As I was eating a salad for dinner this evening, my nearly seven-month-old daughter reached her hand into my bowl. When I gently removed her hand, she giggled, and tried to reach in again. When that wasn’t successful, she engaged in a tug of war with my plate. She grabbed one end, and I had to hold my ground to prevent her from toppling the salad with balsamic vinaigrette over my futon. My daughter will be seven months old this Sunday and thus far I have not given her solids, unless you count the sip of chai tea when she was four months old that my husband made me do and a taste of pistachio ice cream when she was five months old (also, might I add, courtesy of my husband.) My daughter is a happy, healthy kid, weighing in at 16 lbs 4 oz at her six-month check up. She is in the 50% weight and 75% height brackets, so she is actually tall and thinner than most babies. You wouldn’t guess that by looking at her though. She has big puffy cheeks and her wrists slightly bulge from her hands. Her legs, if they were on an adult, would be considered overweight. But she isn’t. She has no body issues. She is just happy.
The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and preferably continued breastfeeding for the first year. I knew that breastfeeding would be my choice in how I feed my baby. At my daughter’s six month check up, the doctor, a naturopath, gave the go ahead to start solids. No citrus, dairy, wheat, nuts, or, of course, honey. Wait three days to see if there is an adverse reaction, and if not, introduce another food. I knew my daughter was ready, as she had already eyed up our food for the last two months and been disappointed that she wasn’t able to partake. I thought I was ready too, until it finally came down to actually handing over the food. I was scared. Scared of the poop that would start to smell and scared that we wouldn’t have the same bond that we had before. I know that the transition to solids is gradual, that it can be baby-led, when she’s ready, but she was ready, and I wasn’t.
A father that attends Baby Storytime at our local library told me how his daughter transitioned to solids quite suddenly. His wife returned to work, and the event was pretty traumatic for their daughter, who refused to take a bottle. This father had to resort to using one of those droppers they use to give medicine to pets. She was still breastfed, but in this particular way. It wasn’t long, however, before she transitioned to solid foods completely. The day his daughter refused the breast, he told me his wife knew that was the last time she would breastfeed.
To make sure I was doing the right thing, or perhaps seeking reason to forestall this transition to solids, I came across an article that recommended exclusive breastfeeding for 6-8 months to avoid allergies. My husband developed allergies to wheat in his forties. I didn’t want that to happen to our daughter, I rationalized, so I kept on breastfeeding. Everything, or almost everything, in her body right now came from me. Her cheeks, her arms, her legs, that all came from my booby milk. There is a certain awesomeness that my breast milk made that happen. But when I ate my salad this evening, I saw how eagerly she wanted to play with my food bowl. I gave in. I tore off a piece of a bell pepper and gave it to her. To my surprise, she completely ignored it. I tried again. Nope, not interested. She wanted to play with my food. According to authors Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, authors of Baby-Led Weaning, that is precisely what babies do with their food first- they play with it. This is part of a natural course of development, they say, that leads to eating by themselves.
So this weekend, I am going to offer my daughter a piece of cantaloupe on a plate. I already have the cantaloupe. It has been sitting in my fridge, and now I have a good use for it. We will partake in a family meal-eating cantaloupe. If she doesn’t partake in it, that’s fine, but at least I would have done my duty by doing the right thing.
Originally written March 6, 2013