It felt great to get back on the writing bandwagon last week after a fairly lengthy and unplanned absence. It’s amazing how the words start tumbling out once I get going! However, there is something I had started to include in my last post but I ended up taking it out as it didn’t feel like it fit in. As I was reading it back, I realised that it has been such a huge part of the last 4 months and therefore, deserved it’s very own post.
Oh the “joys” of weaning.
Before I begin recounting my weaning journey, I feel as though I need to set the scene. There is a lot of guidance from children’s centres and health organisations on the latest weaning recommendations which is as useful as it is confusing. For starters, I was informed it’s not called ‘weaning’ anymore, it’s called ‘Introduction to solids’. Yet you introduce your baby to solids using a method called ‘Baby-Led Weaning’. Make your minds up! In a nutshell, no form of food other than milk should pass a baby’s lips until they are at least 6 months old. From that day onwards, they can eat whatever they can get their hands on (except anything containing sugar, salt and honey of course.) We are to provide them with foods that they can pick up themselves and mush up in their gummy jaws. No more spoon feeding, no more purees, no more baby rice. They are encouraged to explore with foods, eventually putting it in their mouths and they can try biting, chewing and swallowing when they’re ready, hence the name, ‘Baby-led weaning’. The benefits are said to improve children’s eating habits, reduces fussy eating, prevents speech problems later in life and empowers babies to eat at their own pace therefore eliminating over or under eating. All makes perfect sense.
In practice, I found the first few months of Annabelle moving on to solid food so unbelievably stressful. I wasn’t expecting to feel so anxious and worried about the whole process but I absolutely hated weaning. I was completely torn between what “experts” recommended and doing what I felt comfortable with.
At the very beginning I was happily giving Annabelle finger foods, soft stems of broccoli, roasted carrot sticks, sweet potato fingers etc. And Annabelle got stuck in, happily giving everything a try. But she spent a lot of time gagging and I was petrified that she was going to choke. I ended up dreading any time I had to give her food, especially if I was on my own. I couldn’t take my eyes off her while she was eating (still can’t to be honest!) I was watching videos on how to stop a baby from choking almost daily so I was well-equipped when the time inevitably came. I ended up getting further and further away from baby-led weaning and began just spoon feeding her everything or giving her baby rice cakes or wafers as I knew these melted in her mouth. This wasn’t helped by a few nasty bouts of sickness where she went off solids for a few days and I had to reintroduce the concept of food all over again. Double weaning!
It got to the stage where I was too nervous to try her on anything other than purees, which I really didn’t want to do. I thought the idea and theory of baby led weaning was great, I just didn’t find the practice so easy. So I went along to a baby lunch club run by the local children’s centre; I’d heard good things from friends so decided that if I needed to help Annabelle move on from purees, and give myself confidence with her learning to eat, this was the place to go. It was fab. The lady totally understood my worries, there was another mum there who was in the same boat and she stayed with me as Annabelle tackled a huge piece of soft pear. She talked me through what Annabelle was doing as she moved it around her mouth, and it was amazing. I realised that by giving her something she could hold and bite, that she was learning how to eat. She was working out whether she could manage to swallow a piece that big, and if she couldn’t, she spat it out. She did gag, a few times actually, but each time she did, she worked it around her mouth more, and broke it down to a size that she could swallow.
I found it completely changed my perspective, and I realised that I’d been so paranoid about her possibly gagging that I’d prevented her from learning to eat herself. I left the baby lunch club, went straight to the Co-op and bought some pears, parsnips and sweet potatoes so that I could carry on the finger food roll that I was on. Once I’d done it a few times at home, I’d totally got my confidence back. Adam noticed how much I’d changed when giving Annabelle food, and it felt as though it was finally becoming part of our normal daily routine.
The other part of weaning I’d struggled with was preparing everything while still at home on my own. Adam gets home from work around 6.15pm and I was trying to prepare our dinner so that Annabelle could have some and we could all eat together, as the guidance recommends. But it was too late for her to eat, and some days she was so clingy it was impossible for me to get any cooking done until after Adam was home anyway.
So we came up with a solution that is working really well for us so far. As I cook our dinner every night, I save a portion of whatever it may be for Annabelle to have for her dinner the following day. This means that she still eats the same food as us, albeit a day late, there’s hardly any prep to get her dinner ready as it just needs reheating and it’s ready to eat at a more reasonable time. We’ve been doing it this way for quite a while now and it really suits us. It also means I’m not cooking separate things or cooking twice in one night.
Annabelle has become a really good eater (so far!) She’ll happily eat anything that we eat. With spicy dinners such as fajitas, chilli or curry, we sometimes add some soured cream or something similar to take away the spicy hit, and she’ll polish it off really well. She enjoys cottage pie, roast dinner, fish, pasta bolognese (her favourite), any fruit and vegetables, particularly strawberries and carrots! She has plenty of different things for breakfast and lunch too, and if she doesn’t fancy It, she just throws it off the side of the high chair and moves on to something else!
At 10 months old, I feel like Annabelle is able to eat most things we put in front of her. She sometimes struggles with meat still, so I just shred any chicken and it makes it easier for her to chew and swallow. She still gags on occasion too, but I know that it is all part of the process of learning to eat.
So, to summarise, here are my top tips for weaning:
Do your homework. Read up on the current guidance, talk to other mums who have got experience with weaning lately and decide with your partner how you plan on introducing solids once you’re armed with all the right information.
Do what you’re comfortable with. It’s all well and good doing exactly what the experts say, but if your uncomfortable with it, then your baby will pick up on your anxiety and meal times will become nothing but stressful for all involved!
Give your baby a chance. While it’s important to do what your comfortable with, you also need to give your baby the chance to give things a go. Annabelle surprises me every day with what she is learning to do, and learning to eat is one of them. She was never going to get any better at eating if I insisted on spoon feeding her until she was 16.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Our local children’s centres are a great resource and are there to help mum’s and babies with every new step we face together. It took me a while to get there and seek help, but when I did, I was so grateful for their support.
Try not to get your hopes up. When speaking to a few friends, many were so excited about the prospect of their babies starting to eat ‘proper’ food. And I think for most of us, it’s been a really difficult and unexpectedly bumpy journey. Just feeding them milk seemed like such a simpler time! Who knows, perhaps there are babies out there who are eating 3 course meals perfectly with a knife and fork from 7 months. But the reality is, it’s a long slog and there will be more food in the carpet, on the curtains and in your hair than in your babies mouth. Speaking of which…
Embrace the mess. It’s going to happen. You can’t avoid the mess. Even spoon feeding produces an extreme amount of mess. Just arm yourself with a good couple of bibs, a wipe-clean mat for the floor and enough wipes to sink a battleship.
Do what works for you and your baby. At the end of the day, all babies (and mums) are different so what works for some might not work for others. Try not to compare your situation to another’s as you could end up putting unnecessary pressure or expectations on yourself. As long as they’re getting a good mix of food, water and milk, you can’t go far wrong.
I hope this post hasn’t been too negative, I feel as though it’s been a tough few months but think it’s important to talk about the reality of weaning, the highs and the lows. Some people do find it really difficult and others seem to breeze through it. Who knew learning to eat could be such an ordeal!
The many faces of weaning…