I became a mom to my beautiful daughter, Mila, in February 2012 – she was born at 41 weeks despite an early scare and me being put on bed rest for 10 weeks. I was determined to breastfeed – even after being told I did not have “breastfeeding nipples” and Mila not being able to latch on due to a lip tie (which I only discovered when she was two). We struggled through the first few days, did a happy dance when we discovered nipple shields, and then settled into a routine of what is surely the most magical time in a woman’s life.
Mila was a small baby (born at 2,4kg), suffered from colic and needed to be fed every couple of hours for the first nine months. I realise now the reasons for all of this – her imbalanced gut flora inherited during childbirth from my candida overgrowth. If only I had known then what I know now.
I began to notice that Mila’s discomfort was worse after some feeds than after others. My sister-in-law suggested I eliminate certain foods like garlic and onion – two of my favourites! I began to pay closer attention to food and the effect it has on the body. At the same time, I developed eczema on my hands. Initially I thought it was from compulsive hand washing with Tea Tree soap – but then I noticed it flared up after I ate certain foods – namely gluten, sugar and dairy. You must know that I had eaten a toasted mozzarella, pesto and tomato sandwich on artisan sourdough bread from our local bakery every single day of my pregnancy – actually twice a day towards the end! It was usually followed by a few (or more) pieces of Lindt dark chocolate so the thought that I would have to stop this ritual because of the gluten and dairy was something I resisted. Until I saw the green poo – Mila’s that is, not mine.
I was (as a first time mom) completely freaked out when I opened Mila’s nappy one day and saw what looked like spinach purée! The homeopath, clinic sister and various other experienced folk told me that it was normal for a breastfed baby to have poo ranging from orange to green. But my instinct had been re-awakened, and I knew it was the result of ‘something’. Already noticing the physical affects of gluten, sugar and dairy on myself, I quickly realised that when I breastfed Mila after consuming these foods, her colic was worse and a few hours later, her poo would be bright green!
I immediately went on a completely gluten-, sugar-, and dairy-free diet and the result… less colic, no more green poo, less eczema and in six months I lost the 25kg I had gained during my pregnancy.
The whole notion of ‘gluten-free foods’ was still uncommon then, especially in South Africa. While you did find gluten-free pasta, there was not the extensive range of gluten-free flours, breads, and ready-mixes that you find today. So for me, at that time, being gluten-free simply meant eliminating those types of food from my diet and I was okay with that – there was still plenty else I could (and did) eat.
Mila was six months old and needed to start solids! As a (very) anxious first-time mom I immediately ordered some baby food recipe books. I was horrified when I paged through them to find cheese, bread or sugar on every page! I realised that my decision to raise Mila on a free-from diet meant that I was going to have to put in some extra effort. I was acutely aware of the fact that babies have very specific nutritional needs and by eliminating some foods I was going to have to replace their nutrients with other food sources. I also faced a mountain of criticism – like “how can you not feed your child dairy?” Which I had to counter with facts – like “dairy is a difficult-to-digest food and is not the best source of bio-available calcium!”. So began my search for recipes and my journey into nutrition.
I developed quite a large collection of free-from recipes on my iPhone – but they were all free from one thing and not the others, so I began to develop my own recipes. With mushy mommy brain I was always losing the pieces of paper I had written my recipes on and forgetting what I had learnt the day before. Also, with lack-of-sleep-blurry-eyes cooking from a recipe on my small screen iPhone became immensely frustrating. I realised that for my own sanity I needed everything I had learnt and created to be in one place – in a folder of sorts. Then it dawned on me – surely I was not the only completely stressed out, sleep deprived new mom wanting to prepare delicious and nutritious whole foods for a new baby in an effortless way – you know, like open the recipe book, see the picture, follow the instructions. And so the idea of writing this book was born!
She continues to teach me so much everyday. She is a remarkable little girl – intelligent, sensitive, compassionate and just so happy. She seems to withstand all of life’s little (and big) knocks with such grace and good humour. As a play therapist told me recently – “how lucky that she was just born with such a happy disposition.”
Well, she is now three and a half years old and has only ever taken conventional medication (in the form of antibiotics) once – and after the big life events that occurred before that time, I am not surprised her body could not hold up to the impact of the stress. She has had a sum total of two temper tantrums – both of which lasted for all of 1 minute and which occurred after she had eaten sugar. Yes, she has had coughs and colds – especially during her first winter at school but other than that her biggest health issue currently is constipation (probably due to the antibiotics I mentioned before). She sleeps well, is even tempered, quick witted, has an incredible memory and knows our national anthem off by heart (and it is in five different languages).
This seems like I am boasting – well, I am going to take a moment to pat myself on the back (you need to take a break from the mommy guilt every now and then) – but I mentioned all of this because I want you to know that the effort it takes to prepare all your own food and perhaps even learn a new way of cooking and baking using ingredients you have never heard of before is SO worth it.
When people ask me how I can choose to spend so much of my time in the kitchen, my reply is simple – “I would rather spend my time cooking, than spend my time taking care of a frequently sick child or disciplining an unruly child who is acting out because of a sugar rush.”
Also, I truly believe in the saying “Do something today that your future self will thank you for”. I have no doubt that this nutritious food is benefiting Mila’s immune system and development. I am convinced that the effort I am putting in now will benefit her in the future, and my future self (and hers) will thank me for it.
As parents, our children’s health is our responsibility – not the doctor’s, not the government’s, not the supermarket’s.
I would like to say, “I encourage you to make informed choices about the foods you feed your child”, but really, I am begging you! Please, please educate yourself. Explore, discover, and learn. Go beyond the clever marketing, the labels, the government guidelines, and the conventions. Make informed decisions based on information you have sought out, not that which is fed to you by marketers selling a product or pamphlets in a paediatrician’s office. Your child and your future self will thank you for it.
I must say, now that the book is done (after the months I’ve spent behind the computer) I am very much looking forward to getting back into the kitchen – my happy place. I have a long list of new recipes I want to create – as well as the many things Mila has asked for. I look forward to sharing them with you on this website.
Here’s a video we used to introduce the book for our crowdfunding campaign (I’m notoriously camera shy!):
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