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Feeding Your Baby Bird-Style - Is Premasticating Nauseating or Normal?

Women who premasticate food for their babies are not unusual

This mother, along with millions of others, would premasticate or pre-chew food for her children.

This mother, along with millions of others, would premasticate or pre-chew food for her children.

Alicia Silverstone pre-chewed food for her baby - she calls it bird-style

After Alicia Silverstone placed a video of herself premasticating, or pre-chewing, food before feeding it mouth-to-mouth (what she calls kissing style) to her baby, a controversy arose. It seems that she was whole-heartedly condemned by grossed out women all over the United States, along with some members of the medical community, for her actions. In light of that, and the obvious repugnance shown on the faces of both male and female reporters when the subject was being discussed, I felt it was time for a review of how most of humanity has fed babies for most of history. It seems that we've become sadly out of touch.

However, before we get to the history lesson, let's first do a biology lesson. A baby is not born with digestive bacteria. It gets the bacteria it needs in its gut while passing through the mother's birth canal. It also gets the bacteria while it's being handled by her and while it's suckling at her breast after she's touched her own body. If it has to take antibiotics in infancy, the way it recovers its gut bacteria is, again, from its mother's handling.

Until the last couple of hundred years, a baby also received digestive bacteria and valuable antibodies from premasticated food given to it by its mother, as its digestive system developed and the mother began to feed it solid foods.

Only in our crazy, bacteria-phobic society would chewing food and feeding it to a baby be considered disgusting. What do we think happened in all of those hundreds of thousands of years when generations of babies were being weaned from the breast to solid food? Do we think people broke out their knives and forks and cut and mashed everything? Or possibly they plugged in their Cuisinarts? If so, we should think again.

The truth is, in one way they did what we do now. They chose easily chewed and soft food for their babies. Or they chose chunks of meat that were tough so the baby could mouth and gum it endlessly with no harm and some nutrition. But mostly, the mother chewed the food and fed it to the baby. (If elderly people needed this service, it was also provided to them by the women in their families.)

When you consider how many societies through the ages were migratory and wouldn't carry anything but the absolute essentials, to the point that they used a handy stick when they wanted to spear a piece of food, pre-chewing and feeding a baby from her own mouth was, by far, the most practical thing for a mother to do. Using mainly her own body, she could raise her infant from birth to the age where it could both walk and eat on its own. She provided milk, she provided digestive enzymes, she provided saliva to ease food down her baby's throat, she provided valuable antibodies and she provided her own teeth.

Alicia premasticating breakfast for baby bear

Mothers the world over chew food for their babies

This healthy baby will soon have mother's help with chewing its food.

This healthy baby will soon have mother's help with chewing its food.

Pre-chewing food for a baby is not disgusting - it's very normal

Premasticating wasn't disgusting then and it shouldn't be disgusting now. However, we've been strictly trained by marketing strategies that all bacteria is bad and that our bodies are pretty disgusting. We've also been trained by the paranoia of most of the medical establishment that all bacteria are bad.

Considering the fact that, until the last few years - after losing billions to alternative medicine - the average doctor didn't even attend classes on digestion, the medical establishment is certainly not loaded with experts on how a mother's digestion interacts with her child's.

Now the average doctor may attend two or three classes on digestion. However, as an undergraduate in health studies, I was required to take more classes on the digestive system than, even now, most doctors attend. However, through studying health in poor communities around the world, public health doctors have come to realize how healthy and helpful prematicating is for for babies. It not only makes the food easier to eat, but it adds digestive enzymes and antibodies from the mother.

There is no reason that a healthy, clean mother shouldn't pre-chew her baby's food. Not only is it more healthy for the baby's digestive system, but it's an additional bonding act between them, just as breastfeeding is. The main reason anyone would object to this is that we've lost so much of the mother-child connection in our modern world.

Until bottles were invented, pre-chewing food was the first real interaction a baby and a father had. Yes, fathers in some societies also pre-chewed - and still pre-chew - their babies' food.

If a mother was watching someone else's baby for any reason, she would pre-chew for the other woman's baby. If the whole family ate together, which most did around the world, in some societies, the babies wandered the whole eating area and were fed by whoever chose to provide food. So not only the mother, but other members of the family group, or tribe, provided this service.

We have been taught to sterilize our houses, to not let our babies get dirty, to not sleep in the same room as our babies. We've been told that we should nurse our babies in private, because our breasts are somehow improper and even disgusting if we've providing milk for our children. And now, we're reminded that a mother's mouth is too dirty and disgusting to use as a tool to feed her baby.

Mothers were able to keep their babies with them most of the time.

Mothers were able to keep their babies with them most of the time.

Mothers use their bodies to take care of their babies

Throughout time - including the present - whenever mothers have had too little water to bathe their babies, they've washed those little hands and faces with their own saliva. Those mothers have their babies with them most of the time, usually bound to their bodies in some way.

So whatever the mother has been exposed to, her baby has been exposed to at the same time. Her baby may die from bad water, from a disease like pneumonia or malaria, or from bad food that it's not strong enough to survive yet. It may also die from starvation, because its mother's milk has dried up due to her own hunger and she has no food to give it. But it won't die from a healthy mother's bacteria or saliva. It will thrive on them.

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Alicia Silverstone's website

  • The Kind Life
    The official site of Alicia Silverstone. The Kind Life is an interactive extension of The Kind Diet where friends, doctors, experts in green living, and site members share vegan living tips, tricks and inspiration.

Support for pre-chewing around the world and throughout human history

  • Premastication: A Possible Missing Link?
  • Saliva
    Saliva is the watery and usually somewhat frothy substance produced in the mouths of some animals, including humans. Produced in salivary glands, saliva is 98% water, but it contains many important substances, including electrolytes, mucus, antibacte

Comments about premasticating food for baby - what do you think?

Stephanie Purser from Australia on May 30, 2020:

I have never considered the term premastication or thought of the concept. But I have been doing it!

My 8mo and I share food and I chew the things she cannot for her. So I believe it's an instinctive and natural.

Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on May 03, 2020:

Wow, I have never heard or seen this. I don' t have children so I cannot base a well rounded opinion on it, but I guess as long as the mother has good mouth hygiene, it probably would not be an issue :) Thank you for sharing this interesting hub :)

Janelle on November 22, 2014:

I never found this weird or unusual--really quite the opposite. I fed my son this way sometimes, it was convenient. He's a happy, healthy, smart, and athletic 8 yr old football player now. And I feed my 8 month old daughter this way--and yes, out in public. Honestly it's just the convenience of it, and she likes table food better anyway. I can't believe anyone would have a problem with it...mind your own!

Karla Iverson (author) from Oregon on June 22, 2013:

Thanks, msginger. It's so natural. I wish Americans would stop being so germ phobic that they don't even recognize how valuable the mother's bacteria and enzymes are for the baby.

Mirmana from AMSTERDAM on June 22, 2013:

Though I have never heard of this before, it seems like a natural way of feeding and I have done it several times. I totally agree with you. My baby is 9 months old now, and I have been giving her solids from the age of 6 months. I've seen her struggling with many kinds of vegetables and sometimes I would just chew some for her and give it to her. I never did this when anybody was around though, afraid they would find it disgusting. So I really loved reading about this.

Karla Iverson (author) from Oregon on April 26, 2012:

Thanks, AWest. I'm glad you see the common sense and health in feeding our babies by using the tools that Mother Nature gave to us.

AWest on April 25, 2012:

That's really interesting and i couldn't agree more. I didn't feed my kids like that but when they were just starting on solids just before putting a spoonfull in my bubs mouth i would put it to my mouth n taste it a bit to make sure it tasted ok and to make sure it was cool enough. So bacteria would transfer by me doing that and i bet 99% of mothers do that when they feed there babies, and my kids are strong healthy young boys now, so i don't see the difference? I find it beautiful, so natural. And common sense would tell you that its only natural because they didn't have kitchen appliances back 100+ years ago like they do today. People are so judgemental these days, you can't do nothing without being judged and if your famous its even worse, there's always someone out there that has to put a downer on things. From Australia :)

Karla Iverson (author) from Oregon on March 30, 2012:

Thank you, Seeker7. I also feel that each of us should be using our own judgement instead of allowing others to tell us what's right and wrong.

Karla Iverson (author) from Oregon on March 30, 2012:

That's true, JKenny. Actually, about 15% of women in the U.S. do it to benefit their babies. I wouldn't be surprised if kissing started this way.

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on March 30, 2012:

I don't find anything disgusting about premastication. This should be the mother's choice what she feels is best for her baby. Society is weird - even in the 21st century there are still many people who object to breast feeding in public. What could be more beautiful or natural than a mother feeding her baby in whatever way suits them both!

As to bacteria, as a nurse, I would think that the baby shares most of the mother's bacteria anyway and even if not, whose to say that - as you suggest - they have to be all bad.

People need to start listening more to their own instincts rather than the so called 'experts' and 'money grabbers; who will brainwash folks into believing anything is disgusting as long as they are sure to make some kind of profit from it - whether it be a headline, money or whatever.

An excellent and well arugued hub! Voted up.

James Kenny from Birmingham, England on March 29, 2012:

Interesting hub. I know that many hunter gatherer tribes around the world still use this method to feed babies and the elderly. I also remember reading somewhere, that this was how kissing originated, because the mother passed the food onto the baby by effectively kissing them, and of course it's a sign of love and devotion, so you can understand how it evolved. Great work. Voted up.

Karla Iverson (author) from Oregon on March 29, 2012:

Thank you, chanroth. While I didn't experience that as a baby, I thought of it as a bonding act between mother and child, and a very normal thing long before I took health classes and found that it's done all over the world. It's odd to think how isolated we are in the United States.

chanroth from California, USA on March 29, 2012:

I would not judge about this at all because mother would do anything to keep their children alive. My mom chew-food and feed me when I was a baby. It was normal but then she was introduced to baby food and my mom feed me with that later than. For those who never experience such life like many foreigner, they would find that disgusting. I vote this up and useful.

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