Introducing mealtimes to little people can be both pleasurable and stress-inducing at the same time. It can also be an exciting adventure as you plan their meals and decide their first taste.
For Umar, we started him as young as 6 months. His first meal was pureed spinach. Spinach is a good source of iron and fibre. However, we realised his little digestive system takes a while to adjust to any food, no matter how nutritious the food is. He developed constipation soon after we started him on his meals. His paediatrician had advised us if he develops constipation, we should delay introduction of solid food until his bowel movements were regular again.
So we stopped and waited for him to recover before we tried again. But, he constipated again. We then only fed him every 3 days and since he still constipated, the feeding became a weekly affair. That did not last long too as we only fed him solids monthly soon after. Then over time, we simply did not feed him any solids. After all, he was feeding from breastmilk very well and showed absolutely no sign of hunger. He was 8 months then and we started again only when he reached 1.5 years old. Why?
Well, after reading lots of articles and books, I realised we are not doing any harm to a child by delaying solid. In fact, by delaying solids, we allow their gut to mature. Since he gnaws on anything he can get hold of, gum exercises were not an issue either.
My own logic was that we should not shock his digestive system too much. The feeding of solids usually stems from the parents’ excitement on another milestone for their firstborn.
So how is Umar’s appetite and eating habits now? Umar is not a picky eater and will eat anything, unless the food is salty or spiced. The downside is that he used to reject food that is not home-cooked. Travelling can be a bit of a nightmare. He does not really enjoy eating and, probably, only eats to survive. He would not sit still for a meal and basically, feeding him is a workout for his parents. 🙂
When I was blessed with a second child, I read and heard about baby-led weaning. More searches led me to a book that now I almost swear by it. Hah. I read almost anything and everything.
I love that this book is very narrative and simple to understand. It doesn’t discount any beliefs or alternative practices. The author reasons out his points but does not ignore others altogether. According to him, you do not need to plan meals specifically for your child. It asks you to rather focus on introducing the child to “real food” and making everyone enjoy mealtimes. It does not stress on stopping milk intake altogether. In fact, the book advocates a focus on smoother transitions to real food and not an abrupt stop to milk intake as the author sees its the importance in their growing years.
The first few chapters talks about the false signs of readiness which I have read about. It also touches a bit of history on solid food, why some are labelled as early as four months and the disadvantages of spoonfeeding and pureed food. Yep, it fits the bill perfectly because that is exactly what I want. You see, we are not perfect. And each child we are blessed is an opportunity for us to approach things differently. Each child, to me, is like a science experiment. LOL. The part I like most is how the author stressed that feeding is a developmental stage like crawling, walking and talking. If I allowed crawling, walking and talking to take place naturally, I should allow feeding and eating to take place on its own too. Just like how at birth, babies are able to find their own way to the breast and latch on to feed.
“Learning to eat solid food is a natural part of a baby’s development – just like crawling, walking and talking. It’s a normal part of growing up.”
We decided to start introducing real food to Ali when he was 1 year old because we believe in waiting for his digestive system and immune system to mature. Also, Ali did not show any sign of readiness before.
“If she can sit up with little or no support, reach out to grab things and take them to her mouth quickly and accurately, and if she is gnawing on her toys and making chewing movements, then the chances are she is ready to start exploring solid foods. But the very best sign that a baby is ready is when she starts to put food into her mouth herself – which she can only do if she is given the opportunity.”
We introduced Ali with broccoli, pumpkin and everything I could think of. He was not even remotely interested. Not even bread. I was a bit surprised because he puts sand in his mouth when we visited the beach. (Yes, he tasted sand and even choked on it!) I thought he would be ready for solid. 😛 I even made it VERY enticing. Not the sand, but the first few fruits and vegetables that I thought he would like.
I placed a piece of pumpkin on a paper while we were doing art. He eats the paper but not the pumpkin. I tried to trick him by letting my first child, Umar, have a bite first. He just would not touch food. Well, truth be told, I was about to give up and just proceed to spoon feeding. I started talking to a group of mommies I met online. They offered various ideas on how to cut them and introduced it. However, there was one advice that stayed with me. “Patience. They will get there.” Well, that was what the book mentioned initially. It is a milestone to be achieved naturally.
This is our fond memories of his initial journey in BLW. I have tried many ways but he would just manoeuvre around the food item and proceed to other non-edible objects to play with. I even resorted to laying it out in an attempt to make it look like our regular art session. He looked pretty suspicious at first. Picked up the paper, ignored the pumpkin and nibbled on the paper.
My little helper ever so willing to help me bake cookies for his brother or making Croquettes.
Both of them will spend their time in the kitchen with me the moment I need to start preparing meals for them.
So I just proceeded to give him anything from what I was cutting for the day. It can be a stalk from a leafy vegetable or even garlic.
Then it happened. We were eating out and he wants to grab something from our plate as usual. I gave him french fries. I thought he would just play with it. But he didnt. He put it in his mouth, chewed a bit and spat it out. Yes, his first food happens to be the food item I will never give my children until they are much older. Oh well! You can only do so much. LOL!
So I started baking cookies for him.
One of the best times in our lives where I can eat anything without worrying that he will demand for it. We will always bring a set of cookies we baked from home everytime we go out. While I enjoy my cuisine, he gets his too. 😀
Whatever Umar is eating for the day, I will take a small portion of it and I either steamed or chopped them finely.
I made variations of what I just realised have a fancy name to it – Croquettes sans the salt and spices. I didn’t know I am such a masterchef. 😛
He loved it. I eat with him all the time. Sometimes, he will eat while I feed Umar. There were times, he will sit in a corner of the kitchen while I do the dishes.
You see, BLW makes my job easier because I can do other chores than feeding. But the initial stage was not easy. Actually, there was only one disadvantage I can think of – MESS!
Mess is indeed inevitable. Tired but that smiling face is priceless that you don’t mind doing it all over again. Do you realise that he is seated in the same exact spot every meal. It’s a corner in the kitchen to ensure that mess is confine. But worries not, these moments are fleeting, literally. Now, it’s just yesterday and he is really a ‘neat eater’ (if there is such a term :P)
I have to literally be on my knees making sure every bit of the crumb is caught, floor/table is Dettol-ed. I figured a high chair is not required and does not make cleaning any easier. He then needs to be showered and changed too because food gets on his face, hair, arms, legs and almost every other body parts.
This is how I remembered his stages to be:
chews a bit, spit out, flings his arms around. Nothing seems to goes in his digestive system. Mess level: OMG!
chews more, still spits, swallow with gagging or choking effect, flings his arm around. Mess level: horrendous
chews better, still spits, swallow with lesser gagging or choking. Mess level: bad
chews better, no spit, lesser gagging. Mess level: not so bad
chews better, no spit, no gagging. Mess level: manageable
I also realised BLW children will not want to be fed. They prefer to feed on their own unless they trust you with the food you are feeding them.
“A fully breast milk child is more likely to have more nutrients than eating half a carrot.”
Ali still feeds constantly every 3 hours and stick to me like a glue when I am at home. Reducing milk feeds shouldn’t be rushed. I am allowing Ali to determine his own path towards more solids and less milk.
“Knowing when to stop eating is a key factor in avoiding obesity and maintaining the right weight for your size, however old you are, so stopping when you are full sounds like common sense.”
This is one trait I also observed in Ali. I will take his cue when he stops eating and since he is eating real food, there is no food that goes to waste because I get to eat them as well, albeit, without any sugar, salt or spice. There are days too when he does not want to eat. I let him be then.
To end this post, I’ll leave a sweet summary by the author that holds true for a successful BLW.
Think of mealtimes as playtimes in the beginning.
Keep giving milk feeds on demand so that your baby’s solid food add to them rather than replace them.
Don’t expect your baby to eat much food at first.
Try to eat with your baby and include her in your meals whenever possible so that she has opportunities to copy you and practise new skills.
Expect some mess!
Keep it enjoyable – for all of you.