When I had my baby in 2012 I trawled the Internet for the latest information I could find on maternity and parenthood. What I didn’t count on was discovering an ongoing debate on child rearing—webpage upon webpage of the latest research on nutrition, psychology, you name it; each discounting the last one. That, intermingled with old wives' tales and what “my mother tells me”, makes it very confusing for a new mom.
In my grandmother’s time, the norm was to feed 4-month old babies bananas scraped on a spoon and give air tajin (starch water from rice) to drink. My mother’s generation thought infant formula was best and believed babies weren’t supposed to be carried all the time or they would become bau tangan (smelling of the hand). Today, we worry about storage times for pumped breast milk, attachment parenting, no sugar or salt before baby’s first birthday, and disposable vs. cloth diapers.
So apparently each generation of parents has its own way of raising children. Popular mailing lists are full of new mothers bewailing about “my baby has rash because his father burns his disposable diapers”, “mother in law feeds processed biscuits to my baby, what do I do”, or, even, “my mother says disposable diapers will make my baby bowlegged, is that true?”
And people are never too shy to tell you if they see you do things differently —“It’s late, your breast milk has gone bad now, the wind has entered it from not being nursed earlier” a post from a new mother in a mail list comes to mind.
No matter what the World Health Organization (WHO) says about giving solids to babies before six months, sometimes you just can’t argue with “well, you turned out fine” from mom. Because we did turn out fine—because regardless of how the children were raised, each generation has its fair share of scientists, entrepreneurs, multi-millionaires, successful businesspeople, and, of course, bums.
The medical profession also proved to be a poor reference—despite the WHO recommendation many hospitals still automatically feed newborns infant formula as its standard operating procedure. And I often read of pediatricians prescribing antibiotics for the common cold, or puyer (ground up drug concoctions), which is now not recommended due to unsafe dispensing practices, which was why in big cities, pediatricians who follow the rational use of medicine are in high demand.
So I have always made it a point to never criticize how other people choose to raise their children. And instead of worrying about the well-meaning advice of other people—families and friends included—I made my choices based on my own conclusions of the research, and selfish reasons.
I chose to give six months exclusive breastfeeding and pumped breast milk for a year, because I figured that if I gave in in to infant formula in a bottle, I would be relinquishing the only advantage I have over my baby. Being a working mom, other caregivers would eventually clothe, bathe, cuddle and play with my boy; but by breastfeeding, I was the only one who could nurse him to sleep at night.
For the next six months of his life, I chose to give my baby homemade baby food. This too was something I researched online, and also for my own selfish reason—he was the only one who loved my cooking! The ease of it, however, surprised and delighted me. I would spend every weekend making batches of food to freeze for the rest of the week. In the beginning it was simple no-cook purees, so simple that I was surprised people would opt for store-bought food at all.
I also followed the three-day wait rule before introducing new foods, but my boy was so good at processing his foods that I was often lax, which I quickly regretted when he broke out in hives after eating an orange.
Famous American pediatrician Dr. Bill Sears used to say that children who thrive not only entail getting bigger, but also growing to their full potential, emotionally, physically and intellectually. Unfortunately there is no road map, and every parent must abide by his or her own decisions. That’s what our parents did, and what their parents did before them.
I don’t pump breast milk anymore now, because after a year my boy can drink cow’s milk and have his nutrition met through solid food. But I chose to continue nursing; because after a day of playing rough-house with his father, my baby would still look for me for cuddling and a quiet moment.
And that means the world to me.
About Tantri Yuliandini
Tantri Yuliandini is juggling a career and motherhood and wishes she has more time to do the latter. These days deadlines and holding statements may take a back seat to worrying about whether or not her baby’s pooped today. But no matter how often she says that being a stay-at-home mom was her lifelong dream, we all know she’s kidding herself.