Mama Bird

Is pre-mastication natural or disgusting?


Imagine a little wobbly bird sitting in a nest and lifting its beak up to be fed by its mother. The mama bird tilts her head gently to feed her hungry baby and they both chirp happily. What seems like a beautiful moment in nature doesn't look quite as sweet when a human mother attempts it.

The actress Alicia Silverstone (none other than Cher from my favorite 90's film Clueless) recently posted a video on her blog called The Kind Life in which she transferred chewed up food open-mouth to her 11-month-old baby. She went on to describe how much her son Bear Blu enjoys being fed mouth to mouth.

I fed Bear the mochi and a tiny bit of veggies from the soup…from my mouth to his. It’s his favorite...and mine. He literally crawls across the room to attack my mouth if I’m eating. This video was taken about a month or 2 ago when he was a bit wobbly. Now he is grabbing my mouth to get the food!

The image of Silverstone "birding" her baby went viral and stirred quite a debate. The media swooped in on the story, from The Huffington Post to The Today Show, reactions ranged from disgusted, supportive, to downright concerned for the health of her child.

At this point, if you're anything like me, you may be scratching your head and wondering why in the world a mother would choose to pre-chew her baby's food. After I recovered from gagging, I conducted a little research. It turns out that even though pre-mastication may look freaky, according to Wikipedia, it actually has a few benefits.

The method was used throughout history by hunter-gatherers and was important as pre-chewed animal sourced foods prevented infant iron deficiencies. Currently, some breastfeeding moms rely on the method to provide their baby with carbohydrate and protein nutrients not always available through breast milk. The mother's saliva can help build a baby's immune system and prevent allergies through antibody generators. It can also aid in better infant digestion by providing saliva enzymes that infants lack.

Despite these claims, many health care professionals are warning parents about the dangers of premastication. Dr. Jennifer Landa, M.D, Chief Medical Officer of BodyLogicMD, told Fox News;

There are those who think that a mom chewing a baby’s food provides helpful enzymes from her mouth, but it doesn’t seem like a hygienic practice. Various viruses and bacteria, but especially herpes virus, may be passed from mother to baby, these microbes present a challenge that the infant’s immune system may not be ready for. So the practice is questionable for safety, and then, there’s a certain ick factor here that needs to be considered.

Yet, there were also plenty Silverstone supporters, who left comments on her Vegan health food diet website. Mom Angelica McBeath said;

I did this with all three of my girls. It just seem so natural to me. I would chew, they would eat. For all of those that are concerned over hygeine. Don't be. Its your child, do what you feel is right. My children were never sick, not even an ear infection. Just wonderful antibodies. Love so much that you shared this!!!

I must admit that I personally did not love it so much that Silverstone shared her little video with the world. I know she has every right to feed her baby any way she wants and to post it with pride. I'm sure there are plenty of people who found the image of Bear Blu accepting her food to be a beautiful moment between mother and child. For me, I'll leave pre-mastication for the birds.

Do you think that pre-chewing your baby's food could be beneficial for an infant or not? Or is it just plain gross? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Grant April 05, 2012 at 05:05 PM
eWWWWWW..... How can I "un-know this now?
Sharon Swanepoel April 05, 2012 at 05:16 PM
That's the thing with knowledge Grant, save for age and a touch of Alzheimer’s, you can't ever un-know it.
Athens Mama April 05, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Ahhh....America...disgusted with premastication, paranoid about co-sleeping, embarrassed by public breast feeding...Was I born into the wrong country or just the wrong dominant culture? I pre-masticated - did not go mouth to mouth with my kids but I chewed and transferred - breast fed for 1 year for the first and 2 years for the second, co-slept for years, and attachment parented....my kids never took a pacifier, never wet the bed, never sucked thumbs, never had an item of attachment. My 7th grader just tested into the top 35% of the top 5% of the nation's 7th graders who took the SAT, awarded the Eve Carson award, only child in her class who exceeded on the state writing assessment....What blows me away is that this topic could stir up so much discussion - but I see no media attention on the EMOTIONAL ABUSE that goes on in so many classrooms and daycares. I see kids dressed to the nines - treated with unkindness every day. When they're still growing, it affects their emotional development. No headlines on this...
Athens Mama April 05, 2012 at 10:38 PM
I mean, we shared a body for 9 months. My kid fed from my breasts for 2 years. I wiped waste from my child's bottom for 2 and a half years. Just this week I spent a couple of hours cleaning up throw up after my child lost 2 meals due to a harsh stomach virus. Really? So much attention, and even (from Grant, no surprise) disgust. Because a Mama of a child not even a year old went mouth to mouth with her child and shared a little saliva? More hand sanitizer please from my Dooney and Bourke bag - because I'm a germaphobe - even though studies show that if I use hand sanitizer, I will end up with dirtier germs on my hands after I use the sanitizer. How many parents dropping their kids at daycare and then picking them up analyze the germs that are coming home on their kids? I'll take shared saliva in my 11 month old's mouth over germs in an eight child classroom any day...
Linda Labbo April 06, 2012 at 03:28 AM
I had heard of this practice in some primitive cultures and it was done in lieu of baby food preparation. I had not heard about this practice until I read your article, Leigh. In my opinion.... (and as you say).. "It's for the birds!"


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