My son is now a delightful toddler. We ended his first year with a slice of carrot cake, plenty of presents and a party. We raised our glasses and toasted to the amazing little boy that he is. On his first birthday too came the realisation that our baby was no longer a baby, he was now a walking, confident, gorgeous toddler with a full head of hair and a cheeky smile.
My son’s first birthday also gave me time to reflect upon the previous year and the adventure it had been. From breastfeeding to baby-led weaning, it had been a big year – for all of us.
My decision to breastfeed my son was a personal decision driven by my desire to nourish my new baby in the best way possible. I was incredibly fortunate that, despite a complete lack of support by hospital staff, I was able to initiate and maintain breastfeeding. Family support, a cooperative baby and my own determination to succeed were all factors that helped establish breastfeeding for us.
I initially wanted to breastfeed for a minimum of 6 months. Once my son reached 6 months of age, we had such a comfortable feeding rhythm going on that I carried on breastfeeding. My son was thriving and happy and I was in a position that I was able to have the time needed with him to continue breastfeeding into the second 6 months of his life. Even now – at 13 months of age – we still enjoy the morning and evening breastfeed. It is a special bonding time for us and a time that neither of us are quite ready to give up yet.
I never could have anticipated, however, the physical toll that breastfeeding would take on my body. Breastfeeding is so demanding of your time and your energy that there were days when I felt I couldn’t carry on feeding my son in this way any longer. In those early months when you are feeding on demand – at times up to 12 times per day – when you are in a taxi or a supermarket and your baby is crying to be fed again, it can be very draining. There are days when you find yourself thinking, “Do I have to get my breasts out again?”. Then it happens. Your baby gets bigger, they start solids, they demand milk less and then they turn one and you find yourself wondering where on earth the first year went (and how did I ever breastfeed for so long?).
Making the decision on exactly how to start my son on solids was – on my part – wrought with confusion and anxiety. It was only by accident one day, whilst doing an Internet search on baby food that I came across a personal blog in which the writer mentioned that she was following BLW with her second child. BLW? I was confused. What was BLW? A quick search turned up the phrase Baby Led Weaning. A couple of weeks later I was in the bookstore, saw a copy of the Baby-Led Weaning book by Gill Rapley and bought a copy on the spot.
Initially I was intrigued at the idea that a healthy baby didn’t actually need all of those super smooth baby food purees and mashes. How can they learn to eat if they only start out playing with their food and not being spoon-fed? It seemed to go against common wisdom.
Baby-Led Weaning piqued my interest, it made me read and read and read some more. It pushed me to find out more, ask more questions and delve a little bit deeper into the research.
These are the conclusions that I came to:
If you wait to until your baby is developmentally ready to start solids – typically around 6 months of age – then they are physically capable of handling more solid foods (as opposed to runny purees).
That generally babies will do what is easiest for them. If a baby is used to ‘drinking’ their food – via smooth purees – then they will find the transition to lumpier and more solid textures challenging and frustrating.
It is with experience that babies learn to eat. Babies need to be given the opportunity to experiment with food. They need to be allowed to get messy, play with their food, lick, poke and taste different foods. Given that eating is a learned behaviour babies need to be given plenty of opportunities to practice their developing mouth skills and Baby Led Weaning is a great way for babies to do this.
The Gag Reflex is there for a reason. Gagging is different from choking. The gag reflex is your baby’s way of clearing food from the back to the front of the mouth. As your baby gets better at eating they will tend to gag less.
Just be Positive. No Pressure.
The ability to relax with feeding, enjoy the process and never put any pressure on my son to eat are – hands down – the biggest lessons I have learnt in the first year of my son’s life.
My husband and I have tried never to fuss over food. We want our son to enjoy food and so we try to remain positive. We don’t fuss if he doesn’t eat something or if a meal ends up on the floor (no matter how frustrating!). We sit down as a family and enjoy our meal together. We talk about how good our food tastes and appreciate that our son has his own taste preferences and therefore his own food likes and dislikes.
We also follow Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding and have found this approach to work beautifully. We know that we can’t force our son to eat but we can provide him with a healthy eating environment and plenty of opportunities to try new foods.
As a delightful 1 year old, our son is a super eater. He is content to sit in his highchair to eat his meals. He happily picks and chooses what he will eat from what is on offer. He always eats his fruit before his vegetables and vegetables are always consumed before protein. He is a joy to take out to restaurants and friends and family derive equal amounts of joy watching him eat. He is our little food man.
What are some of the biggest lessons you learnt when feeding your little ones?