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Kiss-Feeding: The Good, The Bad And The Gross

Want to know a good way to get a stranger riled up? Try kiss feeding a baby in a posh, upscale, busy restaurant. It’s sure to get some feathers ruffled and maybe even a good way to end up as an internet sensation in a viral cell phone video. Kiss feeding, also known as premastication is the act of chewing up food to feed another person that can’t do it themselves. Today, we’ll only be covering kiss feeding as it applies to babies.

Most moms don’t flinch when sharing food with their children especially their babies. They share drinks, spoons, even tortilla chips. A mom will take a huge tortilla chip, bite off a large potion and give the rest to her baby or toddler so he can taste the salty goodness of the corn chip. Some moms even taste their own breast milk, to make sure it hasn’t spoiled or isn’t too hot. And all moms “help” their children eat, they just do it in different ways. So, what’s all the hullabaloo about kiss-feeding? It’s basically the same thing and it’s been done forever.

Seriously, forever. Research indicates that there has not been one human culture, thus far, that did not kiss-feed. And guess what else? Many studies indicate that kissing, in general may have evolved from kiss-feeding. Ok, think about it. Take a kiss feeding and remove the food part, and well…. You’ve got yourself a French kiss!

So before we start, there are two huge, opposing sides for and against kiss-feeding and both have some very interesting points. This article will cover them both.

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12 Pro: Breastmilk's Buddy

While breastfeeding is an excellent way to feed a baby, especially young babies, it doesn’t always fill them up or provide all the necessary nutrients they need as they continue to grow. Kiss-feeding can be advantageous to breast-feeding infants and young children, as it can provide some of the things missing from their diet. For example, kiss feeding can provide large amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and micronutrients which are not always available to infants and small children through breast milk.

Some of the micronutrients made more available through kiss feeding are iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, which are essential nutrients to growing children. Also, compounds found in the saliva of a kiss feeding adult, such as Haptcorrin, also help increase the B12 availability because it protects some of the vitamins from the acidity of the infant's stomach. So, there is some well-established research solidifying the importance of kiss-feeding to start.

11 Con: Could It Be The Kiss Of Death?

Premastication or kiss feeding can transmit a wide range of diseases to the baby from their parents’ saliva or open mouth ulcers. These aren’t your run of the mill, kiddie coaster diseases either. We are talking about the transmission of HIV-AIDS as well as the Hepatitis B virus (possibly) and Helicobacter pylori, a nasty little bacterium that causes ulcers and in some produces infections that can lead to stomach cancer.

It is thought that populations with high rates of HIV, also have high rates of kiss-feeding, and that it may be one of the top methods of transmission. Here’s some key information that is pertinent to this disadvantageous side of kiss feeding: most mothers living in the western world already know whether they have HIV or other dangerous contagious diseases. This is mostly a problem in countries where people do not know their HIV status or whether they are carrying other serious infectious agents.

10  Pro: Iron Does A Body Good

It’s been said many times that infants and young children do not get enough iron. Parents hear it all the time from doctors, so much so, that many are forced to try to give their babies a horrible tasting iron supplement through a dropper each day. Neither breast milk or formula (unless its specially formulated) provide the right amount or best kind of iron for babies or young children. Kiss-feeding can. Meats were more than likely some of the main things that were premasticated for babies during human evolution as hunter- gatherers.

The animal-based iron source has been shown to have great benefits for young children by improving growth, motor, and cognitive functions. Long ago (and still in some parts of the world today) kiss feeding was (and is) an important practice that prevented infant iron deficiency. In fact, in the 1940s and 50s, the attitudes about kiss feeding were so negative that western societies pushed Native American and Fijians to stop kiss feeding their children which lead to wide spread severe anemia among the infants of those populations.

9 Con: Not Enough Apples To Keep The Dentist Away

Here’s another nasty counter argument to kiss feeding: there is a wide spread belief that dental caries causing bacteria from the mother’s oral ecology can be transmitted to the baby or young child through the mommy’s saliva. When this happens, it is believed that there is bacterial colonization and thus a strong predisposition to tooth decay develops. In other words, mommy’s cavity filled mouth produces cavity causing spit which ends up causing a mouth full of cavities in the baby's mouth later in life.

Here’s the trouble with this “wide-spread belief”; it was already debunked 20 plus years ago. There was a huge study in 1994 that proved just the opposite: children develop a higher resistance to caries if there are frequent mother to infant salivary contacts. So, somehow this one turns out to be yet another win for the “kiss feeders”. The more kiss feeding happening between mom and baby, the more resistant babies' mouths get to having cavities in the future!

8 Pro: Forget The Allergy Meds

What’s worse than a stuffy baby? Not much, because it is so hard to clear their nasal passages. They lack the capability to blow their own noses and typically freak out when other people try to help them blow their noses. So, when a baby has allergies, life can be hectic and clogged for everyone involved. Luckily, kiss feeding is known for its anti-allergen benefits. The mother’s saliva (similar to the mother’s breast milk) helps establish immunity resistance to infections and over-sensitivities (like asthma).

Some scientists believe that early childhood exposure to rich microflora passed through kiss feeding may be important in getting the child’s immune system ready to handle allergens later in life, thus reducing allergic responses and reactions. In other words, mommy’s spit, which is obviously passed to the baby with the food acts like a life time supply of Claritin, Benadryl, and Zyrtec.

7 Con: Flu Season, True Reason?

Ok, so all the deadly and quite scary diseases aside, kiss feeding is still a good and easy way to get sick and spread germs. This "sickness" can spread both ways. Mom and dad can easily pass a cold or flu to a baby through kiss feeding which can be quite dangerous to their immune systems that are still developing. Babies can also pass illnesses to their parents through the exchange of saliva that quite obviously happens through kiss feeding. Maybe the baby is in an infant day care during the day, or catches something from another care-giver; whatever the route the illness came, mom and dad will catch it after “sharing” a meal with baby.

But to be fair, families tend to get sick together anyway. Anyone with kids knows they will grab mom or dad’s cups and gulp down that last sip of water or juice. Babies love to put everything in their mouths, and young children especially like to be “all up in” their parents' faces. So, does kiss feeding really cause more illness in a family or does it just speed up the transmission process that was going to happen anyway?

6 Pro: Immunity Strength

While there is no absolute proof that the rise in allergic and autoimmune diseases in Western societies is directly linked to the decrease in kiss feeding, researchers do believe that these two phenomena are related. As discussed earlier, kiss feeding has been studied as a method of building allergen tolerance, but it is also widely believed to help develop the baby's immune system due to the antibodies being passed through mom's saliva.

Not only can infants eating things like nuts and eggs, early on (through kiss feeding) alongside breastfeeding, help lessen a baby's potential for certain allergies, it can also help promote immune tolerance. Kiss feeding, it is believed, plays an important role in the development of oral immunity as well, and could even help decrease the risk of autoimmune diseases in infants! So, the more studies are done on kiss feeding the more possible benefits are being uncovered. Maybe the people of the past were onto something; even if it doesn’t look so healthy, as it turns out, it probably is way healthier than most originally thought!

5 Con: Not Just Eating Food

For all the moms out there that love the lip gloss, the foundation, the powder, and the layers of concealer: more power to you. Some of us only wish we had the time, but those gorgeous moms just need to make sure to wipe off their lip sticks or glosses before attempting to kiss feed their child. The last thing a baby needs to ingest is makeup. While most lipsticks are formulated to not be toxic (hopefully, seeing as they are worn on the lips) they are not made to be eaten either.

Not only could little non-food bits of this and drops of that hurt the baby's digestive track, it could also break out their extremely sensitive skin. Ever see a a teething baby with that ring of a rash around their mouth? Well, that’s what happens with their own saliva so just imagine what kind of reaction they will have to “Maybelline’s endless 24-hour lip stain in truly nude with an attitude!”

4 Pro: Borrowing From Mom And Dad

The magic of mommy (and even daddy’s) saliva continues! Premasticated foods or “kiss food” allows infants to better digest because they haven't developed the saliva enzymes yet that adults have. A substance called alpha-amylase found in a mother’s saliva helps baby to better digest starches. This might become very important to nations considered “developed” since many milk supplements containing starch are used so frequently. If these supplements are introduced to an infant in an early age, they would only be able to digest the starch with the help of mom's salivary amylase.

Also, children that are fed primarily plant based diets by their vegetarian or vegan parents would also greatly benefit from the more prevalent and different types of digestive enzymes in premasticated or “pre-chewed” food. Not to mention the fat digesting lingual lipase in adult saliva can help babies to digest and better absorb fats since they do not produce enough of these enzymes on their own.

3 Con: Proceed With Caution

Here is one unfortunate side to kiss feeding that can really get some parents in trouble: they tend to get a little more bravado with their food choices for their babies. Things that most people would not ever imagine giving to their children suddenly do not seem so off limits to parents that kiss feed. Take Alicia Silverstone, in a video that just about blew up the internet when she was kiss feeding her son Blu. She was feeding him miso soup, collards, radish, and daikon, alongside some mochi wrapped in nori. How many 11-month-old babies do you know (that don’t live in Asia) that would eat that and enjoy that?

What a perk of kiss-feeding, right? Well, its two-fold. Yes, kiss feeding is a great way to expand a child’s palate from an early age but parents should also be careful. There are certain things babies should not consume, by any method, because it can be deadly. Take honey or cow's milk, for instance, they can both be very hazardous for babies under one. Also, undercooked meats and some unpasteurized dairy products can be quite dangerous to small children. So, parents should be exercise caution.

2 Pro: Quick, Cheap, And Easy

Here’s one thing no one can argue with, kiss feeding is cheaper than buying baby food and less exhaustive than preparing it at home. Go check out those little baby packages of food with the twist top. The best kind (top shelf, we’ll call it) run at about a dollar and 60 cents each. Now add in that most babies can knock down at least three (and probably) many more of those a day, the figure will add up quickly. Even if parents choose the “off-brand” kind, baby food can sill get expensive, because babies spit half of it out, they knock it over, and if they like it, mom and dad want to give them more.

Some moms or dads decide to make it themselves at home, and honestly kudos to them, but the amount of work it takes to do it correctly is tedious in the least, goodness gracious! First, they must buy the organic fruits, veggies, and what not, then, they must steam them and mash them, and freeze them. And on and on. They must keep it sterile and they must store it correctly or the baby could get very sick. Or they could do like Alicia Silverstone (and millions of other parents) and kiss feed and call it a day.

1 Con: It's A Down, Dirty, Shame

Finally, some people shy away from kiss feeding because they are simply too embarrassed to do it. They may do it at home, or at close friends' or family member's homes, but not in “public”. Funny enough, it’s sort of like breastfeeding, it’s become another way to shame mothers for feeding their children, in a way they believe to be efficient. To the folks that say it looks gross, how do they feel about the people that make out in public; at least kiss feeding means someone is getting food.

The best way to handle kiss feeding is to avoid it if it’s not your thing, and go for the gold if it is. The pros seem to outweigh the cons for mothers that know they do not have infectious diseases. Everyone in some way does a bit of kiss feeding, whether they realize it or not. Breaking off a bit of cheese with your teeth to give it to a toddler is kiss feeding. Sharing a bottle of water with one of your children is (essentially) kiss feeding. There are some folks out there that live by this motto:

Don’t knock until you try it.

Sources: Cornell.edu, Journals.SagePub.com, Healthland.time.com, Wikipedia.org

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