Monday 6 August 2012

Baby Led Cleaning

If I want to have a bath, I have to pick bits of tomato, strawberry and rice out of the tub first. The main reason we bought this house was because the bathroom was so nice (no, we didn’t ever get round to reading House Buying for Dummies, thanks for asking). I didn’t envisage ever picking soft fruit remnants out of the bath tub, hardly living the dream is it?

It’s not just the bathroom that is covered in food, weaning seems to have taken over the whole house. The dining room carpet is already stained with strawberry (or was it plum?) juice that has been trampled in by overtired parents.
We’re doing baby led cleaning, sorry, weaning. It’s lots of fun, but very messy. Although I have noticed this year that pretty much anything to do with babies is messy, so I have become accustomed to stains.
We bought a highchair as soon as Ebony was able to sit up. We bought a Cosatto Noodle highchair, which I love because it is so pretty. Or was, before the weaning. Now it has weird yellow stains on the plastic cover, and there is at least a week’s worth of food squished into the woven harness bit. No matter what I do I cannot get rid of this food, so I have resigned myself to considering it a secret food store in case of a28 Days Later situation. One day my life may depend on that mouldy smear of avocado in those straps.
At first we just gave Ebony toys to play with in the highchair while we ate our dinner. By play with, I mean bang together loudly. Family mealtimes are far from relaxing. It was a welcome change when we could replace her loud plastic toys with much quieter soft foods.
Government advice is that you should wait until babies are six months before weaning them, this is because that’s how long it takes for their digestive system takes to develop enough for solid food. Feeding them solids too soon can increase their risk of developing allergies. I see allergies as a real weakness so I couldn’t possibly allow this to happen. Although everyone else started sooner and I didn’t want to be a complete geek, so we let her have a strawberry the day before she turned six months. I have always been a very tame rebel.
She grabbed the strawberry out of my bowl and I didn’t stop her. As with all things, it went straight into her mouth and she pulled a look of surprise at the taste. The strawberry was soon turned into mush which went all over her face, neck, clothes and playmat. This was when I learnt the valuable lesson to undress Ebony before she eats.
Over the past four weeks Ebony has tried lots of different fruits and vegetables, and she hasn’t refused anything. One of the benefits of baby led weaning is that the babies do the exploring themselves. Ebony is learning about different tastes and textures, and she’s learning how to chew and move food to the back of her mouth. She doesn’t eat loads, probably only a minimal amount of food gets swallowed, but that doesn’t matter because she can still get all the nutrients she needs from breast milk.
We don’t spoon feed her, so she is in control of what she eats. If she doesn’t want to eat anything then that’s fine, although we haven’t had that problem so far. She has already developed favourites, with red cabbage holding the number one spot. She also really likes strawberry, pineapple and broccoli.  
The ease of baby led weaning is that you can feed the baby what you eat. We do this to an extent but not exactly. I tend to start off cooking one meal, and then when it gets to the point where I would add salt, sugar or excessive spice, I move Ebony’s portion into a different pan. I want her to get used to the foods we eat, but without filling her body with nasty things like salt.
If we have pasta, I use gluten-free pasta because it is advised that babies don’t eat gluten until they are nine months old. I haven’t given her anything containing nuts, or olives (because her Dad is allergic to olives), but other than that I haven’t given much thought to what I give her.
She has tried pasta sauces, dahls, curries, soups, stews, steamed veg, raw veg and fruit. I’m always trying to add new foods to her diet so that she keeps experiencing new tastes and textures and doesn’t get bored of mealtimes.
The idea of baby led weaning can be a bit scary, and I’ve heard of Mums freaking out about their babies choking. I heard one Mum say that she gives her son finger foods to play with, but every time he breaks a bit off, she fishes it out of his mouth. This is incredibly weird, what kind of message is she sending to her child?!
I see baby led weaning as an investment. Hopefully, by allowing her to explore tastes and textures now (rather than experiencing all food as purees), we will avoid that difficult stage in the future where children refuse to eat vegetables (as a vegan family, we really can’t take risks where love of vegetables is involved).
Babies’s gag reflexes are quite far forwards, meaning that, if feeding themselves, they are unlikely to choke because before this could even be possible they will have triggered their gag reflex. For the first week or so, Ebony would often trigger her gag reflex by shoving finger foods a little too far back in her mouth. She would gag and the food would come back to the front of her mouth, as it’s meant to. Sometimes a lot of saliva would come pouring out too, what can I say, experimenting with new tastes is a very soggy business. This is all just part of the learning process.
Sometimes I do want to leap up, yank her out the chair and start smacking her on the back while screaming, “She’s choking, the baby I made is choking!!!” But I don’t. Because she’s not choking, she’s gagging, and that’s normal. And me reacting like that, or like the woman who fishes the food out, would send Ebony some very strange messages about food. And the whole point of baby led weaning is to ensure Ebony develops a positive relationship with food, so I try to stay calm and relaxed, even when I can see the piece of plum that is stuck on the top of her mouth causing her to gag.
Baby led weaning is messy, very messy. If you have cream carpets, you should probably invest in a splash mat of some description. I was meant to do this, but forgot, so I now have a nice bespoke patterned carpet in my dining room.
I’m really enjoying weaning. I thought that I would find it hard, because she was starting to need me less, but in fact I haven’t felt that way. It’s exciting watching her face as she tries food for the first time, and I find mealtimes really fun now. The only stressful bit is the mad dash to the bath at the end. By this time, Ebony usually has food in her eyebrows, in her hair, down her nappy, in her neck folds and up her arms. My mission is to get her upstairs and into the bath without letting her touch any of the white walls.

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