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Faye Song

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Who knew the topic of food could be so complicated? Moving beyond the debate of whether to breast or bottle feed (either is perfect, by the way), you’re now faced with the question of when, how and what solid foods you should give your baby.

There are parents who are firmly in the BLW camp, that’s baby-led weaning, to the uninitiated. Then there are the parents who puree, and the parents who fall somewhere in between. But how did our parents or grandparents  introduce food to us, and what did they feed us?

Back in my day…

In a nutshell, our elders took it easy and watched their babies for cues that they were interested in food, generally around the four to six month mark.

May Woon, 61, said she started her children on baby rice cereals until they learned to chew and swallow. They then moved on to congee, or rice porridge, and mashed soft foods.

“We didn’t aim to start at any age, but would try when they started getting curious about food,” she said.

Elaine Chow, May’s 31-year-old daughter and mum to seven-month-old Henry, recalled May spending significant amounts of time preparing the food and  sitting with her to get her to finish a meal.

“Partly because she was a full-time housewife, partly because she put so much work into the food, and partly because she had less milk supply and was in a hurry to wean us,” said Elaine.

“She still happily spends half the day planning and preparing Henry’s food.

“Mum thinks there’s no better food for babies than congee – she’s always giving ideas of what to put in it. She always cooks way too much congee for him!”

Alicia Chew, mother to 11-month-old Nate, said her mother was slightly disapproving of her steaming and pureeing fruit and vegetables when she started weaning her son.

“She kept nagging me about why it wasn’t porridge, and asking me why I was so westernised,” Alicia, 32, laughed.

“I assume it’s what they did for me because it’s what they’ve been telling me to do for my son.”

Affordability and access

The porridge-is-best view possibly harks back to a time when parents had no choice but to be practical and use whatever they had. Rice cereal, which is a common first food for baby, was either too expensive, or not available.

Yin Chia, 81, said porridge was the only food she had to feed her children when they were babies.

“I’d boil porridge with de-boned cooked fish and some finely-sliced vegetables, like carrots or onions. I’d cook it for hours until it was broken down and soft enough for them to eat,” she said.

“It was always cheap fish like ikan kembung (mackerel) and vegetables like daun keledek (sweet potato leaves). We couldn’t afford meat back then.

“If you had other salty foods in the porridge, like ikan bilis (anchovies), you wouldn’t add extra salt or soy sauce.”

Yin said ikan bilis was known to be a good source of calcium. It also provided a bit of flavour to food and best of all – was cheap and accessible.

“Even when I was looking after my grandchildren, I would peel the ikan bilis to get rid of the bones, roast it and blend it into a fine powder to add to porridge,” she said.

What about other cultures?

Meanwhile, in Australia, 41 year-old mother of two, Meg Schiafone, said the first food of her and her siblings was rice cereal with breastmilk around four to six months of age – depending on the size of the baby.

Mum was told to introduce food for a big baby around four months and a small baby around the six-month mark,” said Meg.

“We were given a weak solution of rice cereal and breastmilk. In the morning, we had one teaspoon for one to two weeks, increasing to two to three teaspoons over time.”

Meg said following rice cereal, they were introduced to fruit like pear or apricot for lunch or afternoon tea.

“Again, we were given one teaspoon for one to two weeks before introducing another fruit. If there were no allergies or reactions, she would introduce another fruit.

“The midwife gave my mum two options; cook the fruit yourself or buy the jars of fruit.  She used the jars because she was busy and not a fantastic cook!”

Meg and her siblings had rice cereal or fruit up until the age of six months. After that, their mum introduced vegetables like pumpkin, peas and carrot. The six-month mark was also the time when babies could also be introduced to cow’s milk.

“Mum said we were introduced to pureed meat in the baby food jars around seven to eight months old. This included meat like beef and lamb,” she said. 

No rules

What amazed Meg was there were no other rules to introducing food to babies back then.

“There was nothing about allergies to peanuts, eggs or dairy, and no mention of added sugar and salt,” she said – a contrast to the cautious environment she is raising her own kids in.

“There weren’t so many rules then,” recalled May.

“I recall hearing about feeding them more fish and eggs. We didn’t think about allergies. We fed them egg yolks to see if they had an allergic reaction, in which case they couldn’t get certain types of vaccinations. That was all.”

They were also pretty easy-going about added seasoning in food, she added.

“Elaine avoids salt and sugar in Henry’s food, but I didn’t have this rule,” said May.

“Maybe we avoided very strong-tasting, sugary or greasy foods. But what we considered nutritious for adults would usually be fine for children.”

Parents these days have it good in some ways – we have access to knowledge and advice from health professionals. We can also buy a wide array of prepared food or fresh produce.

In some ways, we probably have too much information and choice compared to our parents or grandparents – which can sometimes work to our disadvantage!

If you’re keen for more information about food and nutrition for babies and children, view the 2013 report on Malaysian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents by the Ministry of Health.

Do you sometimes think back to the you of 10 or even five years ago? Do you remember how you had interests beyond your children, leisure time and hobbies, even? Well, guess what, mum – the fun and learning doesn’t have to stop. You can pick up new skills in motherhood that extend beyond ‘How to Change a Nappy with One Hand in 30 seconds Flat!’

Having trouble thinking about things that might interest you, that you can work around kids’ bedtimes and work commitments? Here are some ideas:

Staying hands-on with craft

If you’re good with your hands, why not pick up a tactile craft like sewing, macrame or even jewellery-making? Pinterest should be your go-to site for ideas. You might even be able to turn it into a side-hustle and make some money!

If you’ve got young children, taking up hobbies you can easily set down and come back to might be the way to go. Think practical. Consider whether it’s something time-consuming or messy, or safe to have around the kids.

With stores like Spotlight around the place and tonnes of workshops you can attend in Klang Valley, you have plenty of choices. From brush lettering to embroidery and pouring art to candle-making, check out The Craft Crowd or Craftiviti for new classes every month!

Get snap happy

A few years ago it felt like almost every other person had a DSLR camera. But then, with the rapidly-improving quality of mobile phone cameras, almost anyone could take a good photo.

Look, it is possible to take a decent photo just by pointing and shooting. However,  there’s something to be said about learning how to take a great photo by learning how to use a good camera. You’d also have some subjects to test your skills out on – and think of the frame-worthy photos of the kids you could get!

There are online and weekend classes offered by places like the Nikonian Academy for basic to intermediate photographers so you can get the hubs to take the kids for a few hours.

Make your own beauty products

If the idea of making something usable appeals to you, why not explore the possibility of making your own beauty products? Again, Pinterest has heaps of ideas for you to try out. You can make anything from your own soap to candles and exfoliating scrubs.

Not only will you know exactly what goes onto your family’s skin, these items can also make great gifts to friends and other family members. And think about how delicious your house will smell while you’re making a batch of vanilla caramel candles!

Get active

If being physically active is your jam, good for you, mama. Not only will you be engaging your mind, you’d also be engaging your core (muscles).

There are a heap of classes to choose from if you’re in the Klang Valley, from pole dancing, aerial yoga and exotic dance at places like Viva Vertical or adult ballet classes.

If team sports are more your thing, why not join a women’s futsal or football social team? Not only will you be getting a great workout, you’ll make friends, too.

Or has there always been a fitness goal you’d like to pursue? Perhaps you’d like to run a marathon, but you’re not the running kind? Start slow by setting yourself small, achievable goals. Set yourself a target like completing a 5km run by the middle of the year. Join a Facebook group for people with the same goal as you.

Involve the kids

If you’ve got older kids, why not involve them in your new hobby? Volunteering? Check out Hati.my for inspiration. Starting your own vegetable garden or green patch? Head to Roots and Shoots Malaysia or Free Tree Society. These are hobbies you can enjoy with your own family. Not only will you be cutting down on screen time, you’ll reap the benefits of having an activity you can do together, like a sense of closeness and a common goal.

We loved the craze in Australia and America of hand-painted rocks with simple pictures or nice messages painted on them being hidden for others to find them.

If you’ve got a big overseas holiday coming up, why not learn the local language together? Duolingo is a great free site for learning a new language. You can practise together and have the added benefits of knowing a few simple words and phrases.

Enjoy your new hobby, mama – and the friends you can make along the way!

Congratulations, new mama – you’ve brought your beautiful new baby into the world. Sleep deprivation, feeding issues and stitches aside, you’re feeling pretty good.

But if you’re like most new mothers, physical intimacy with your partner – remember him, the love of your life? – has probably fallen by the wayside a little.

We ask public hospital obstetrician, Dr Kun Leng Sheng, about when (and how) you can start having sex again after having a baby.

Get the all-clear

Generally speaking, most doctors would give you the green light to have sex again around the six-week postpartum mark. This is also usually the time when the lochia – vaginal discharge after having a baby – stops.

But when you choose to resume relations also depends on your cultural practices, Dr Sheng said, with some ethnic Malay and Indian mothers observing a 100-day period.

“Usually, due to the pain, most new mothers don’t have the desire to have sex,” she said.

If you’ve had an episiotomy or a tear and stitches, Dr Sheng said it generally takes around 10 to 14 days to heal. Any slow-to-heal sutures or infections would usually be picked up by a nurse or doctor in the first two weeks.

If you and your husband are both keen to get intimate again, the best thing you can do is to ask your doctor or nurse directly.

“Talk to your healthcare professionals,” said Dr Sheng. “They can help you ease your anxiety for when you choose to resume sexual activities.”

Take it slow and lube up

Tempting as it is to try and do the deed as quickly as possible in case baby wakes up for a feed, you’re not doing anyone any favours.

As unromantic as it sounds, try to schedule time for sex after a feed especially if you’re breastfeeding – engorged boobs leaking milk isn’t very sexy. Not to mention, vigorous movement can be painful.

Take your time to get in the mood with candles, a gentle massage, lots of kissing and touching. Dr Sheng urged new parents to spend a little bit longer on foreplay than you would pre-baby.

If the thought of anything near your downstairs region makes you seize up with fright after pushing out a melon-sized human, you’re not alone.

Fear or worry doesn’t do you any favours in terms of natural lubrication though, especially if you’re still breastfeeding. The hormones released while breastfeeding can also make you drier down there, making sex more painful.

Dr Sheng suggested new parents pick up personal lubricant at the pharmacy – they’re usually right there next to the condoms, which brings us to the next point…

Remember contraception

Even the most maternal, clucky mother in the would would baulk at the idea of having two babies under 12 months (who aren’t twins).

Dr Sheng urged new parents to sort out contraception sooner rather than later because of the toll it would take on the new mother and her children.

“The mother’s body needs time to recover in order to prepare for another pregnancy in terms of iron storage and the like,” she said.

“If the spacing is poor, in subsequent pregnancies, the mother can be at risk of anaemia, low birth weight of the baby and a higher risk of preterm delivery.”

Dr Sheng also cautioned that there could be other effects on the newborn baby, including missing out on breastfeeding as well as attention and bonding with its mother.

She said generally, at the six week postpartum check, most doctors would have asked about contraception.

“If you’re exclusively breastfeeding your baby and not mixing with formula at all, what is called the lactation amenorrhoea method – a temporary contraception method – usually lasts for around six months,” said Dr Sheng.

“However, if your baby is not fully breastfed, your menses should return after delivery, and by four weeks postpartum we would advise you to use other forms of contraception.”

The type of contraception you choose can be hormonal, such as oral contraception, injections, implants or an intrauterine contraceptive device like the copper IUD, or barrier form, like condoms.

“For oral contraception, a doctor would usually suggest a progesterone-only pill and not the combined estrogen/progesterone pill. This is because estrogen may affect breastmilk production for lactating mothers,” said Dr Sheng.

Not ready? No rush

Mama, you’ve been pushed to the limits and the only person who really knows when you’re ready to have sex again is you.

There are so many factors at play – your physical condition, your mental health, whether you feel supported – so don’t rush into it. Talk to your husband about how you’re feeling.

If things don’t feel right, Dr Sheng suggested talking to your doctor.

“We need to find out from mothers why they’re not ready to have sex – is it because of fear, being too busy, or experiencing pain? Or is it because of reduced libido, or postpartum depression?” she said.

“Usually, Asians are not really open to discuss (depression) but if it is, they should seek psychiatric help.”