Our Baby Led Weaning Journey

Ok so I’m going to begin with a self inflicted disclaimer. I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a baby professional, I’m certainly not a chef, and my certificate in basic food hygiene (that is required for my job) is the nearest qualification I have to anything marginally food related. If you are concerned your baby isn’t eating correctly then it’s your call about speaking to a health visitor. I am simply a mum, who is now 3 months deep in this baby led weaning business, and is sharing her experiences so far and any tips and tricks she has picked up on the way.

So to begin, I’m going to recommend the book that kick started our own solids journey, Baby Led Weaning by Gill Rapley. It is basically like the BLW bible, a short book, easy to read with no waffle and a really great place to begin.

BLW is a way of teaching your baby to eat solids, allowing them to feed themselves from the very beginning with whole finger foods. Whilst the method of spoon feeding with puréed and mashed foods works well for some families, BLW is simply an alternative route available. My intention here is not to dismiss spoon feeding, and I know many people who prefer this way of feeding or quite successfully combine the two and do a bit of both, and as any mother knows, what works for some may not work for others. However as this blog is bout BLW I would like to explain some of the facts and benefits of weaning this way.

Firstly, BLW should only begin at 6 months old. Although many baby food jars begin as early as 4 months, there is much evidence to say that a baby’s gut is not matured enough and this can lead to increased risk of allergies. Both the government and World Health Organisation recommendations weaning from 6 months. By waiting until around this time there is also no need to spoon feed with baby rice, which offers no nutritional value to your baby’s diet and may actually only serve to replace a healthy breast or formula feed. Often people think their baby is ready for food because they watch their parents eat, but babies watch a lot of what their parents do, so it’s not always a reliable marker.

BLW is all about self feeding, and it not only improves hand-eye-coordination and speech and language skills, but it also teaches babies to recognise for themselves when they are full and therefore reduces risk of obesity later in life. BLW is about baby making choices to try new flavours and textures, they are in control of what is going into their mouth, and in this way it has also been shown to reduce aversion and fussiness with food in later years.

With Ray the first food we introduced was soft boiled broccoli and carrot stick. She tasted a tiny bit but mostly it was played with and thrown on the floor. Over the following weeks we offered various fruit and veg finger foods, sometimes with nibbles and sucking and sometimes with nothing. But each time it was a success, because each time was an opportunity for Raven to see new foods and become familiar with the concept of little meals. I soon realised this would be an up and down experience. To begin with I only offered finger foods at lunchtime, I stepped back and let do her thing. She started out very enthusiastic to explore these new objects, but ultimately her interest fluctuated greatly. I introduced breakfast around 7 months, and tea around 8 months. I’m not aware of a ‘rule’ per se for this, it was simply when it felt right to begin naturally expanding our horizons. We are still breastfeeding on demand and there are times when Ray seems more keen on sticking just to the liquid love of boobie rather than trying anything else, and other times she’s very keen, each day brings a new attitude so we roll with it.

Ok, so the book has all the real nitty gritty info, but here my list of things to consider when you are taking the BLW approach to feeding, from my personal experience.

Don’t expect a cleared plate.

First rule! I think I had this vision of a baby beginning with small bites and moving quite quickly onto heartier meals, but my experience hasn’t been that way at all. Whilst I post videos and pictures of Raven ‘eating’, the reality is there is always lots of food leftover and the pieces she munches on are often discarded after a few nibbles. She inspects the food, she holds it, squeezes it, passes it from hand to hand, sucks it and tastes it. Sometimes a blueberry will get a lick and then be thrown off the mat, and maybe it will be revisited later or maybe not. It can feel like a lot of waste, particularly when I was ensuring I had extra on hand in case it was all thrown on the floor when she wasn’t ready for the experience to end. But at 9 months Raven is now eating so well (still small amounts, but enthusiastically and with increased skill) that I look back on the beginning and realise it was not wasted at all. What I have realised is we have this inner desperation for our baby to eat and I know I was sometimes panicking when I felt as though not enough food had gone in. But over time I have witnessed a real evolution in Rays approach to eating, and as up and down as it can be, she has come such a long way. Would she manage to eat the equivalent of a whole jar of baby food? Not a chance. But she is still receiving all her nutrient needs from breastmilk and gaining weight appropriately. The motto ‘food before one is just for fun’ has reminded me many times than any food going in is a bonus, and my patience has really paid off. And oftentimes when I had thought she had eaten nothing, a nappy change quickly proved me wrong. These days she is closer to clearing a plate, but only a small plate, and whilst there is more and more going in her mouth, there is still a lot that ends up on the floor. *EDIT Last night her whole dinner went on the floor, today she wasn’t too interested in lunch and is instead a total boobie monster… teething? A bit of a cold? Who knows, we will ride it out. But I know that she can eat if she wants to, so I’m not stressed over here.

Try different approaches, and find what works for you.

If you really do start to feel like your baby isn’t eating enough, just try some different approaches. This was me as Raven hit 8 months and I saw other babies eating more than her. I suddenly faced some self doubt so I decided to up my game a bit. I made more effort to actively ‘teach’ eating without spoon feeding. I started to eat on the floor (on a mat) with Ray sat in my lap, and we physically shared a meal. Sometimes I had eaten beforehand and so I just chopped up some extra bits for me to nibble on and encourage Ray to copy. It wasn’t a huge pressured situation, just relaxed, me and my baby sat snacking together. This really worked for us, Ray wanted to take things out my hand as I was about to eat it and she smiled as she did it. Sure, some raspberries got squashed under wriggling feet and it got messy at times with crumbled muffin, but Ray really responded to it and it felt like a shared experience. After a while we reverted back to high chair again – aside from breakfast which is typically chopped fruit and a banana rice cake on my lap in front of In The Night Garden, as I found otherwise she wasn’t very interested in breakfast at all. I think it’s just what works individually.

Share meals.

It was pretty obvious from the outset that Raven always wanted to eat what I had. I have to say that I found it fairly easy to incorporate her foods into my meals. I would have stir fry when she was having peppers and beans, I would make an omelette and share with her or have steamed broccoli and pasta and let her eat the same. But if I didn’t want to eat what she was having, I would eat separately (discreetly) then sit and eat ‘with’ her, nibbling on whatever she had prepared. Just as my baby copied me to learn how to blow a raspberry or wave, she watched me and copied my eating. I also noticed pretty quickly which foods Ray liked best, and tried to include one of them in each ‘meal’. She likes food that has flavour and is easy to eat (I imagine most babies follow this pattern?) so liquidy fruits such as oranges, raspberries, blueberries, grapes etc, easy to eat veggies such as tomato, soft broccoli and baked beetroot. She also likes things that are easy to pick up and chew, such as twisted pasta, thin crumpets and any of the Organix baby crisps. All winners and so I mixed and matched these with new foods to give her a little eating boost.

Keep it simple.

So much information, it can seem a bit daunting to say the least. But it isn’t. You are simply offering food to your baby, they will play with it, they will throw it, and if your lucky they will take a bite or a suck. That is it.

Whilst I follow many really informative and inspiring BLW accounts on Instagram for meal ideas, it has at times left me feeling as though I’m not really offering enough variety or making enough effort. But these accounts are focused on building followers around BLW, and just as there are interior accounts that make us feel like our house is too messy, the BLW accounts are bound to be extra fancy. As lovely as they are, look past the posh plate and remember you don’t need to conjure up a completely different wholesome dinner at every meal. You don’t need to arrange your fruit into a dinosaur or spend hours cooking various meals, just take ideas from the accounts. Oftentimes you will discover that the food is quite simple but presented in a way that it looks exceptionally fancy.

Allow lots of time.

Raven can take half an hour or more to complete the process of discovering and eating her food. I know I know, how do you squeeze it all into the day? Well this was my first thought at least. But then I realised that teaching your child the art of eating and enjoying food is so incredibly important and absolutely one of the most virtuous tasks we undertake in our lives, and so it deserves great attention. A healthy attitude to food is priceless, and here we are raising children to enjoy a wide ranging palette, the ability to understand when they are full and teaching them that eating is a sociable activity. If we can find the time then it’s time well spent. I’ve been thinking of it as an activity rather than a chore. Especially on those days where we have free time and wonder how to entertain the baby, this ticks off a sensory learning activity for the day, and it is precious one on one face time that means you can feel less guilty bout leaving them to play on the floor for a bit whilst you hoover / empty the dishwasher / fold up the washing..

Have quick meals ready to go.

Eugh, the phrase ‘batch cooking’ hurts my face. I imagine myself with an apron covered in food, several giant pots steaming away on the stove and a sea of Tupperware ready to be filled. But it’s not at all that awful. Once you begin to move on from a few finger foods, there are literally hundreds of recipes on Pinterest and Instagram BLW accounts that require only a few ingredients, take minutes to prepare and cook, and can be easily thrown in the fridge or freezer for quick meals. I’ve included some links at the end of this blog. I am not a keen chef, these days I live off toast and weetabix, trust me when I say these are fast and simple. And if they make too much and can’t be frozen you can share it with your other children or eat the extra with your baby, there’s no age limit on them. I have another friend who is BLW with a baby a similar age, and any spare batch cooked bits we pass to each other, so we get double the recipes! It’s a great way of increasing meal options. Of course not every meal needs to be batch cooked, it can all be mixed up with other offerings.

Get your basics in the weekly shop, roughly map out meals in your mind.

Ok, it took me a while to get my head around this, and it may not be right for you, but I’ve included my basic food shop and loose meal plan.

So I found that small separate fruits were easier to have on hand as a staple rather than large ones, if that makes sense? So grapes, blueberries, strawberries, satsumas, raspberries etc, as apposed to ‘bigger’ full fruits like apples, pears, pineapple, melon etc – although I would include one or two of these each week for variation and bananas are handy for some batch cooking and easy spreads. They tend to keep longer than the date in the crispy bit of the fridge so I can make them stretch the week and do a fruit salad for me and Dean if their time’s up (he’s a lucky man).

Then I get in some veg too, half a cucumber, avocado (or is that a fruit who knows) broccoli, cherry tomatoes and I’m a big fan of pre chopped frozen veg too like beetroot, peppers, parsnip etc that is easy to put in the oven.

Talking of frozen, I pick up some veggie burgers and falafels and some small potato waffles too. I check salt and sugar content aren’t high, and I don’t offer at every meal, just good for sharing days.

Then I raid the Ella’s Kitchen / Organix / Kiddylicious ranges. Get in some of the rice cakes and crisps, and I also get the pouches to use as sauce on pasta or quorn.

I also pick up thin crumpets and a small brown bread for options such as hummus / cream cheese / avocado on toast.

Then I feel pretty prepared! Lots in to use in lots of ways and quick to offer. I don’t plan each meal precisely but when it comes to dinners I use up whats needed first (sorry I’m being so obvious) and I have plenty of choice to hand to build a mini meal. Obviously it can differ, sometimes I’ll fancy trying Ray with kiwi fruit, or offering sweet corn or an idea I found online, or we’re having another go with self feeding yogurt, (uki.be have great little rubber spoons for self feeding) but the above are my staple have ins that keep me ticking over. We recently picked up chia seeds and flax seeds too, I can mix them into a spread or a sauce, or mashed up potato etc. Sounds super fancy pants but it’s literally just a sprinkle here and there and a bag lasts forever.

So this is how I mentally organise the food;

I try to go for one bit of ‘stodge’ – so pasta, quorn, waffle, veggie burger, smashed up potato, beetroot, mashed butternut (oven cooked from frozen)na batch cook option or bread with spread.
Then I can add an option of either some cooked from frozen veg or fresh steamed veg, either some chopped tomatoes, cucumber, carrots or pepper etc. Or I will offer a fruit option, whichever goes best with the meal or needs to be used up first.
Ray goes mad for any of the Organix / Kiddylicious crisps so I include some of those, one or two is enough.
Then I finish with a drink. So water (guilty of adding a tiny tiny bit of squash…) quartered grapes and smashed blueberries or maybe 4 or 5 raspberries, satsuma pieces etc etc you get the idea.

Again, it’s not always set out like this, but I just find this approach had made it simple for us to grab bits and create lots of mix and match meals easily.

And finally… Enjoy it!

The fun is in the watching. You are witnessing your baby learn a very important skill, not just to ‘eat’ but to ‘enjoy eating’. Relax, remove the pressure, let them explore, smile with them, encourage without any force, make it a positive experience for them. When I look back over the last 3 months I can see that Raven has been on a remarkable little journey with her eating, and it is only now, at almost 9 months that she has really begun to ‘eat eat eat’. And what she is eating is healthy, her own choice and at her own pace. We don’t have food tantrums or crying (yet!), if she’s clearly beginning to get fed up then we just stop and the next meal is a fresh opportunity. It should be an enjoyable experience for you both, building up positive food associations and spending quality time together. So don’t stress about the mess, don’t panic about the quantity, just enjoy the moment and in time you will watch your baby learn to feed themselves happily.

 

Some links below for simple batch meals…

https://www.myfussyeater.com/broccoli-cheese-frittata-fingers/

https://www.healthylittlefoodies.com/banana-blueberry-fritters/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes

http://onehandedcooks.com.au/recipe/toddler-finger-food-pick-n-mix-vegetable-shreddies/#F076LCZ4QLQCf200.97

http://feedingmykid.com/article/toddler-finger-foods/?uaid=pinterest

https://www.craftsonsea.co.uk/family-recipes-for-baby-led-weaning-2/

https://pin.it/shh7io4j7y4r7t

Sleeping Soundly

S L E E P

It is an obsession and hot topic that arrives part and parcel with a freshly born human. From both ourselves, and from those around us. It begins the very moment they are born, when we take home our fruitful bundle with absolutely no idea what we are actually doing, when the nights are full of wakings and fumblings and soothings, and we are introduced to a new perspective of sleep. Suddenly we realise its true value and the impact it has on ours and our baby’s well being.

In the beginning, in my completely naïve and miseducated view of motherhood, I had this idea that newborns woke often, but over time they learnt the rhythms of day and night and around a few months old they would naturally begin to sleep through the night. Why did I think this? Well I guess it was because I had seen people celebrating when their own baby allowed them unbroken sleep, and I had heard people asking that age old question “Does she sleep through yet?” And from that I had come to my own conclusion that this was a goal for a baby to meet, and it would do so sometime within the first few months.

When preparing for Ravens arrival, I read all the suggestions and advice on leaflets and websites, of course I would carefully follow the instructions and keep baby with me in our room for 6 months and then transition them into their own room. And so we bought a Snuzpod for the early days and a cot for the nursery. I imagined me placing my sleeping baby down into the cot, not only at night but also at nap time, drawing the curtains and whispering ‘I love you’ as I left them to sleep for an hour or two whilst I cleaned / wrote / relaxed. I knew there would be moments of difficulty, teething, maybe an overtired baby from time to time that took longer to settle. But I was sold on the idea that ‘this is how it works’. What I hadn’t counted on was that it doesn’t actually always work like that.

Naturally when Ray was born and brought home, the nights were challenging. As a ‘new mother’ – at least to a bring home baby – I followed the popular parenting method of ‘making it up as you go along’. There were both moments of great beauty and great struggle. The intimate closeness of night cuddles when it is as though you are the only souls awake in the whole world, and times when the exhaustion set in and the nights felt lonely and long and I wondered if if I was doing anything at all right. As Raven is exclusively breastfed I didn’t see the need to wake dean, and so the night feeds were my domain and I thrived on the knowledge I was needed and held onto the fact that it was only for a short while, soon she will sleep through…

And as a tiny newborn it was accepted by visitors that she napped on me or her dad, and occasionally she would sleep a little while in her Moses basket. Everyone around me agreed that new babies like to held and cuddled. In those early days no one really questioned me holding my tiny daughter as she slept. I had just had a baby and we were bonding and relaxing together, isn’t that what maternity leave is for? When she was tired I let her snooze, when she was lively I let her be awake. It was really very simple.

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But time rolled on, and I was about to realise just how over complicated sleep can become with a little one. Looking back I can see that I got severely caught up in self doubt and hype, contending with all kinds of ideas and methods that really just stemmed from me not only wanting the best for my baby, but also from me wanting to be the best mother I could be.

Weeks 10 and 11. I’ll never forget them! Raven slept through the night for two whole solid weeks. I celebrated, naturally. I was so ready to get more rest and I believed we had ‘nailed it’, a milestone ticked off. I wasn’t smug, but I did feel proud. Which looking back is kind of odd, to think that I felt accomplished for my baby’s ability to simply sleep, as though it was a personal success. And ‘success’ really is a key word here, because without success, there is failure.

Needless to say, Raven slept through for two weeks only. Once the night wakings began again I fretted, we’re going backwards, and the thought of a fresh round of sleepless nights felt completely overwhelming. I had been so thoroughly exhausted by the end of her newborn wakings that I wondered if I could physically do it all again. Around the same time, someone questioned Ray sleeping only on me. It was a loving comment I’m sure, and I am certainly one to overthink and reach ridiculous conclusions, so absolutely no daggers thrown here, but it planted a seed of doubt. Yes, why would my baby only nap on me? “You can’t do that forever!” The newborn baby bubble was bursting, real life was beginning. There was a silent expectation that I couldn’t relax on the sofa any longer, I couldn’t let a little baby rule my movements, how was I going to get the housework done? And so many online photographs of sleeping babies in their Moses baskets or cot, what was I doing wrong?

Suddenly my baby’s sleep felt very complicated and I found myself questioning so much about when she slept, where she slept and how she slept. As her night wakings continued and the ‘success’ revealed itself to be short lived, a sinking sense of ‘failure’ set in. I had lost my boasting rights. And nap times too became full of anxiety. Instead of enjoying the lovely snuggly mother daughter cuddles, I would sit there thinking ‘I need to teach her to sleep off of me, I need to put her down’. I felt – wrongly so – that I was creating a bad habit, that I was being lazy, that my baby would never learn to sleep away from me.

And so it began. The countless adverts on Facebook about sleep training (I’m sure they hear your private conversations…?). Talking to other mothers about their nap routines and sleep schedules. Scrolling Pinterest and seeing a tide of posts ‘how to get your baby to sleep through the night in 48 hours!’. Conflicting advice, “don’t let them nap past 4pm” alongside “never wake a sleeping baby!”. If I implemented a routine of set times then I was bound by them regardless of if my baby was actually tired, and if I didn’t then I risked a tired baby napping too close to bedtime. It was all so confusing. What if she fell asleep in the car outside of her set times? Does it throw the whole day off? If she has a set bed time but isn’t showing any signs of being tired, do I soldier on and try to desperately induce sleepiness? Has she met her required awake/sleep times for the day? I read that babies need two short naps, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, but what if her first nap arrived naturally over midday? I found myself waiting for Rays sleepy cues later in the afternoon, but what if they never came? As Raven began to sleep increasingly well in the pushchair it invited some newfound freedom for me during her naps, but whilst I could celebrate the ‘success’ of a nap out of arms that too came with inner questioning. Walking with my baby in a pushchair to get her sleepy sometimes ends in a two hour sleep parked up in the hallway and sometimes ends in no sleep, but even good pushchair naps left me feeling like I was doing it wrong. “It’s time for her to sleep in her cot!” And night wakings were frequently seen as a problem to be solved. I lost count of how many times I was asked the dreaded sleep through question, each time answering no and feeling the empathetic looks as though I had failed a driving test or won second place. And it doesn’t end there, as a breastfeeding mother I found even feeding comes with complications. “You shouldn’t encourage the feed to sleep association, no one else will ever be able to put her down at night!” “She can smell your milk that’s why she wakes up, put her in her own room and you will all sleep better!” “You should be putting her down to sleep on her own at night by now”…

I began to feel like a fish out of water.

But you see, I was yet to realise three defining things;

1. The strength of motherly instinct.
2. No two women mother exactly the same.
3. The fact that you can do whatever the hell you want.

And it was here that my journey of realisation and self confidence really began. After a lot of wasted fretting and mental self punishment, it suddenly occurred to me that whatever I wanted to do, is what I could do. It was like a lightbulb moment. Perhaps Sandra down the road is timing her baby’s naps in her cot and that works for her, but that doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe Barbara on Facebook has sleep trained and now gets 8 hours of unbroken sleep and that works for her, but I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t have to do it that way. Some babies naturally sleep through, some families have more than one child’s needs to meet, or work schedules to consider. And I think I just realised one day that everyone is doing it differently and that’s ok! I will do my own ‘differently’ version. Back to basics, swipe away the countless pieces of well meaning advice, and simply follow my instincts.

A big turning point for me was when I discovered breastfeeding legend ‘The Milk Meg’. Reading her book and blogs, I could have cried with relief. There it was in plain black and white; a lot of babies like to only nap on mum, night wakings for feeds and cuddles is natural, breastfeeding through the night is normal, feeding to sleep is peaceful and perfectly healthy. The endless comments on her posts of mothers saying ‘18 months in and still feeding through the night!’ didn’t fill me with nighttime dread, instead it confirmed to me that Raven wasn’t broken and I wasn’t failing. It removed my expectations for a full nights rest and I could simply relax in the knowledge that all was as it should be, my baby was getting nighttime nutrients and cuddles. Night waking wouldn’t last forever and it also wouldn’t end anytime soon, but I was prepared to make the sacrifices necessary with motherhood and I could feel confident whilst doing it, after all Ray wasn’t crying in the night, she was simply stirring and needed a little extra comfort. Sometimes lots of feeds, sometimes few. Go to bed early, celebrate the nights filled with sleep and prepare for the ones that aren’t. Someone said to me – when we feel it’s been a bad nights sleep for us, it’s been a good night for your baby, because you have continued to meet their needs whenever they have needed you.

And so armed with this newfound knowledge, I felt brave enough to commit in other ways too. When it came to Raven outgrowing her Snuzpod I knew I wasn’t ready to place her to sleep away from me, she was still dream feeding and I actually just loved having her so close at night. I realised the milestone of my baby sleeping in her own cot wasn’t a ‘real’ deadline. So we bought another cot, medium sized, took the side off, adjusted it to bed height and continued to co sleep. These days night feeds simply require me to sleep with a loose bra top so Ray can turn to me to feed without much stirring at all. I began to relax and enjoy her napping in my arms. I didn’t feel trapped, I liked it. My baby needed it and with no other living dependants I was able to give it to her. I didn’t feel lazy, I was recharging my own batteries and giving my baby a safe and peaceful bonding feeling. And that was as important and as much a part of my motherhood and maternity leave as awake time interaction, activities and daily chores. I utilised the wrap and was able to move around as she snoozed if necessary. I relaxed the expectation of a nap routine, Raven doesn’t appear to follow set schedules so I reverted to a looser outlook; she sleeps when tired. Oftentimes a morning nap at 10ish, Then sometimes she naps at 3pm and goes to bed at 7pm, other times she has a snooze at 5pm and is in bed for 8.30pm. We still have routine but it flexes to meet the needs of the day and that works for us.

Of course, the way we work in our house isn’t for everyone and that’s a big point here. You don’t have to breastfeed or co sleep, your baby is also perfectly fine if they nap away from you, nod off midway through playing or drift off happily on the sofa. It’s cool if they are sleeping in their own cot or sleeping through the night from early on, you can have a nap schedule if that works for you. I’m free from judgment and I hope that’s clear, this was simply my personal journey to sleep confidence.

As Ray grows I see changes in her every day, and it’s sometimes hard to keep up. But some things never change. Just today in the supermarket I was asked by a kind hearted and well meaning stranger ‘is she a good sleeper?’ And I simply smiled and said ‘yes.’ Because I’m there now, I don’t need to scramble for a reply, feel like a fraud or speak through self doubt. I’m happy with my choices.

My daughter, who feeds through the night, who sleeps practically in our bed and will do for a long time yet, who I cuddle as she naps, who is one hell of a happy baby.