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Real Food for Mother and Baby: a book review, part 2

March 5, 2013

Last week, I gave you a little history of our journey in learning to feed our babies. Wow- who’d have thought it could be so complicated? And yet, that is exactly what Nina Planck hopes to address in her book, Real Food for Mother and Baby; The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two, and Baby’s First Foods

Conflicting advice abounds on the best way to feed your babies, and it turns out, it’s not that complicated. If we lived in community with our parents, grandparents, and aunts, they would be able to tell us what generations before us ate and fed their babies. It would be mostly common sense. Our world has changed and we don’t have the advantage of the sage advice of our great-grandparents (and their grandparents) so authors like Nina Planck have worked to point us back. Literally, back: to 100+ years ago when food grew out of the ground or came from an animal.

The book begins with a thorough description of What is Real Food? This may seem unnecessary, but she does a great job giving side-by-side comparisons of a full list of foods, differentiating between grocery store versions, organic, and pastured varieties of all sorts of foods. Does it really need to be organic to be real? Sometimes it does (in the case of the Dirty Dozen list of most harmful and heavily sprayed veggies), but other times it is much more beneficial to your health to search out farm raised foods (in the case of eggs). She is not so much of a food snob that she leaves off recognizing sometimes budget constraints are a real issue, in which case you should just make real food- especially fresh produce- your priority. She also has a great little formula for cooking delicious tasting vegetables: one veggie, one fat, and real salt. It doesn’t have to be fancy to taste good. Keeping it simple makes it easier to incorporate these real foods into our meals.


First foods: roasted chicken, cumin carrot fries, and cabbage

She goes on to talk about eating during pregnancy, debunking some myths and balancing out some good advice that can be overdone. For example, Dr. Brewer’s emphasis on a high protein diet during pregnancy is sound and proven. However, you can overdo it by trying to follow a set of rules and leaving off common sense. I can relate! I gained about 40 lbs with my first pregnancy trying to squeeze the recommended 120 grams of protein into my 4′ 11″ frame. Common sense led me to eat less and I saw a weight gain of about 20-25 lbs in each of my next three pregnancies, which was much healthier for me. I didn’t have to stuff myself with food.

The author writes in a conversational style, telling her story of all-natural aspirations for her pregnancy and birth. She honestly tells how not all of those ideals worked out for her. She takes breaks from the candid details of her life story to interject bits of science and research to back up the decisions she chose for herself and her baby. Her attitude is relaxed, reminding the reader that you can make your plans and do your best but in the end you have to stay calm and roll with the punches.

It’s no surprise that she recommends exclusive nursing in the beginning, but acknowledges that this doesn’t always work out for everyone. There are links and references to alternatives like the Weston A. Price formula recipe, which incorporates real food like raw goat’s milk and liver to replicate the nutrition found in breastmilk. She advises moms to stay away from all grains when considering first foods, but to choose foods high in fat and protein, both of which babies need to grow physically and mentally. We started with meat and found that our baby would eat any kind of ground meat, and given time, could clear off a tray of venison, beef, chicken, or pork. We stayed away from dairy products because she has a known sensitivity, and she didn’t care much for fruits. We started giving her fermented cod liver oil around 9 months, and never gave her bland or plain foods. We like real sea salt, and presumed she would too. We like our food seasoned with herbs and spices, so even at an early age she loved spicy sausage.

This book doesn’t advocate spoon feeding your babies, but suggests you begin giving them whatever unprocessed real foods you are eating whenever they express interest. This is usually around 6 months, or when they are able to sit at the table with you. All of my babies were fairly indiscriminate about what they put in their mouths, although she cites a study (I think from Adelle Davis) stating babies will choose what they need and what is good for them. I have not been so liberal in giving them that choice, but I did set out to let baby Eleanor start eating real food at the suggested age, and gave her a variety of options.  She mostly picked at it and seemed bored in a short amount of time.

Because we didn’t spoon feed her she developed a real aversion to ever being spoon fed. She was used to the freedom of feeding herself, and while that seems harmless, she stubbornly refused what could have really nourished her. She preferred to nurse over eating much real food at all. So that is one of the main things I would caution: if you follow this plan and truly let your babies eat whole foods at their own discretion, be prepared to be wholly committed to nursing. Eleanor was happy to nurse and because she was always full of milk (I followed a very loose every 3-4 hour schedule), she wasn’t hungry for food. She didn’t eat much food at meal time, so I felt somewhat obligated to get up with her in the night to nurse- a habit we didn’t really indulge in our other babies because we knew they’d had plenty of food (except for our 3rd, who just didn’t wake up at night, despite being exclusively nursed). I feel like I’ve shown  my commitment to nursing, but at 11 months I had to deliberately cut back on her feedings just to get the girl to eat some food. I think she would have continued on until her third birthday nursing exclusively had I let her. Perhaps I should have done that sooner, but since I know how nourishing it is for her to nurse, I wasn’t too worried about it. Just a little more tired.

One thing I did want to clarify from the last post: I do not think it is a problem to nurse a baby exclusively for longer than six months (although this book doesn’t recommend it). The reason why my extended nursing was damaging to my health is because I did not take care to nourish myself while I was nursing my baby. My fault. Lesson learned…the hard way.


This is really just a shameless way of sharing cute baby pictures

Once the author gets to parenting styles (which does play out some in the area of eating), I had to take exception on many levels (just being honest here). My only other real complaint about the book is that she speaks with the authority of a mother that has only experienced one baby. Her “this is what babies do” comments were irksome sometimes, because after having four children and a variety of experiences, I know that babies do all sorts of things. Some have incredibly sensitive gag reflexes and wouldn’t do so well gnawing on a chicken bone or a steak. However, after she wrote the book she had twins, so perhaps her perspective is a bit more balanced. The author really downplays food sensitivities and allergies, suggesting that most children will be fine with all real foods. I hope that is true, but it has not been our experience and I wish she had given a little more attention to those of us who would love for our babies to drink cups of real raw milk and pastured eggs. I think Eleanor will outgrow these sensitivities, but it just isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Those small things aside, I would highly recommend this book to any mother or any woman planning to have children in the future. It’s well researched, an easy read, and will provide a lot of direction when it comes to eating in a way that nourishes both mother and baby.

If you want more information before you purchase the book (or borrow it from me!), here are some links to interviews with the author:

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 5, 2013 1:20 pm

    Yan’s mom is still spoon feeding our niece, and sleep with even though she is already 2 years old now. I learned so much about how to make raising baby much less stressful in a right way from you! Thank for sharing, Brite, I will keep following you!

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