out, our sojourn in France is about to end.  In July we will return to the United States for good, and in August settle into a new life in Brooklyn.  This has happened rather quickly and while it was something that presented itself to us rather than us searching for a way to get home, we are excited to be heading back to America.  Though I'm not sure what our American pediatrician will say about milk-based desserts and 4:00pm fruits!