Are you still here? Excellent. I’m about to share with you some thoughts, tips and ideas I’ve come up with over the past 3 years of feeding my little one. A note: this is all based on my personal experience with my children and bits and pieces I’ve put together and discovered along the way. There are no guarantees with babies and just because something worked for me, doesn’t mean it’ll work for you (and vice versa). I just hope that you find something to help or inspire you!
[DISCLAIMER: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a medical professional or dietary specialist. If you have concerns or questions about your child’s health and well-being, you should definitely speak to a doctor, health visitor or other trusted professional. Please be mindful about things like allergies and nutritional requirements and read around.]
Right. My BLW ru… you know what? They’re more like guidelines. Super flexible guidelines.
1 – Don’t Panic!
This is probably the most important thing you can do. Or not do. Whichever makes sense. It’s also arguably the most difficult. Babies react to your emotions so if you freak out, they will freak out. Imagine you’re out for dinner and every time you put a piece of food to your face, the rest of the table starts gasping, holding their breath, making worried faces… It’s not going to be long before you just put down the fork and give up, because clearly they know something you don’t about this food and better safe than sorry, right? Unfortunately, it’s not easy to just sit on your emotional reaction to something, especially if you’re already sleep deprived, exhausted, or simply having a bad day. However, there are some things you can do to help:
- Don’t start until everyone is ready. And by ‘everyone’ I mean you and them. I knew Elizabeth was ready to start weaning when she attempted to steal a Yorkshire pudding from my dinner plate. When baby is paying attention to food, seems interested in it and is even trying to get hold of some, that’s a good sign they’re ready to get going. They also need to be able to sit up by themselves (or with a little padding in a high chair if they keep sliding around – those things are tricky for young babies!) and able to put things to their mouths. You (and any other adults helping with this) need to be feeling confident and positive about the process. If you’re freaking out about it, that’s no good for anyone so take your time and be ready. A good option if you’re feeling unsure is to have a picnic party with some friends (with or without babies) and be around people when you’re giving baby food. Similarly, if the thought of people watching you attempt this makes your blood run cold, make sure you’ve got protected time so you don’t feel stressed. If you can eat together as a family; do. We were lucky enough to be able to organise our days to at least eat dinner together, but if you can’t do that it’s nice if anyone who can be there for mealtimes can sit at the table and eat something together. It’s a good learning experience for baby, too, to watch people eating.
- Take a first aid course. This is probably the thing that you’re most terrified of and that will be the root cause of a lot of your trauma around weaning. Choking can and does happen. Elizabeth choked three times during her weaning process and the first time was simply horrible. First aiders will teach you to recognise the signs and how to act. When she choked the first time, Elizabeth suddenly went very quiet and very red and clearly began to panic. I followed the instructions I’d been given, flipped her up and gave her a firm, open palmed slap on the back. The blockage came out, she yelled for a minute, I cuddled the heck out of her and then she merrily carried on with dinner and I sat in a chair, shaking, for a while. My eyes barely left her for the first few months of her weaning journey, but knowing you know what to do is a huge relief. Ask your Health Visitor or local Children’s Centre for details on where to find a first aid course — most Children’s Centres will have one on offer at some point. You need one that specifically includes dealing with choking in infants and children and what to do in case of allergic reactions, and anyway it’s never a bad plan to have a basic introduction (or refresher – these things change all the time) on family first aid.
- Learn to spot gagging vs. choking. Linked to the above, getting ok with a bit of gagging will help you to help your baby. While there’s always that moment of heart stopping panic that something’s wrong, it helps to remember that babies’ gag reflexes are further forward in their mouths than in adults so much more food will come out, and sometimes quite dramatically. Often, gagging and spitting out are much noisier than choking and form a crucial part of learning to chew, swallow and get ok with textures. That said – trust your instincts and NEVER leave a weaning baby or small child alone with food. Keep an eye (or both) on them at all times.
- Find out about allergies. If there are allergies in your family (or if you’re allergic to something yourself) you’re probably way ahead here. There are several foods that are known to be common allergens (including nuts, eggs and seafood) — there’s good information in this NHS guide so familiarise yourself. Allergies often manifest strongest on the second exposure so when you’re introducing these foods make sure you’re somewhere you can get help if you need it. If you’re worried about introducing something, say peanut butter, have someone with you when you do. A paramedic once told me that if you call 999 with a child in anaphylaxis you’ll hear the tyres squealing on the ambulance. So that’s good to know.
- Don’t mind the mess. And boy, oh boy, will there be mess. Lots and lots of mess. In their defence, the babies don’t know you just hoovered and they don’t have great hand/eye co-ordination. They’re not doing it on purpose, they’re just learning. Not that this helps when there’s bolognese all up your wall. Stock up on wipes (or whatever cleaning products you use for little ones and for the house). A good highchair will help you no end here — top BLW recommendations usually point to the Antilop from Ikea. It’s not pretty, but it’s entirely wipe clean and has a large tray. You can get padded covers for the seat but, frankly, the more materials and nooks you add; the harder the clean up. I also recommend getting some sort of wipe-clean floor covering — a table cloth, oil cloth, mat — anything that saves the floor is a good investment. On a related note, be prepared to clean up after yourselves if you’re out and about. Don’t be that family leaving a pile of food on the floor under a sticky table. Oh, and get big bibs. Lots and lots of big bibs.
- There’s no ‘right way’/Ignore the Kristas. “Who are the Krista’s?” I hear you cry! No disrespect to anyone named Krista, it was just the most appropriate name I could think of for the beautiful, talented, creative and capable (and usually American) mums you’ll see all over the interwebs. They often have perfect hair, gorgeous children, a side business in photography, hand-made outfits, themed parties and a seemingly endless supply of energy and whole-food ingredients. Do not be put off. Some people have the time and support to manage like that. Some people actually are Wonder Woman. Some of them *must* be faking. The thing is, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be thinking at least once a day that you’ve let the side down by not having freshly baked banana muffins on the breakfast table every morning. You don’t have to match up to these standards, no matter what you think. Don’t forget that your little doesn’t know Krista, they know you and they love what you do for them. Make it fun if you can, make it survival if you must. Some days are bento boxes with moulded eggs, some days are crying in the kitchen with a jam sandwich. You can’t win them all. Anyway, I’m sure there are plenty of things you can do that Krista can’t, so there’s that.
- Other Parents. With the potential to be the most judgemental force on earth, other parents are also a pretty essential part of life with little ones. You may often need them, but you certainly don’t need their nonsense — and rest assured there will be nonsense. You will probably encounter one who tells you wheat is poison. One who tells you to just get on with it. One who is a real life Krista and brings home made sausage rolls to the picnic you only just managed to get to in clean clothes with brushed hair. Or one with a ‘perfect’ child who’s never been a problem a day in their tiny lives. Now, while it’s important to allow these parents (grandparents, your own parents…) room to live their best life, you don’t have to fit in with it. Wheat may be considered poison in one household, but if you love a cheese toastie you do you. Discussion is healthy, sharing ideas is great — after all it takes a village — but anyone who makes you feel bad about your parenting is not someone you need to take to heart.
Next: Getting Down To It (Part 2)