Monday, July 28, 2014

The Journey to Solids

Shortly before Little Bug turned six months old, my mother-in-law sent us a box that had been carefully packed with jars of applesauce.  Beautiful homemade applesauce, made with organic apples and no added spices and as little (organic) sugar added as possible, only as much as was necessary to make it safe to can.  She ran it through the food mill several times, to make it as smooth as possible.  It was really quite thoughtful, but anyone who knows my mother-in-law wouldn't be surprised by the gesture at all.  That's just the kind of person she is.

Little Bug, however, wanted nothing to do with the applesauce.  He wanted nothing to do with any kind of pureed food, really.

Almost seven months old, "eating" the aforementioned applesauce.

We offered Little Bug his first "solid" food somewhere around six months, just like all of the good books recommend.  It's probably indicative of the kind of parent that I am that I honestly can't remember what his first food was.  Probably mashed avocado, or maybe banana.  I don't think it was the applesauce, although that was something he tried early on.  I know it wasn't any kind of grain (I was pretty set against "baby cereals"), but I don't remember what it was any more than I remember what Little Bug's exact age was at the time.  These kinds of small details just aren't that important to me, I guess.

Anyway, the road to "solids," the road to eating real adult-ish food, was a pretty long one for us.  I definitely worried at times.  I wondered whether I was doing things wrong, whether I should be pushing him to eat more or offering different foods in different orders.  And the more time I spend talking to other moms, the more I realize that those worries are pretty much universal.  We all worry that we're not doing things right.  We all think everyone else is more knowledgeable than we are.  We are afraid to fully trust our instincts.

I had heard the term baby-led weaning before, and had known for awhile that it seemed like the best way to go (for us).  In case you've never heard of it before (and if you haven't, I encourage you to go read about baby-led weaning), here's the basic idea.  Baby eats what you eat.  He eats what he's hungry for, and he feeds it to himself as desired.  He continues nursing as his primary source of nutrition until at least his first birthday, and he increases his solid intake at his own pace.  He eats what he can feed to himself, meaning real foods and not things that necessarily require spoons.

Pretty simple, really.  Much easier than buying baby food in jars, or even pouches.  Certainly a lot cheaper.  Less time-consuming than making your own purees.  Probably much tastier.  And much more intuitive, which was what sold it for me.

Eight and a half months old, nomming lettuce from the CSA box.  For the record, he had a hard time swallowing uncooked leafy greens until well after his second birthday.  He didn't choke on them, but they'd float around in his mouth until he finally spit them out.

And, in my experience anyway, it truly was the best approach for us.  As much as I believed in the idea, I still tried purees occasionally.  (Fruit and/or veggie purees, that is; as I said before, I don't like the idea of baby cereals.)  We did offer Little Bug his grandma's homemade applesauce.  He ate a bite or two, probably mainly to placate us, but most of it dribbled down his chin.  I got tons of jars of baby food from WIC, but he found that even less appealing than the applesauce.  (And I certainly can't blame him!)  I ended up using my WIC checks primarily to get jars of various kinds of applesauce, which I could use instead of oil when baking, or other purees that I could use in specific recipes.  (I have an awesome brownie recipe that uses pureed prunes, of all things.  I made lots of pumpkin bread, which Little Bug loved much more than the jarred "winter squash" that I used to make it, and I even made sweet potato muffins.  Nothing went to waste!  And Little Bug ended up eating it, just in different, much more appetizing forms.)

So baby-led weaning it was.  I would make dinner.  I would make a small bowl for Little Bug, and take his portion and mash it with a fork, or cut it into tiny pieces (I stuck with larger chunks of soft things, to make it easier for him to pick it up), or in some way make it possible for him to eat it without me worrying about him choking.  We would nurse, than we would sit down and eat together.  And by that, I mean I would eat, and Little Bug would play, and sometimes some of the food made it into his mouth and he'd swallow it.  Really, at that age it was more about fun, and about introducing him to new tastes and textures.  After all, the "experts" (the ones I trust, anyway) say that food before one is just for fun.  He was still breastfeeding full time, and that was definitely where the bulk of his calories came from.  And it was good, perfect nutrition, and I was not concerned at all that he wasn't more interested in solids.  Around nine or ten months, he started being a bit more adventurous with trying new things.  (Forgive me for not having a better timeline; I didn't exactly write these things down!)

We definitely didn't follow any kind of schedule with regards to how I introduced him to new foods.  It probably sounds rather callous of me, but I just wasn't that concerned.  Food allergies don't run in either of our families, and I know that by waiting until at least 6 months, his guts were better sealed up and better able to handle solid foods.  I avoided egg whites and peanut butter until he was 10 or 11 months (although in retrospect I think I wish I had offered both earlier; there is so much conflicting information out there about how to reduce the risk of food allergies!), and he got no honey until well after his first birthday.  I made a mental note every time he ate something that was truly "new," but that was about it.  And, thankfully, we never had any problem with sensitivities or allergies.

Nine months old.  In case you are wondering, that is a sweet potato fry.

What kinds of foods did he eat?  Everything!  Lots of fruits and veggies: bananas, mashed slightly with a fork at first and then given whole; avocados, cut into chunks; apples, cooked until they were soft and sprinkled with cinnamon, and eventually whole raw slices; strawberries, cut into slices; blueberries, generally left whole; broccoli and cauliflower, steamed and lightly seasoned; mashed potatoes; sweet potatoes, cut into chunks and sauteed in coconut oil; kale or spinach or collard greens, sauteed to perfection; beets, roasted in the oven and then cut into pieces.  Hard-boiled eggs; he ate the yolk, and I would eat the white.  Beans, mashed with a fork at first and then eventually left whole, and lentils by the spoonful.  Cooked brown rice.  Bites from my morning oatmeal, lightly sweetened with maple syrup or brown sugar and full of dried berries, ground flax, and chia seeds.  Almonds and walnuts and other nuts; early on, I'd chew them a few times for him, until he got some molars and was able to adequately chew them up himself.  Baked goods: pancakes and banana bread and cornbread, fruity muffins, and even a bite or two of my occasional brownies or cupcakes.  When I say he ate everything, I'm pretty serious.  He ate almost everything I ate.  Only in little bites, and it was not uncommon for more to end up on his face than in his tummy, but he sampled most things and refused to try very little.

And then Little Bug's first birthday approached.  And passed.  And he still wasn't particularly interested in food that wasn't mama milk.  I started to worry that I was doing things wrong.  I made more of an effort to introduce him to new things that might tempt him more, although I kept it healthy.  Somewhere around thirteen or fourteen months, he started eating a little more regularly, but he didn't let up on breastfeeding.  He still wanted mama milk every two to four hours, day and night.  (Yes, he was still nursing at night.  I was okay with this, because it's perfectly normal behavior.)  But the transition from breast milk to solid foods was definitely a slow one.

One year, seven months.  Blueberries have long been a favorite!

I remember a friend asking me, when Little Bug was around eighteen months old, exactly how weaning worked, and when he'd be done with breastfeeding.  I didn't have an answer then, and all I can say now is that it's probably different for every baby, unless you impose some kind of schedule on them.  And I definitely don't want to bash the parenting decisions of others; baby-led weaning has been great for us, and while I believe most babies would probably thrive on it, it's not always the most practical approach for everyone.

My son was never on any kind of schedule for breastfeeding (and in most cases, trying to put any baby on a schedule is not a good idea; that I do believe), and I was never keen on the idea of trying to "drop" feedings like so many baby books recommend.  (How does that even work, anyway, when baby doesn't nurse at specified times?)  I just continued to offer my son more and more solids, and trusted that he would eat them as he wanted to and as his body started to demand more nutrition and calories than he was getting from my milk.

And you know what?  He did get there.  Around twenty or twenty-one months, he started eating substantially more "real" food.  By his second birthday, he was definitely getting more calories from solids than he was from mama milk.  At two and a half, he still nurses a few times per day (scandalous, I know), although my milk supply is pretty pitiful these days.  He's a bit of a grazer; it takes him hours to get through meals, and there are plenty of snacks in between, but I'm perfectly okay with that.  For breakfast, he eats oatmeal, or a scrambled egg with sauteed veggies on the side, or I make us pancakes with fruit.  Lunch is frequently macaroni and cheese (usually from a box, cause I'm lazy sometimes and he loves it, but at least I usually get kinds with whole grain noodles and organic cheese) or leftovers from the previous day, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or whatever I am making myself for lunch.  Dinner is whatever D and I are eating, be it soup, veggie pizza, baked beans, quesadillas, or baked tofu.  (This boy absolutely adores baked tofu, and asks me for it regularly.)  I always have fruit and cheese and yogurt on hand for snacks, as well as things like olives and vegetables that I can prepare for him quickly.  He has no issues with textures that I am aware of, and he eats most everything we eat without complaint.

Two years and four months, enjoying his eggs and spinach.

From what I can tell from talking to other people, the timeline Little Bug followed is not unusual, although we all worry that it is because no one really talks about just how long it can take for babies to transition to solids.  When left to their own devices, it seems to be perfectly normal for babies to still be nursing, regularly and for most of their calories, long past when the books say they should be weaned.  This was definitely the case for Little Bug, but I had faith in him, and I trusted my intuition, and he eventually got to eating solids all on his own.  He's not completely weaned yet, but I'm not really in any hurry for that to happen.  Like everything else regarding food, my baby will get there when he's ready.

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