Figuring out food — Part 1: Our journey into the controversial world of baby feeding

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Introducing solids, aka weaning. Who knew it was such a divisive and controversial topic?! I for sure didn’t before having Caleb.

I only had what my family had done as an example and it turns out that it is not quite as straightforwardly as I thought.

As with pretty much all aspects of parenting, there are at least two completely different ways of approaching it, and they are pretty much completely conflicting. So one school of thought will say to do X, while the other will tell you all the scientific and anecdotal evidence that proves X completely wrong, and that Y is the way to go. And X does the same in return.

Thankfully there is some middle ground, and this will be something slightly different for every parent and baby. I’ve decided to go with X, with a touch of Y when necessary. This post is my journey in getting there.

The starting point

My initial concept of the “right” way to feed a baby was pretty straightforward before becoming a mom.

The plan was exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months, then homemade baby food (in my mind this meant purees), followed by “proper” food at some point closer to one years old.

I knew this wasn’t the only way, obviously. I knew that formula has its place and that there’s plenty of store bought baby food options. But those would mean giving my baby unknown concoction which might not be as healthy.

I had my plan and I didn’t really think too much about it.

Breastfeeding bumps

And then out came a 4.4kg / 10 pound bundle of chub. The most perfect not-so-little baby in the whole world.

Breastfeeding was a little touch and go for the first while as we dealt with an issue with Caleb’s latch, struggles with reflux and regular ear infections.

But I was determined to persevere. It wasn’t easy at times. I had to pump and bottle feed for periods. But it was absolutely worth it and it did get easier eventually.

We both love breastfeeding now and I am so grateful that I can still nourish Caleb from my own body.

Say what?

The first spanner in the works of my thoughts about introducing solids came at our six week checkup with our paed (who is absolutely wonderful and had been an incredible support).

He made a passing comment that, because Caleb was such a big boy, he might be ready for solids sooner than 6 months. That took me by surprise!

I thought it was an absolute no-no to give anything but milk before 6 months.

I brought it up once or twice with family and friends, where I got mixed reactions from confusion to agreement. I kind of just let it go and didn’t think about it again for a while.

And freak out

When Caleb was about three months old my antenatal class WhatsApp group started discussing if anyone was preparing for or starting solids yet. I freaked out!

Just to clarify, Caleb was one of the youngest from the class, so some of the babies were around or over the four months mark at this stage.

But we were still in the trenches, dealing with reflux and ear infections, prepping for grommets surgery, while dealing with upset stomachs from multiple rounds of antibiotics and a dairy protein food allergy (which went through to Caleb via my milk).

The thought of soon having to add “real” food into the mix absolutely freaked me out and induced some serious anxiety.

Regardless of Caleb, I was just not ready. It was simply too much.

I did not have it in me to prepare all these baby foods, buy the right good-quality organic ingredients and an appropriate blender, follow different recipes, ensure nutritional balance, freeze everything in mini containers ready to be defrosted and eaten.

Nope. I wasn’t ready. I was only barely coping.

What a relief

And then I heard something at a mom’s group that I went to, I think it was at La Leche League, “Food before one is mainly just for fun”.

And I could suddenly breath again. I wasn’t going to mess Caleb up if I didn’t get solid feeding right immediately. I was breastfeeding him. He would be ok.

So I relaxed and I realised that we were dealing with enough right now.

I watched, observed and listened to other mom friends as they explored the journey of solids.

But I still didn’t feel empowered or confident when I thought about feeding Caleb anything but milk.

Finding the right fit

Four months and then five months came and went. I started doing some more of my own research and engaging more intentionally with other moms on the topic.

I found a variety of schools of thought and ended up just going with the one that felt like the best fit for both me and Caleb. And that was Baby Led Weaning.

I got my hands on the Baby Led Weaning book and I read it with joy and fascination.

Here at last was something that felt right! It didn’t sound daunting or hours of extra work.

Here was something that would help Caleb to develop an independent and positive relationship with food, something I desperately wanted for him in light of my many food aversions and phobias.

He would be in control of what and how much he ate, from a variety of healthy food that we offered him which was appropriate for him to self feed with no or few teeth.

It would mostly be the food we were already preparing for ourselves, with a few small modifications (eg no salt). It wouldn’t be a bunch of extra work. And this majorly took the pressure off.

Starting solids

We eventually started solids properly at around five and a half months, six months after Caleb’s due date.

To be honest, there’s been a lot of mess, but a lot of fun too! And our two Labradors love being on cleanup duty!

We don’t follow Baby Led Weaning to the T, but we use it as a starting point and fit in feeding Caleb the best we can however works in the given situation.

In my next post I’ll share some more specifics about what this looks like in reality and how things have evolved as Caleb has grown over the subsequent six months.

Caleb has gone from being mildly interested in food to eating with enthusiasm. And it’s been fun watching him come to love food.

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Mom to Caleb and Mobile Tech Lead at Prodigy Finance from Cape Town, South Africa

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