Monday, April 16, 2012

Hot Topic Tuesday: Premastication -- Not Such A Bad Idea

By Heather C.

Actress Alicia Silverstone best known for her role in the movie “Clueless” has sparked conversations nationwide so it only seems fair that I do a blog with my two cents as well, right? The topic at hand? Premastication.

My oldest enjoying pureed baby food
Premastication is chewing food with the intention to physically break it down in order to feed another. Think of the way mother birds feed their babies. This is not a new concept. Cultures have been doing it around the world for centuries. It’s a natural instinct for a mother to provide for her young but is it appropriate in mainstream America?

You can view the original video of Alicia Silverstone pre-chewing food for her son below. It first appeared on her blog.

When I asked my fellow mom friends what they thought about premastication, I got a very common response, “Ew!” Since this was not my initial thought, I wanted to dig up more.

People Magazine published the picture along with other celebrity moms (parenting in different ways) with the headline “Hollywood’s Extreme Moms.” The article gives the impression that what these celebrities are doing is not normal. And while I agree that the act of premastication is not a popular concept, that doesn’t immediately make it wrong. Here’s what I think:

We all do it. We may not realize it and we may not do it for every meal but we all do it. On vacation when my oldest was 15 months old, we had grapes for a snack. They were much too large for her to swallow without being a choking hazard and we were at Seaworld. Without even thinking, I bit the grape in half, mashed it a bit, took the piece out of my mouth and gave it to her. It was easy. She loved the grapes and everyone was happy. When we got home and ate grapes, I used a knife. This is just one of the many times I have done this for my daughter.

Another point; is it really much different than French kissing? I know this is a hard concept to grasp but if premastication is broken down, what part of it is gross? The part where your saliva is being transferred to your child’s mouth? How often do we use our spit to clean our child’s face or finish bites of their food that would otherwise be wasted? How often do we share spoons or straws with them? I am a germaphobe about a lot of things but swapping saliva, especially with my child of all people, is not one of them.

Now if the part that makes you say, “Ew” is based on your teeth chewing the food instead of your child’s teeth (or lack of teeth), I can maybe understand but I think I’d be more grossed out by taking prechewed food from my child and eating it myself than the other way around. At least I know I’m using good dental hygiene.

When researching this new “extreme” parenting concept, I came across information about the benefits of premastication and I think it’s important to be the advocate of both sides. The benefits are:

-          Premastication is said to provide “immediate and long-term immunological resistance to infections and inhibits immunological hypersensitivity such as asthma through the antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, growth factors, and nutrient transporters in the mother's saliva”

-          When used complementary to breastfeeding in infants and young children, premastication can provide a large amount of carbohydrates and/or proteins that may not always available through breast milk including iron, zinc, and vitamin b12. 

SOURCE: Pelto, Greta; Zhang, Yuanyuan; Habicht, Jean-Pierre (2010), "Premastication: the second arm of infant and young child feeding for health and survival?", Journal of Maternal and Child Nutrition)

The only known disadvantage of premastication (other than the ick factor, I suppose) is listed as a concern with transmitting hepatitis B and HIV-AIDS. I am completely in agreement that this is a huge concern but the cases of a parent having one of these diseases and not knowing about it, especially in America, are going to be very small. This disadvantage stems from third-world countries and poverty level families practicing premastication without knowing their own health concerns first.

SOURCE:   Levison, Judy; Gillespie, Susan L.; Montgomery, Elizabeth (2011), "Think twice before recommending pre-masticated food as a source of infant nutrition", Journal of Maternal & Child Nutrition)

Overall, I think it’s important to say that I myself did not premasticate with my oldest daughter. Instead we chose a combination of baby lead weaning and home making baby food. I do not plan to premasticate with my youngest daughters either. I am actually really looking forward to making their baby food one day soon. But like I said above, a form of premastication is natural instinct and it is not right of us to judge anyone, celebrity or not, for how she chooses to feed her child. I have a feeling this way of feeding is going to become quite trendy once the critics die down.   

You can contact Heather by emailing her at
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  1. My issues isn't so much the pre chewing... but the transferring mouth to mouth... Like your example about the grapes, after biting it in half & mushing it a bit.... she put it in her mouth....

  2. I'm just going to go with GRRROOOOOSSSS. Even though you did educate me on the potential benefits i was blissfully unaware of. Nice job on a nasty topic.

  3. One thing I would be concerned about is spreading cavity-causing bacteria:

    If you don't have a history of cavities, it's probably not such a big deal.

  4. I think there's nothing wrong with pre-mastication for as long as the mother has cleaned her teeth well before chewing the food that she'll feed the baby. I asked my Omaha cosmetic dentist too and he says that it's fine for as long as proper oral hygiene is maintained.


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