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“Having a bad day?”

As I wedged myself back into my booth at Pret, the lady next to me gave a sympathetic half-smile.

“Not one of the worst, surprisingly, and up until now it had been going reasonably well…”

The thing is, I have discovered, when you think you’re doing well is often the exact moment everything goes spectacularly to crap. Let me rewind…

This morning, weather being classic English early autumn (cold and damp) I shoved the kids in the car to go to the outlet centre. I do love the outlet; it’s essentially an indoor, pushchair friendly circuit lined with discounted brand-named stores and cafes. There’s a covered playground outside, a food court upstairs and family accessible toilets. Basically, perfect for low effort entertainment when you need to burn energy without actually being outside. Anyway, this morning being what it was and me needing to fill a good 12 hours of parenting time, we headed off.

The signs were all there, if I’m honest. Big wouldn’t stop talking at all the entire 25 minute journey. Little fell asleep, so I was feeling confident. The petrol station had works going on and I very nearly cocked up driving in. Then I lost focus (watching a man on a cherry picker) and the pump sped past the amount I wanted to put in, so I obviously had to get the the next round number. Because hitting exact numbers on the petrol pump is something everyone does, right?

There was a parent & child space available right outside the doors. That should have tipped me off that the universe was coming for me. Lulling me into a false sense of security, if you will. Little woke up. Any parent can tell you that <25 minutes nap is not the right amount of nap for a baby who’s been up for 4 hours already. The low level grumble began. I should have quit, I know this now, but I am stubborn and an idiot.

The first half lap was ok. We got feet measured. We found an apron and mini baking set for Big. She promptly put the apron on and refused to take it off for the rest of the day. We managed a trip to the toilets, no-one opened the door mid-pee. The grumble grew in intensity. Silly me had assumed he’d go to sleep as soon as we got going with the buggy. Silly, silly me.

We made it out of Paperchase with the things we needed and without inadvertently shoplifting anything (and that’s happened before, so it definitely counts as a win). The grumble erupted. Lunch time.

Up to the food court, into Pret (another place I love: they have food that makes me feel healthy, fruit for the fruit bat that is Big and tub chairs I can trap her in at the table). We made our selections, I put back the myriad items Big tried to smuggle in. Life-saving coffee ordered, warm milk for Big and a (free!) gingerbread man to be rationed out over the day. To the table. And relax. Winning.

Except that as soon as Little latches on to eat, Big boots the table and sends coffee and hot milk everywhere. The chap at the next table whispers something to his wife (probably along the lines of ‘Rookie. Never take two out for lunch on your own, you’re outnumbered…’) and then very kindly comes to the rescue with napkins.

Big eats half of half a sandwich (the sandwich she specifically requested, no less) and wants to get started on the fruit pot, which I manage to open, one handed, like a boss. She loudly declares she wants my pasta (note: I highly recommend the ham hock and sprout mac & cheese. Pricey, perhaps, but tasty and filling) and then very dramatically spits it out with an ‘I don’t like it!’ (which is currently interchangeable with ‘I don’t want it right now’). She definitely likes it. Mac & cheese is a top 5 dinner for her in any form.

I refocus my attention on Little, who has cheered up and is giggling at me (and thus spraying milk everywhere like the Trevi fountain). As I do this, the chap at the next table calls ‘watch out!’ just in time for me to look up and see a fruit pot go flying through the air… and scatter fruit across the floor.

Little back in the buggy (cue screaming), me picking up strewn fruit, queue of people looking at me pityingly. Big yelling that she wants fruit. Me, picking up howling baby, explaining she can’t have that fruit, it’s been on a cafe floor and though I’m generally a 5 second rule kinda person I do have my limits. I clamber back round the buggy into the booth and sit down, feeling the zip on my skirt undo itself. Time to make some ‘now we’re out of the first 3 months’ dietary changes, methinks.

I shove some more food into Little. Big consoles herself with her steamed milk and gets chocolate sprinkle foam all over her face. The queue goes down and I go get another fruit pot because I am a Nice Mum (mug). Baby under one arm, because he’s pretty fed up by this point (and apparently me telling him this is his own fault and if he’d just go to sleep he’d feel better isn’t something he’s interested in hearing), wallet under other arm, fruit pot in hand. I am Mumming with great success. We shall save this!

Except that if you’ve been paying attention you’ll remember that my zip has released itself from its sole responsibility.

I reach the counter. Gravity does its job. I somehow manage to save it (well, partly) with a sort of interpretive dance manoeuvre, but you’ve probably worked out I am several hands short by now.

“What can I get you?” asks the barista.

“Just this fruit pot, please, and can someone hold this baby, as my skirt is falling off.”

Just style it out. You are cool and sophisticated.

Fortunately, it turns out I am in line behind everyone’s favourite person when you need a hand with a baby – a Granny. She’s thrilled.

“What an unexpected pleasure!” she beams (Oh, good, glad my dignity could provide that for you), cooing over Little, who incidentally has now moved on his Prince Charming act and is beaming at everyone. Which is a good thing, because it means no-one is really looking at me, as gravity has finally won. Thank the gods for million denier tights. Good job it was only lunchtime in a busy food court or that could have been embarrassing.

Back to the table, baby still feeling good from his surprise Granny cuddle, Big eats her fruit pot. And by ‘eats’, I mean ‘hands over ever other piece of fruit with a loud I don’t like it’. So that was worth it.

I’m pretty sure it was showing on my face at this point, as this is when the lady at the next table asked if I was having a bad day.

We didn’t hang around long after that. Little suddenly realised he was shattered and lost his tiny mind. Big thought she’d join in as he sang me the song of his people, with a rousing (and in a different key) MMMMMMMMMM sound.

I drowned them out with Loud Music. Sometimes a shouty singalong is as good as a rest. Little finally went to sleep, where he remains, pinning me on the sofa as I discover that the mantelpiece – last bastion of Places Big Can’t Reach – has fallen and she can absolutely get the scissors now because she needs a haircut. So that’s something.

If you very closely, you can see the last of my sanity escaping.

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Store Cupboard Staples and Things You’ll Need

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One of the good things about baby led weaning is that you don’t need much specialist equipment. Here are some starting points for things you might want to get in stock:

Things

  • A good, sturdy, wipe-clean high chair. I’ve mentioned the Antilop from Ikea already, but there are a few other good options. The only one I’ve found that’s breakfast bar height, incidentally, is the Brother Max Scoop (which is insanely expensive and doesn’t seem to be available on their own site anymore, though you can check out Gumtree and the like for second-hand ones)
  • Cutlery and Crockey. To you own personal taste, this, but you’ll probably want a few bowls, a good number of spoons (it might take a go or two to work out what length and bowl size your little can manage – maybe do some swaps with other parents to narrow it down), some little plates (although straight from the tray is always an option!) and some little cups. Remember they want to be like you!
  • Bibs. Lots and lots of bibs. Bibs for the home, bibs for the baby bag. Waterproof, long sleeved, with pouch or without. Although, it can sometimes be fun to do dinner in just a nappy…
  • Floor covering. An old sheet, some tarp or an oilcloth all make good floor saving options. Don’t put anything slippy underneath – both for the sake of the highchair and yourself.
  • Storage containers. Preferably freezer, dishwasher and microwave safe and in a variety of sizes. Make sure you’ve got some that fit well in your baby bag.
  • Ice cube trays
  • Portable water. Some might like a water bottle and little cup to decant into, some might prefer a sippy cup.

Foods

  • Porridge oats
  • Pasta (in a variety of colours and shapes)
  • Noodles
  • Bread (preferably wholewheat brown, but avoid bread with ‘bits’ while they’re getting started)
  • Fresh fruit and veg – try long stemmed broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, apples, bananas, melon, mango, big tomatoes, cucumber, etc.
  • Meat. Assuming you’re not a vegetarian, obviously. Chicken breast, drumsticks and sausages are good – just check the sausages for salt content.
  • Eggs (check for allergies) – largely as an ingredient in pancakes, muffins etc., but also good hard boiled.
  • Herbs – fresh herbs are good for wafting at baby, but by no means essential — dried are just fine. Good ones to have include: basil, oregano, rosemary and mint.
  • Spices – don’t be freaked out by spices. You can cool down spiced dishes with yogurt but don’t shy away from flavour. Do take your time to check for allergies and other reactions though. Good spices include: paprika, cumin and cinnamon.
  • Frozen peas and sweetcorn – babies shouldn’t have anything this small in isolation until they’ve mastered a pincer grip (i.e. they can pick things up with a thumb and forefinger) but they’re great for blitzing into a pancake batter and for providing you with emergency vegetable content when you’re running low on time and energy.
  • Cheese pizzas – or pizza bases (homemade or shop bought). You can shove whatever’s kicking about on to make your own combinations and as baby gets bigger they’ll enjoy helping with this.
  • Frozen dinners – again, I’m thinking of you here. If you or a friend/partner/relative have the time to knock up a few things to shove in the freezer, take advantage. Also, no one is going to judge you for having the odd supermarket ready meal in there. You’ve gotta eat.

 

There will doubtless be things you discover that I’ve not thought of – please feel free to share them here!

Foods To Start With (and what to avoid)

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This is an in-exhaustive area. Pretty much anything goes here but there is some guidance to pay attention to. Perhaps unsurprisingly, baby diets are not dissimilar to pregnancy diets, so you’re probably more prepared than you might think. If you’re vegan or have other dietary preferences/requirements make sure you check how this will affect baby; you may need to ensure you’re providing essential vitamins, etc, elsewhere.

First up, things to avoid:

  • Nuts. At all in whole nut form. Nut butters can be ok but test for allergies first and be aware that some nut butters are very thick and sticky which can cause problems in tiny mouths.
  • Raw shellfish. Food poisoning is something to avoid. Also, shellfish allergies should be tested for.
  • High-mercury fish.
  • Honey. For the same reason as pregnant women should avoid it — honey can contain the bacteria responsible for botulism. Not a big deal for adults, no fun for babies. Steer clear until over 1.
  • Low-fat foods. Fat is important in our diets, not only nutritionally and as a good source of calories, but also as it helps the body detect that it’s had food and is full. This is good for the grown ups, too – a little full fat yogurt, for example, will leave you feeling fuller than a lot of the low-fat equivalent. Also worth noting that low-fat versions generally have a higher sugar content.
  • Cow’s milk. You may already know if your baby has a cow’s milk protein allergy or is lactose intolerant. Cow’s milk is safe to use in cooking and as an ingredient (so in cheese or porridge is fine) but don’t use it as a ‘proper’ drink until after 1.

 

Next, things to go careful with:

  • Eggs. A surprising amount of babies are intolerant of egg. This doesn’t always last and you can (on doctors instruction) add egg back in over a period but introduce them carefully in the first instance and make sure they’re properly cooked through.
  • Seafood. As above – test carefully for allergies and make sure it’s properly cooked.
  • Sugar. Multiple reasons for this: it’s unnecessary carbs, it’s terrible for teeth and it’s addictive meaning it leads to poor dietary choices later. Don’t add refined sugar to things like porridge, sweeten with fruit instead. I’m not saying don’t ever have anything sweet, but try lower sugar recipes for baking. If you can avoid over-sugaring when they’re small, they won’t feel the need for sugar when they’re big. Watch things like fruit juice (if you give it, dilute with water and follow up with something like cheese to counteract the acids).
  • Salt. You probably know that adults are recommended no more than 6g of salt in a day. For the under 1s, it’s 1g. That’s not a lot. Be aware of what you’re adding to food and create flavour with herbs and spices instead of extra salt and stock cubes.
  • Small foods. I’m thinking along the lines of nuts here: sweetcorn kernels, peas, cheerios… a good rule here is not to give it until baby has a really good pincer grip — that is; they can pick things up, confidently, between thumb and forefinger.
  • Grapes. Don’t give grapes whole under the age of 2. They can be cut in half (longways, top to bottom) when baby is a bit bigger but make sure you’re paying attention.

 

Finally, things that are good places to start:

  • Fresh fruit and veg. Nice and easy as most fruit and veg doesn’t require a lot of work. Some ideas:
    • Steam vegetables like carrots and broccoli ’til very soft in the early days, gradually firm it up as baby becomes more confident.
    • Cut peppers and cucumber into chunky sticks. Cucumber is especially good right out of the fridge for sore, teething gums.
    • Avocado is horrendously messy but has some good fats and baby will enjoy smearing it everywhere.
    • Core apple and slice into rounds (equator way, not pole to pole, if you get me),
    • Cut mango and melon into fingers.
    • Banana splits itself into handy, baby sized fingers if you stick your finger in the end and give it a wiggle.
  • Water. Babies don’t actually really need much to drink when weaning as they’re still getting the majority of thirst quenching goodness from their milk. However, it’s good for everyone to have a glass of water with a meal and there are some good cup options available for baby to practice with.
  • Porridge. Make with whole milk or breast milk. Bake it or microwave it until it’s pretty solid and cut into fingers, like squishy oatmeal bars. Stir in squished berries, cooked apple, or mashed banana with a little cinnamon. Incidentally, most baby porridges are just ground oats so save yourself some money and just use regular oats (which you can then also use in crumble toppings, oat bars, etc). If you’re feeling like you need it to be finer, blitz it in the blender for a few seconds but baby should be fine with it as is.
  • Pasta. The pasta tubes and twists go down pretty well and spaghetti is excellent (horribly messy) fun. Stir in some soft cheese (the garlic and herb ones are pretty good for a quick sauce) or a tomato sauce and be prepared to clean everyone and everything.
  • Rice. Try fruity rice pudding (watch the sugar) or a mild curry (stir in yoghurt to cool any lingering heat).
  • Toast fingers. Some people have said there can be digestive issues with too much wheat too early on. Do your research if this is something you’re worried about or if there’s family history of wheat intolerance. If you’re all ok with it, toast fingers with banana, cream cheese or avocado spread on are good for gumming on. Cut sandwiches into easy to hold fingers, too.
  • Fritters and pancakes. Banana or blueberry pancakes make a good breakfast if you’ve got the time. You can store batter in the fridge if you have time to make it earlier. Pea or sweetcorn fritters can be batch made and frozen, then heated from frozen in the microwave. Make them in the blender, then mix in a handful of whole peas or sweetcorn as baby gets bigger.

 

Getting Down To It (part 2)

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2 – Food Is Fun Before You’re One!

Babies still get most of their nutrition from milk (breast or formula) between 6 months and a year. This means some of the pressure is off  — you don’t need to get a whole plate of dinner down little one as soon as you start.  The whole point of the weaning process is that it’s a transition, so you don’t need to crack it all in one go. The more exploration a baby can do with different foods, the more familiar they become and the more likely you are to have success later, even during the toddler phases! Take it steady. It’s not a race and though some babies will take to food really quickly, others may not. (There can be many reasons for this and if you have a preemie, or any issues that present concerns, speak to your Health Visitor, doctor or trusted professional before you start.) Try not to write anything off too soon — remember they’ve never had anything with any real substance in their mouths before and it’s a weird thing to experience. It’s only natural that they’ll have to get used to the idea that not everything is liquid and milk or calpol flavoured. You’ll have to repeat a lot of foods before they become normalised to the range of flavours and textures opened up to them. Babies learn best through repetition, though, so while you might get bored of the same few things or frustrated that they don’t seem to like more ‘solid’ food, try not to get disheartened or decide they hate it.

Weaning is a great time to explore textures and colours with your baby. Things like porridge can be coloured with fruits and squished with fingers, steamed broccoli has a firm end and an end that will 100% go further than you could ever have imagined broccoli would spread. Food comes in warm and cold varieties (check temperatures on your lips for a few seconds), wet and dry, sticky and smooth. While you don’t have to be too concerned with getting it down them, take advantage of them getting it everywhere else as a learning experience. Let them investigate at their own pace. You’ll probably be amazed (or horrified) at the flavour combinations they’ll happily put in their mouths. Elizabeth once used a chicken flavour crisp as a spoon to eat yogurt. Grim. Let them play with the ingredients you’re using to make dinner and not only will it keep them occupied for a minute, but they’ll be more familiar with these ingredients from an early age.

3 – You Don’t Need Teeth To Eat

When I first started to learn about BLW I was baffled at how Elizabeth would ever manage the foods being suggested (she cut her first tooth somewhere around six months). However, as any breast-feeding mum will tell you, baby gums are harder than you might think. They also love having something to gnash on when their mouths are sore from teething and they have a lot of saliva for softening things up. While teeth are certainly an advantage in some areas (raw carrots, for example, might not get very far) you don’t actually need baby to have a full set of chompers to get started. Steamed veg is a great place to introduce a firmer texture and apple rings or cucumber sticks can be gummed with surprising success — and as a bonus something like a cucumber wedge straight out of the fridge can be super soothing on hot gums. Real chewing will be more effective as more teeth make an appearance but you may be surprised (as I was) to see just how much chewing action happens anyway. It’s all good practice! And on that note…

4 – They Can Do It – Let Them

Something else you might be surprised at is how willing your little is to try things for themselves. For Elizabeth’s first foray into food we placed some steamed broccoli and carrot on her tray and sat back to see what she’d do. She did what all babies are seemingly programmed to do – stuffed it in her mouth. There was a bit of back and forward, gumming, checking it out, spitting it everywhere, swapping it about and then eventually losing interest. It was all a bit anticlimactic, really. But the big thing for us was that she’d done it herself. I didn’t want to force her into and I didn’t want to take that control away from her. It’s easy with babies to do a lot of things for them — sometimes it’s easier, sometimes you’re on a timer, sometimes they’re being a complete menace — but if you can restrain yourself; do. In order for them to use a spoon (and eventually other cutlery) for example, they need to practice with a spoon. When they’re small, I recommend having two or three long(ish) handled spoons with shallow bowls so you can load one with say, porridge, and hand it over or put it on the tray. When they start working that one out, you can load another to swap. Elizabeth spent a lot of time dual-wielding spoons. It took a while for her to consistently get it in her mouth but by a year she was using them confidently, loading and eating from them all by herself. She was pretty chuffed with herself, too.

5 – The Food Processor and Freezer Are Your Friends

Somewhat counter-intuitive, this one. From all the talk of fresh, whole foods you might be wondering why I’m pro-processor. The thing is, having a baby in the house makes everything take approximately one hundred years longer than it ever did before and when everyone is permanently starving and exhausted this does not make for good nutrition. The good thing about the processor is you can use it for a bunch of things to make life easier. For example:

  • Shove a bunch of veg (peppers, mushrooms, onion, courgette) through the slicing function for stir fries and fajita fillings. Make up bags of a variety of pre-chopped veg to suit your purposes and keep them in the freezer for quick dinners.
  • Blitz up some carrots, onions and garlic or celery to form the base for soups and sauces – a super quick way to get a bolognese started! On which note…
  • Blitz up a variety of veg to the consistency of your preference to load bolognese sauce with the good stuff.
  • Home make soups with veg that’s past its best – just roast with your favourite herbs and spices and blitz with stock. Sweet potatoes and squash are good places to start here as they create a lovely silky texture without much help.
  • Use the blender to make pancake batter – flavour with peas and mint or sweetcorn to make fritters for little hands.
  • Whizz up fruit, freeze in ice-cube trays and add to porridge for an injection of flavour and a quick cool-down!
  • For the over-1s who can have cows milk (or your milk substitute of choice) whizz milk and a handful of hulled strawberries for a quick (and much lower sugar) pink milk.
  • Freeze bananas and throw them in the blender with a splash of milk or yogurt for a quick ‘ice cream’. This works with apple juice and frozen strawberries to make a sort of sorbet, too.

The list is pretty endless and if you Google or Pinterest the subject you’ll find a bunch of handy tips and tricks to make your life easier in this way.

6 – Don’t Tell Them They Won’t Like It

If a person you trust told you that you wouldn’t like something you’d believe them, right? Probably. Children’s taste buds develop over time. There are likely many things you remember hating as a child that you actually love now — blue cheese, mustard, beer, coffee, dark chocolate. If they want to try it (and it’s safe for them to try it) let them. If it’s not safe (i.e. it’s a choking hazard, it’s a jalapeño, it’s scalding hot, etc) explain it to them. “I’m sorry, you can’t try this because it’s too XXX for your little mouth. We’ll try it when you’re bigger.” If they do try something new and it’s not a great reaction, that’s ok. They don’t have to like it, they just want the experience. Try not to apply your own tastes to them, either. Just because Daddy doesn’t like peas and Mummy doesn’t like red meat doesn’t mean baby won’t.

The phrase to memorise here is “you don’t have to like it and you don’t have to eat it”. This might seem a bit mad, but it really helps. The thing is, everyone’s tastes are different and everyone feels differently about things on different days — children are no exception. Some days you want soup, some days you want steak, some days you don’t really want much of anything and some days only the all you can eat buffet will do. Sometimes you just don’t fancy cabbage and you know if you’re being honest with yourself that you don’t like everything you try. You’ll have much more relaxed mealtimes if you can let go of the fact they didn’t eat everything and even more so if you don’t make tasting everything into a fight. The best option here is just to eat your own food yourself and not make a huge fuss. Saying things like “I like parsnips, they’re a bit like carrots and a bit like potatoes’ can help because, as you’ll probably know from being presented with strange things, not knowing what something will be like can be a bit scary. Try not to bargain with other foods, too; “you can’t have any cake if you don’t eat all your carrots” is only going to make them resent carrots and put cake in a ‘reward’ category. Not that there’s anything wrong with food rewards (fun day at the beach, everyone gets ice cream!) but be careful of assigning values to food where they don’t belong. The relationships people have with foods they’ve labelled as ‘naughty’ or seen as ‘punishment foods’ (being forced to choke down broccoli you hate so you can have jelly) can last a long time and be quite damaging.

FOR THE LOVE OF WHICHEVER DEITY DO NOT CALL THEM FAT. Just don’t. Don’t get into the habit of it when they’re small because it’ll be hard to shift when they’re older. Don’t call you fat and don’t make life and food about body image. Food is about nutrition, it’s not about what anyone thinks of you or any of that garbage. Positive body image starts right here. Focus on being healthy. If there are genuine medical concerns about weight (either over or under), speak to your doctor.

 

Really Useful Sources: The British Nutrition FoundationThe NHSStart 4 Life

 

Getting Down To It

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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)

Baby Led Weaning

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There are very few firsts in life and by-and-large they’re done and dusted early on. Not so with food. Think of the last time you tried eating something new – it probably wasn’t all that long ago. The process of discovering food isn’t something that ever really ends – we are always trying new flavours, new ingredients, new ways of putting things together. For me, weaning is simply the start of this journey; a way to introduce the idea of food that reflects how we continue that relationship for the rest of our lives. Food is a huge part of life. It’s something we go to multiple times a day – hungry, tired, sad, celebrating… the list of reasons we eat is long. So, for me, discovering baby-led weaning was one of the best things in my parenting journey. I’ll be honest; until I was about to wean my first baby I had never heard of it and thought weaning would involve a lot of pureeing and spoon feeding. It turns out this doesn’t have to be the case. The more I found out about baby-led weaning, the more I liked the idea. Friends recommended it. I gave it a try. I loved it.

Why Baby-Led Weaning?

I love food. I mean, not always, but generally. I have days where I don’t want to cook, don’t want to eat, only want to eat take out and ice cream… but I (generally) see food as a positive thing in my life and I really want my children to have a happy, healthy relationship with the food they’ll be discovering and eating for the rest of their lives. Baby-led weaning (or BLW) is one approach to weaning a baby from milk (breast or formula) to real, actual, solid food. It basically is what it says – a way to let the baby take the lead in the process.

In essence, BLW means you give food to your baby and they eat it. Or mash it up. Or throw it on the floor. The idea is to let your baby explore food in their own time and in their own way, learning about flavours, textures, chewing and swallowing. They learn to differentiate broccoli from beans and decide whether they like either, both or neither. They learn to identify when they’ve had enough to eat. They figure out that apple requires more effort than jelly. Experimentation is key.

As far as I can tell, the main aims of weaning are two-fold: firstly, the little ones aren’t going to be little ones forever and at some point will need to eat ‘proper’ food, so they need to learn. Secondly, in defiance of the classic poem, we’re trying to avoid f*&$ing them up as much as we can; let’s not exclude food from that. A person’s relationship with food can affect their entire life, so we want to give our children the best possible start to that relationship. Now, I’m not saying ‘perfect weaning’ will prevent eating disorders, weird reactions to soft fruit, pickiness or what have you (and, frankly, anyone who tells you there’s a ‘perfect’ way to do pretty much anything when it comes to babies is talking nonsense). What I am saying is that it seems to me if we can set them up right they have a fighting chance.  It’s messy, it’s work and it’s not always going to be easy, but we love these tiny people and they deserve our best effort, right?

It’s by no means the only approach, I couldn’t say that for everyone it’s the best approach, nor make any other ‘be all and end all’ declarative. The truth is there’s more than one way to wean a baby and what works for one may not work for another for a variety of reasons. The parenting motto in our family is ‘Do What Works’ and introducing solids is no exception. If, for whatever reason, you can’t get with BLW: don’t do it. Or do it in part. Or have a BLW day and a puree day and a dear-god-in-heaven-what-am-I-doing day. Whatever works. Survival is the goal! (Incidentally another motto: get everyone through the day, sometimes anything more than that is a bonus).

But what actually is BLW?

When I first started weaning Elizabeth, I really, really wanted someone to properly define BLW for me. I mean, surely it didn’t just mean ‘give them a plate of sandwiches and let them get on with it’? Surely a baby can’t just… eat? Turns out they kinda can. And really, when you think about it, of course they can. We don’t have a regurgitation system like birds. We don’t have wild-growing blenders whipping everything into nutrient paste for us. Babies have been weaning since there were babies to wean. The idea here is to help them do what they’re biologically driven to do: put food in their mouths. It’s also fun. Like, really fun. Watching your child discover and enjoy food is pretty incredible, seeing all these firsts anew through their eyes is fascinating and helping them do it is so rewarding. Baby-led weaning has been a real high point for me through the early years of my daughter’s life and I’m really looking forward to trying it again with my son.

Food is easy to control. The trouble with spoon feeding is that the control ends up with the wrong person — you. There’s a temptation to shovel the food in fast to get it done, at your own pace. It can be tedious, feeding a baby, so you might drop into a rhythm and baby has to fit in. You probably don’t eat your dinner like that. When you do things in a baby-led way, you give the control to your baby and they decide what goes in, when and in what order. Now, this may be frustrating as heck for you, but while they’re doing this they’re learning to pace themselves and respond to their own hunger and satiety cues. They learn specifically what they like and what they don’t like. They’ll socialise with you at the table — eat a bit, chat a bit, take a drink, chat a bit — and they get to be like you which, as you’ll increasingly see from them as they grow, is pretty much all they want (more fool them!). They’ll learn that meal times are important, that it’s important to pay attention to what you’re putting in your body and that spending quality time together for a meal is a good thing. (Seriously, if you can train your family into family meal times early, you can use family meal times later to check in with everyone. It’s a really good time to make sure your older kids are doing ok and creates a safe, regular spot for conversation.) The other bonus here is that if you’re taking this approach you only have to cook one meal, one time. Just crib a bit off plates here and there to make up a plate for baby. Easy.

A Word About Purees

Now, I’m pretty sure people will be saying ‘but I was fed purees and I’m fine!’ ‘there are some really good organic purees on the market!’ and other such things. This is fine and true. I’m not going to say purees are the devil. I’m not going to say you’re a bad parent if you use purees. Heck, I’m not even saying don’t use them — after all there’s a fine line between something like soup or mashed potato and puree, isn’t there? What I am saying is that purees aren’t the last word in baby weaning. You don’t have to puree. You can, of course, if you want to (though if you do, you should taste it yourself, first — I have a rule that if i wouldn’t eat it I’m not going to make them eat it and frankly, nutritionally valid as some purees are, if you squeezed some of them into a bowl and tried to eat it with a spoon I don’t think you’d get very far.)

Purees can be excellent ways to get extra food into a child that won’t (or struggles to) eat. If you need the calorie content, a pouch of fruit and veg can be a life-saver. Do try and let them manage it themselves though, if you can. The benefits there still apply. And, if you really want to incorporate purees into your weaning program, try and make them yourself. That way you can adjust the texture and contents as you go along and you can make batches to store in the freezer for convenience.

 

You’ll never regret time with your children.

Seriously, you’re not gonna get to 90 and wish you’d not spent that time with them at the dinner table. They’re going to drive you mad in a million ways as they grow up – they’ll make a pile of mushrooms on the table despite telling you they only wanted mushrooms, they’ll feed half their dinner to the dog and then scream that they don’t want the dog to have eaten it, they’ll have a complete meltdown because they don’t want the food to be that colour (and yes, these things have all happened to me). In the end, though, you want to love them, to raise them as well as you possibly can and to take all that crap now so that when they’re grown they can face the world with confidence. It’ll be worth it.

Fandoms

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So, an idea for a something came to me, but I wanted to gather some research first.
Fandoms. They seem a little nuts from the outside (and frankly, from the inside too). For those unaware few – a fandom is (according to Wikipedia) “a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of sympathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. Fans typically are interested in even minor details of the object(s) of their fandom and spend a significant portion of their time and energy involved with their interest, often as a part of a social network with particular practices (a fandom); this is what differentiates “fannish” (fandom-affiliated) fans from those with only a casual interest.”

 

Some of the biggies are Whovians (Dr Who), Sherlockians (Sherlock), Directioners (1Direction), Beliebers (Justin Bieber), Browncoats (Firefly), Potterheads (Harry Potter) and Trekkies (Star Trek). You’ve probably heard of most of them, even if you didn’t realize they had their own special name. They have message boards, forums, fan clubs, appreciation sites. Social media is connecting people like never before, with the heartwarming message that it’s ok to love what you love, even if the rest of the world thinks you’re several sandwiches short of a picnic.

 

It’s not what you love, it’s how you love it.  Don’t take that as an excuse for anything illegal, people.

A unifying factor of the fandoms is the level of obsession. It’s a whole other world of in-jokes, fan fiction (some of which is very, uh, enlightening…), cartoons, memes, shipping (the act of supporting a relationship between characters or people, real or imagined – for example, you might ship Harry & Hermione, or the Dr & Rose, or Zayn & Perry). The point is, it’s an all-consuming thing.

 

http://www.redbubble.com/people/sevenhundred/works/8644769-vote-geek-in-2012?p=sticker

You can rely on a fandom for creative imagery…

 

Anyway, getting a little off topic… Ummmm…. Oh, yeah:

 

What I want to know is: How has your fandom (whether you’re active in one or just pretty fanatical about something); your obsession, the place where you go when you’re feeling introverted or when you just need people who understand you, that safe familiar, comforting ‘I’m just going to sit here and draw all the Doctors as if they were CareBears’ or ‘I suddenly feel compelled to reread Chamber of Secrets because I think we all learned something from that’ or ‘I think I’ll just marathon Firefly because wasn’t the world a better place when Nathan Fillion was my Captain…’ – that thing you love – how has it helped you in your life?  Particularly if you sometimes feel a little introverted, a little isolated, a little misunderstood…

 

http://dragonageconfessions.tumblr.com/image/58515727854

It’s comforting to relate

 

Answers on a postcard below, please. Depending what I get back, I’ll clue you in on the idea.

(Apologies for the poor writing – this came to me in a flash between ordering takeout and Hard Knocks and I wanted to get it down before I forgot/chickened out)