So you’ve cracked feeding your baby! You’re either a pro breastfeeder, whipping your boobs out in the supermarket/library/park, all while overtaking those childless friends on Candy Crush who don’t have a clue what multitasking really means; or you can wash and sterilise bottles faster than most people can prepare instant coffee and manage to hold onto your child and the bottle with minimal spillage.
You rock, mamas!
But then six months rolls around, and suddenly everything you think you know vanishes faster than your sex life. It’s a minefield of purees and finger foods, potential allergies and weaning poo. Spoon feeding or baby led weaning? When to give water? How to give water? Are shellfish and nuts okay under 1 year? Is it really supposed to be so messy? Is my child eating enough? When will he drop milk feeds? Are his nappies meant to look like that? I’ve asked myself all these questions and four months on I’m still not sure of the answers.
As with most of our parenting choices, we wanted weaning to be baby led. There are deeply considered reasons for this that involve giving Little T freedom to make his own choices, but truthfully a big part was rooted in our desire to sit back and do naff all. No blending, no aeroplane spoons, no need to specially prepare anything. Bliss! But as is often the case, things that sound too good to be true usually are, though that’s not to say baby led weaning hasn’t been a success, it certainly has – Little T has tried a wealth of foods and has only ever eaten from a spoon that he’s held himself. The problem, for me at least, is that I have absolutely no control. I realise that’s the point, and it’s great that he’s making choices for himself, but man, I had no idea how uptight I really was until we started weaning! It’s amazing what children teach you.
The very first thing Little T ‘ate’ was an asparagus spear he stole from Big T’s plate at around 5 months. He picked it up and placed it delicately in his mouth like it was the most natural thing in the world. Which it is. He gummed it thoughtfully for a while, then dropped it on the floor before wriggling his way to freedom and stopping dinner time in its tracks. And so went every evening meal time for the following four weeks. He’d sit with us in his highchair or on a lap and play with our food. Sometimes he’d put it in his mouth, sometimes not, but he never swallowed anything. Not a problem, I thought, he’s only five months old. At six months we started taking his involvement in meal times more seriously, preparing his own little bowl of food, filling a cup with water and bracing ourselves for the mess by covering all visible household items with towels.
Two months on, nothing had changed. He was tasting everything we put in front of him – from curry to pineapple to steak to hummus – but rarely swallowing. I suspected that when he did swallow it was more by accident than intent. He was drinking at least 1 litre of ready-made formula a day and showing no signs of being ready to stop, and all the while I was hearing of other children Little T’s age eating three meals a day and only taking milk at night.
Water became a headache in and of itself. We tried two different sippy cups with valves but he just chewed on the spouts. We tried a doidy cup, feeding him with it ourselves (he only wanted to swish his fingers around in it) or letting him pick it up and tip it over in the hope that through trial and error he’d eventually ‘get it’ (lo and behold, the first time we gave it to him he held it on both sides, brought it to his mouth, and took a calm and deliberate gulp – and never since). Recently we’ve tried a freeflow sippy cup and had more success, both holding it for him and letting him do it on his own, but we’re lucky if he has so much as 5ml on the average day. More stress, more guilt, more ‘OMG I’m a terrible mother!’ brain attacks.
When Little T was eight months old I admit I lost my way. He stopped being interested in food even as a toy or curiosity – with the exception of blueberries. All he’d eat was blueberries, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and aside from them sullying my beloved cloth nappies, I felt more and more that I’d missed something or got something wrong. I’d never hated fruit with such passion. It was then that I caved in to my need to see him eat something, anything that wasn’t a sodding blueberry, so I grabbed a spoon and tried to feed him. It was the first time I’d ever pushed him into anything and it felt terrible, which isn’t to say that spoon feeding is awful – it’s not – but for Little T who’d always been in total control it felt like I was betraying him. I’m lucky really that he didn’t shout at me or cry. He simply closed his mouth and looked at me quizzically, as if to say, “What are you doing Mummy? That’s not how it works.” And that was that, bless his heart. He was calm and determined enough that my blip didn’t even have the chance to reach full blipness.
He’s 10 months old now (where the hell has that gone?!) and over the last few weeks he’s shown more and more interest in food. He eats at every meal. He’s still a fruit fiend, but depending on his mood, he’ll have at least a few bites of whatever’s in front of him. He’s even taking less milk throughout the day. All the worry and craziness I felt is melting away, because yet again my son has shown me how well he knows his own needs. Even when I misguidedly tried to derail his progress he kept on going, and now he’s eating more than ever, and loving it.
It probably sounds as though I haven’t enjoyed the process of weaning, and it’s true I’ve found it frustrating and even distressing at times (he almost choked on a chunk of pear in September – I haven’t had the courage to give it to him since). But there are incredible moments that make it all worthwhile – the way he scrunches his nose up when he tastes something new or unexpected; how he laughs with a bulging mouthful of cheese; the huge amount of mess he makes and how it really doesn’t matter; washing blackberry juice out of his ears in the bath in the middle of the day; how he joyfully mixes banana with tomatoes and explores the new taste; the way he smiles at us over a meal; the possibly misplaced glee I feel over a nappy that shows evidence of what he’s eaten (there is no moment comparable to that of finding a ‘grown up’ poo in your child’s nappy, trust me). He’s gone from a small, unsteady newborn who could barely grip a finger to a little boy who can pick up food and nourish himself with hardly any outside input and it’s totally amazing.
Meal times are precious to us. We’re a vision of a functional family in those moments, talking and giggling, and taking turns to help Little T wrestle with a particularly slippery piece of whatever. It’s not about eating for me anymore, it’s about togetherness, laughter and joy, and I have my son to thank for every second of it.