Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Lisa Hassan Scott
Photos: courtesy of mothers of La Leche League Wharfedale & Airedale, UK
Now that Aidan is about halfway through the middle of his first year, everyone’s thoughts start moving toward starting solids. People often ask, “Is he on solid food yet?” It’s an interesting sort of milestone, considered by many to be an exciting indication that your baby is developing, becoming a little more independent, and “growing up.” While part of me agrees and feels interested in watching Aidan explore solid foods, in my heart I grieve that his first six months are behind me now and his tiny baby-ness is gone. Aidan could very well be our last child, and that means a lot of lasts for us, in the same way that Iona presented us with so many firsts. All of these last firsts are so bittersweet.
My first child, born seven years ago, when the advice was to give solids from four months, began solids at about five months old. We listened to the “experts” and did as we were told. We steamed, we boiled, we roasted. We pureed, we pressed, we mashed. We spoon-fed, we coaxed, we cajoled. We worried, we stressed, we feared for her health! Introducing solid foods was exciting, but it was also fraught with pitfalls and worries. It took us a long time to let go of worrying about what Iona ate. That happened right around the time we had Eilidh, when we no longer had time to worry so much about it.
With Eilidh, we listened to a different expert: Eilidh. We trusted Eilidh to tell us when she was ready for solid food, and which foods she wanted. It was a joyful, fun process. We no longer pureed or spoon-fed. Liberated from gadgetry and worry, we were able to enjoy our baby’s exploration of solids as much as she did. Similarly, Aidan will show me when he is ready for solid food. At the moment, he sits on my lap at mealtimes, or in a little chair that attaches to the side of the table right next to me.
Sometimes he is too tired or hungry to sit with us, and instead breastfeeds on my lap while I eat. At other times, he is incredibly interested in my fork, plate and all of the food on it. He is able to reach forward and pull the plate off the table with magician-like dexterity. This makes the girls giggle helplessly; me less so, since I have to clean my (uneaten) dinner off the floor. Aidan is happy with some toys, or a plastic spoon that he can hold, practice swapping from hand to hand or throw onto the floor (“Look, someone picks it up!”). Soon, those distractions won’t be good enough, and he will tell me in no uncertain terms that he wants the meal not the accoutrements. I register his current interest, though I watch and wait. There is no hurry, my milk is all he needs.
Whether or not I am ready to introduce solid foods is another matter entirely. Am I ready for the mess? I suppose it won’t be much messier than we already are at mealtimes. Am I ready for the hassle? Well, since I puree nothing and will just give him bits from the meal before any salt, spices, or sugar have been added, there isn’t much hassle. Am I ready for the change in the diapers? Definitely not. A breastfed baby’s diapers are so inoffensive, almost sweet smelling, and something about their milk-in-milk-out simplicity just says “baby” to me like nothing else. I am not ready to leave behind the baby-baby stage.
On the other hand, the girls are so excited to watch Aidan smear, squidge, and throw food. They interpret this impending exploration of food as sanctioned naughtiness—Aidan is allowed to throw food and mummy won’t get cross. In fact she will laugh! What could be better? Eilidh is so excited by the thought of giving Aidan food that I catch her giving him little sneaky licks of an apple. In reply to the question, “Who feeds the baby?” the girls are now able to repeat, in Von Trapp-like unison, “Mummy feeds the baby.” They say it, but I feel that time is limited and their patience is wearing thin.
My instinct is to delay. I watch and wait. I know that he is nearly there, nearly ready to have his first tastes. I begin to think about getting out the bibs, finding a mat for the floor, buying in some sweet potatoes and avocados to have with a meal one night. But I leave it for now. He’s not quite there yet, and neither am I. I listen to my inner voice and it tells me to wait a little longer.
Each day he looks at my plate, he reaches for the fork, he throws it on to the floor. One day, he will find a bit of broccoli, put it in his mouth. He might spit it out. He might eat a little. He is exploring and learning. Whether or not he eats a little or a lot is immaterial. These are complementary foods, complementing my milk, his number one source of nutrition, antibodies, comfort and connection. No pureed carrot can do all that!
Lisa Hassan Scott is an LLL Leader living in South Wales, UK with her husband, Keith, and three children. Read more of her features in Breastfeeding Today: Keeping Fit and Well, Cluster Feeding, Breasts, Body Image & Sexuality, Green Breastfeeding and Too Busy to Breastfeed.