Of home births and hero worship.

Recently, it’s really struck me how we all (or at least those of us who spend too much time googling shit and carry around an abundance of middle class guilt) aspire to a certain kind of birth. Pain-relief free, in a birthing-pool and, ideally, at home. The natural way.

(Incidentally, this line of thinking partly started because of the whole Helen-home-birth storyline on the Archers, which has since paled into insignificance).

Before I go any further I should say – if you did give birth at home, then props to you. I ain’t no hater.

But I do feel like women who manage to do it all ‘naturally’ receive a particular, celebrated status. They are sometimes talked about in a way that I rarely hear women who had assisted births being described. “Such a hero”, “amaaazing” etc.  And I don’t think that status serves anyone. Because, for one thing, it dictates how you should feel about your labour. At home with no pain-relief? You should feel good! In hospital with an epidural and some ‘assistance’. Bad. Obvs. Continue reading

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Don’t be a dummy: why pacifiers are just totally fine.

  
Breaking news: a four year old is seen with a dummy! Hold the front page! This whole Beckham pacifier debacle that’s got the chat rooms abuzz has drawn me back from a summer blogging-hiatus. Dear Reader, I am fuming.

Maybe it’s because I hate parents being hated on, or maybe it’s because this kind of nonsense passes for news while there are actual deprived children suffering in every nation of this world *screams into pillow*

If you haven’t heard (well done for avoiding the toxic judge-fest that is the daily mail) ‘experts’ have been warning that the Beckhams are putting their daughter at risk by still letting her use a dummy aged 4. As far as I can make out, this is total bullshit. Granted, if the girl was plonked in front of the TV every day with a bag of Haribo, a can of coke and a couple of soothers, there’d be an issue. But she’s not, is she? You can say a lot about the Beckhams, but they certainly seem to love and care for their children.

Before my son was born I thought I’d never use a dummy. Ever. I was all ‘children need to be able to comfort themselves…blah blah blah.’ Needless to say, I was a bit judge about the use of ‘pacifiers’. Well, it took me all of about 2 weeks to drop that self-righteous nonsense. 22 months on, Bubs still has a dummy, mostly to go sleep with, but also in the car, and sometimes just because. If he’s worked up it helps him calm down; if he’s teething it eases the pain.

So, as a dummy convert and a ardent opponent to the parent advice culture that most of us find ourselves drowning in at some point or other, I have decided to respond directly to some of the choicesquotes from the (literally) offending Daily Mail article directly.

“Last night parenting expert Clare Byam-Cook, a former midwife, said that the Beckhams were putting Harper’s wellbeing at risk.”

Did she? Did she actually say that? No, she didn’t. Neither is she a ‘parenting expert’, because that’s not a real thing. Ms Byam-Cook is a well-respected baby feeding expert, others might be experts in maternal health, childbirth, behavioural psychology, child nutrition, peadiatric dentistry… But not parenting. Even if was possible to have the wisdom, sensitivity and breadth of knowledge, you couldn’t possibly apply that to every individual child without spending a lifetime looking after them yourself. You know, actually being their parent? Moving on…

“I can’t believe she is still using a dummy. If she has a dummy in their mouth at this age, at four, it really can damage her teeth and it is very likely to hinder speech development. You are far less likely to speak if you have a dummy in your mouth than if your mouth is free. Many dentists will agree that dummy use at this age really is not good.”

This comment begins by sounding like a cliquey mum at a stay and play group and ends sounding like a Colgate advert. ‘I can’t believe she is still using a dummy!’ Give me a break.

But thank God we have an expert to tell us that if a child has something in their mouth they are less likely to speak, no one would work that out on their own and regulate their little one’s dummy use accordingly. Sigh.

“After about three months, most babies should not need a comforter. Children at the age of four really don’t need a dummy.”

New parents, here is a trick for staying sane: If you see any parenting advice with a) the word ‘should’ in it b) the words ‘most babies’ in it or c) an arbitrary age at which things should start/end, try not to take it too seriously. If all three components are present in the same sentence, run. Run away and never look back. This is not good advice, there is nothing constructive in it and therefore it has the potential to be destructive, at least to your confidence levels.

#JustSaying

“David and Victoria seem wonderful parents and I’m sure they give Harper lots of attention but, like it or not, they are role models and lots of people will see this and think that having a dummy at this age is normal when it is not.”

NO! No, Clare, there is no but – if they are wonderful parents then bloody well leave them be, God knows this world has enough people who really don’t care for their kids.

And, sorry, if your reference for what’s ‘normal’ comes from David and Victoria Beckham you have bigger problems. Also, if the pictures are so bad, maybe the Mail shouldn’t publish them. Just a thought. Finally, our first expert adds:

“It could be last child syndrome – because she is the youngest David and Victoria could be clinging on to her being a baby.”

Are your self-righteous bullshit detectors bleeping yet? If not wait until Sue Atkins wades in:

“It is an easy option for parents, because if you give them a dummy they shut up and are quiet. It’s the same as giving them an iPad really.”

Here it is people, the flat-out unashamed judgement of other peoples choices. No mention of the fact that we all need the ‘easy option’ sometimes; we shouldn’t feel guilty about using a soother (or an iPad) to quiet a tantruming toddler every now and then. It’s called real life, and every parent is just a human trying their best. Even the Beckhams. The idea that people who use dummies do so because they want their child to “shut up” is frankly insulting. Oh, but wait, she’s not finished…

“Some parents use them as an easy way to keep their kids quiet, and their language development is impaired by it because they don’t have to talk. It delays their vocabulary if they have them too long.”

Oh, just fuck off. Undoubtedly there are a few naughty/sad/ignorant people out there who just don’t want to engage with their children, but that isn’t most of us. This association between an ‘impaired’ vocabulary and dummies is at best a generalisation and at worst a nonsense based on extreme anecdotal evidence.

Just for the record, my son (the toddler with the dummy) counts to 5, sings the alphabet and knows the difference between a circle and an oval. #mikedrop

  

My son with a dummy. And what?

Okay, time to get a bit serious. This shit is toxic. What may seem like a fun ranty article to some people leaves others cowering in the corner, racked with guilt about their failure as a parent. I’m not exaggerating. It makes us doubt ourselves and our knowledge of our own children. This is damaging for all involved.

The world doesn’t need less dummies, it needs less overtly judgemental bullying of parents who are obviously doing a very good job in general.        

Funnily enough, shoved in right at the end of the article is another opinion. Though it is also from an ‘expert’ it is not included in the headline, probably because this particular person says something completely reasonable. And reasonable doesn’t sell newspapers…

“She said: ‘It is up to the parents – famous or not – to decide when their child is ready to stop using a dummy. It’s a personal decision in every family and they know best […]

The most important thing is that she feels loved, safe, secure and able to engage with the world.'”

Finally, a bit of bloody sense. The only experts we should listen to are ones who acknowledge that, when it comes to our children, we are the true specialists.

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What do you think? Is it all a bit much or are you really shocked by what the Beckhams have chosen for their daughter? Leave a comment below and I shall respond duly!

  

Parents: We’ve all gone a little bit mad.

Hi there good people. Just a little note today from you’re resident malcontent to say ‘Hey, are you feeling a bit mad?’ Well you’re not alone!

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As you may have guessed from the general (fucking hilarious) tone of this blog, I’m not exactly okay with the current advice-culture-quagmire we modern day parents have to wade through. And, frankly, I think we’ve all gone a bit mad. Why? Because there are so many bloody ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’. Neuroses about food and sleep and behaviour and development continually pop up on our Facebook feeds and get rammed down our throats in the form of ‘news’ articles and ‘helpful’ books. Seriously, I continually write about how all this stuff is utter BS but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me. It’s like how I get well angry with the general “be thin, be thin, be reeeeeeaaally thin” bombardment women face on a daily basis’ but also hate my upper arms (I mean they are utterly hideous, as showcased above) and read the calorie counts when deciding which sandwich to buy. Bleurgh. Continue reading

It’s my vote and I’ll “waste it” if I want to!!

*NB: If it’s after midnight on 20th April you can skip the first paragraph*

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past 48 hours, it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that the deadline for registering to vote in at midnight tonight. TONIGHT PEOPLE! Have you done it? Have you??? If you haven’t then I forbid you from reading the rest of this post, go to the website now and register (then come back and read this post, obvs). Do it or relinquish all rights to complain about anything for the next 5 years. That’s right, no moaning about schools or hospitals or roadworks or buses or whichever smug git lives in Number 10. A life without moaning, ask yourself, is it really worth living?? Speaking of which…

Now that the public service announcement is out of the way I can get back to my regularly scheduled programme of malcontentedness. So, the election campaign, are you bored of it yet? If like me you tuned in to the first 10 minutes of the leaders’ debates, thought “yeah, that’s about what I expected” and then switched it off, then you may well be sick of all the posturing and blaming and general non-answering of questions that characterises electioneering. I am sort of sick of it too, though I’m finding this election more engaging than usual. Maybe that’s because it’s a bit more unpredictable or because there are some women front-and-centre (or should I say front-and-left *self-satisfied chuckle*) for a change. Whatever it is, I can generally deal with the politics of it all. What I am really earth-shatteringly bored – and what I have been angry about for a long time now – is the way that every major party wants me to believe that only a vote for them ‘counts’.

My constituency was Labour until 2005 but for the past 10 years it’s been Lib Dem (sorry guys, I didn’t know what I was doing!!). Consequently its hard fought turf this time around. I haven’t seen so much as a leaflet from another candidate, whilst I’m practically getting junk-mailed to death by Lab and Lib alike. That’s a shame in itself, but it’s not surprising given the fact that both parties would like us all to believe that any other vote is a wasted vote.

Continue reading

But the protein, what about the PROTEIN????? Parenting as a vegetarian.

Meat-Free-Week_1024x768_UK

Apparently this week is ‘Meat-Free Week‘ (yeah, I didn’t know that was a thing either, cheers Mumsnet). The name is sort of self-explanatory but just in case; it’s a week where families/businesses/general people are challenged not to eat meat, like, none at all. As a veggie family this would not be a particularly radical move for us, obvs. And yes, our entire household is meat-free, my 17-month old son included. Dun dun deeeer!

Don’t worry, I’m not one of those vegetarians. I don’t get evangelical or self-righteous about people choosing to eat meat. I pretty much hate self-righteousness in all of its forms (hence the irreverent blog). Plus I eat fish occasionally, so I’m not even a real veggie. I am a sham; that inferior breed known as pescatarian. Or, as I like to call us pesky-tarians. *chortle*

This post isn’t going to about how everyone should go meat-free for ever, or even for a week, but I do think the idea of becoming aware of how much meat you eat and where it comes from is a good idea. Cos, come on people, it has got a bit ridiculouso. Right? Like, apparently Britons eat 1 billion chickens a year. ONE BILLION. I know Nandos is yummy but that just seems a bit much.

But you can read about all that do-gooder stuff elsewhere. All I want to talk about is my family and my life. Screw the planet and animals and crap.*

My husband and I have been vegetarian for a long time now so when Bubs started weaning it wasn’t really a question for us whether we’d give him meat; of course not. We have a generally healthy diet with lots of variety and we know people who have grown-up vegetarian (and vegan) are genuinely fully-functional adults (true story). Plus, we mainly choose not to eat meat for ethical reasons – which I have already promised not to bang on about – but it would seem very odd indeed not to pass those ethical principles, which are held especially dear by Hubs, onto our children. If later Bubs chooses to eat meat, fair dos, but for now we won’t be feeding him any.

So, yeah, he’s a vegetarian, no big deal, that’s just how it is.

Enter the grandparents.

Now, if one of Bubs’ grandparents is reading this, I’m not talking about you, obvs. You are great. I’m talking about the other lot, or the other other lot. (Bubs has 6 grandparents, naturally).

When I was pregnant and talking to, shall we call them The Undisclosed Grandparent?, I made some off-handed comment about how the baby wouldn’t be having sausages or chicken nuggets or something. Oh the horror! In reply I received a contorted expression and the question “Aren’t you going to give him meat??” Now, while I’m not 100% sure said grandparent wasn’t joking, I feel they were just saying what a lot of other people were thinking.

When we broached the subject with most of the family you could see that worried I’m-not-going-to-interfere-but-what-the-bloody-hell-are-you-playing-at look their eyes. I would quickly rush in with some comment about how, obviously if at any time the baby seemed not to be thriving we would consider…blah blah blah.

I can’t blame them for these reactions. Our choice is totally outside the cultural norm. For some the idea of bringing up your child as a vegetarian would be better described as depriving you child of meat. Okay, maybe in the olden days if you were a peasant and could only afford one loaf of bread to share between a family of 14, or if you’re living on a dollar a day in a slum somewhere, but not now, now here! You bloody hippy lunatics! How will they, like, grow and stuff???

Protein is usually the biggest concern in this scenario. ‘Can he get enough protein like that?’ ‘Are you worried about protein??’ or the classic ‘So, what does he eat?’ Protein, protein bloody protein! It’s all a bit over the top if you ask me. I blame Atkins. Not only for the whole ‘carbs-bad protein-good nonsense’ but for the idea that you get only protein from surf and turf. End of.

Well, folks, and I’m gonna blow your mind here, there is protein is lots of food. Even food that is not meat, even food that is not dairy or meat or eggs. Who knew right? (yes, we all did, so why is the whole veggie thing a problem?)

But there shouldn’t be a problem anyway because he’ll eat fish, right? Wrong! I eat fish if I’m out and fancy it occasionally but at home we don’t have it all. Hubs would prefer if Bubs laid off it for now and I have no problem with that. I don’t eat fish for health reasons. I mean, don’t get me wrong, when I started to eat fish again I sort of believed it was for health reasons, but really I just like seafood. To be quite honest when I end up eating fish more than once in a while I get a bored with it. Give me veggie lasagne any day of the week.  Mmmm… lasagne.

This whole no-fish policy (which isn’t even completely the case since Bub’s formula had fish oils in it) is more contentious than I first thought. I think some of my relatives (no not you, obviously, you are totally cool, the coolest of all) think that I will at some point rise up against the vegetarian tyranny and restore my child’s right to eat salmon. Well, I won’t. When he’s old enough to express a desire to taste fish? Sure, go for it. But til then I’m just not that bothered. Because I know he is absolutely fine.

Anyway, yeah, Bubs gets plenty of protein. He gets plenty of everything. Fruit, veg, bread, beans, dairy, eggs, the occasional rich tea biscuit. And, in my assessment, he’s doing alright on the whole growing-up front.

Poor thing, he's basically wasting away...

Poor thing, look at those hollow cheeks and dull eyes, he’s basically wasting away… Oh wait…

And if my unprofessional opinion isn’t enough then let it be known that even the NHS says it’s okay to bring your kids up on a vegetarian diet! And the NHS says loads of shit that I do/did is not okay (see every other post I’ve ever written for details). I mean, they don’t unreservedly celebrate vegetarianism; they say stuff like “If you’re bringing up your child on a diet without meat they’ll need a varied diet to make sure that they have enough nutrients to grow and develop”. But, frankly, that’s a pretty weak statement because I’m pretty sure it applies all children, in fact to all people. I doubt you’ll find a paediatrician or health visitor in the land who says “If you’re feeding your children meat then don’t worry about a balanced diet or nutrients or anything.”

Still, despite being very assured in the fact that my toddler is not having his growth stunted or missing out in anyway, I still feel a bit self-conscious when I tell people. I here myself saying “he’s vegetarian” and think “God, she sounds like a pretentious dick.” But ho hum, them’s the breaks. As long as I’m aware that people disapprove of some of my parenting choices, there’ll probably always be a little voice in my head that agrees with them. The trick is to that voice to sit down and shut-up, then go and make a veggie lasagne. Mmmm….

What’s your experience? Were you brought up vegetarian or doing so with your kids? Or perhaps you think a life without meat is not worth living? Either way get involved by commenting below. Or…

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*P.S. don’t screw the planet or animals or crap, that would be really bad.

Toddlers watching TV: It’s, like, totally fine, isn’t it??

Aaah, CBeebies. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! You have created a continual stream of benign, advert-free and (generally) educational children’s television. You lovely bloody geniuses!  I mean, where else can we find shows that explore emotional intelligence at a 3-year-old level, or encourage kids to use their imaginations to enjoy classical music, or even covertly teach counting through the cunning use of an eccentric beige character who has a love of stones?

That’s right, people, I love CBeebies. I’m not afraid to admit. And I let Bubs watch TV. Quite a lot.

*hyperventilates with the overwhelming fear of self-righteous parental judgement*

Joking aside, for some reason TV has recently been added to my “oh my God, am I ruining my child?” list of irrational fears. As I type this I can genuinely feel my anxiety heightening. We all have these moments. Panic sets in as a giant, bright red neon sign switches on in your mind. “DANGER: BAD MOTHER ALERT!” it warns, flashing violently.

But it’s weird I should feel that – even in a self-aware sort of a way – because almost everyone I know lets their kids watch TV. It’s a totally accepted, alright thing, isn’t it? Okay, some people choose not to let their kids watch any screens, which seems reasonable, but it doesn’t mean that they are kinder, more creative, better parents, does it?

IT DOESN’T, DOES IT???

No, it doesn’t. Breathe.

There is always something or other in the news linking behaviour to health issues. Not that it takes a genius to work out that if a child plays X-Box all weekend and doesn’t go outside at all then they are more likely to become obese (I’ll take that PhD now, please). But still there always seems to be some study saying kids who do/don’t do this are more likely to become underachievers/unhealthy adults/murderous rapscallions.

Like research on other parenting issues that can get a bit judgey (e.g. formula-feeding and the use of dummies) this stuff often gets simplified by the media. I mean “researchers have found possible negative outcomes to TV watching but these may also be due to socioeconomic factors” isn’t exactly clickbait is it?? No, we want a headline that goes something like “Children Who Watch TV Are Basically F*cked, Scientists Say.” That’s the one that will go viral.

The problem with this kind of sensationalist rubbish is that it draws a false divide. On the one hand there are children who are read to and sung to, who love books and spend a lot of times outdoors, who have oodles of face-to-face interaction with their parents; on the other there are kids who watch TV. Of course this also implies two kinds of parents; those who can be bothered and those who can’t. Bleurgh.

But what if your kids can be both kinds of kid? Or parents can be both kinds of parents? What if those of us who spend most of our time being very much bothered with entertaining and caring for our children sometimes just want to sit down for 20 minutes? What if that was okay?

My Bubs loves books. LOVES them. We were on a plane when he was about 10 months old and he was kicking off majorly, and what was the thing that finally calmed him down? Being read a book. (we did feel a flutter of parental triumph at that particular moment). Bubs likes drawing and playing outside and watching bubbles and singing and dancing and all that good stuff. But you know what? He also enjoys a spot of TV. He can actually sing the Pingu theme tune and points at the TV in delighted surprise every time the Ninky-Nonk/Pinky-Ponk bursts through the hedge in the Night Garden. It’s really very cute.

Bubs is on an advanced reading programme.

Bubs is on an advanced reading programme.

However, I recently discovered that TV isn’t ‘recommended’ for kids under two-years-old and have been a slightly torturous inward debate ever since. Before they are TWO? Oops. That ship has well and truly sailed. I reckon Bubs was first introduced to CBeebies at around the 3 month mark (oh the shame!).

So I had to have a look at why these recommendations were put in place: “A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” We are told by the American Academy of Peadiatrics. Well, duh! Like, that is totes obvs!

It’s so black and white, I mean why does that statement mean no screen time whatsoever? NO TV OR ALL IS LOST! It’s as if a few episodes of Tinga Tinga Tales is somehow a gateway-drug to a hardcore TV addiction in which children become unable to imagine and create. I’m not saying this can’t happen. In fact, I’m sure it does in homes where the TV is a third (first?) parent and no one talks about their day or reads or sings song. Sad face.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here. No one is advocating sitting your 4-year-old to binge watch an entire season of Breaking Bad. That would be properly awful.

Sometimes I let Bubs watch TV in really sensible way. I use iPlayer to select the programme and I limit him to one episode, just long enough for me to get something done (often a nappy change: TV is a Godsend for parents of pooey, wriggly toddlers).

But other times I just put it on because I can’t think what else to do. It’s only 10am and I’ve already read that book 5 times and sung my full repertoire of nursery rhymes. The day stretches out before me like a particularly shouty question mark and I just need 10 minutes to stare into space or check my email or something.

Then there are those times when, franky, I just want to watch some telly. I like telly. Other than the smorgasbord of delights offered on CBeebies the only TV show my son is aware of is Pointless, which I occasionally put on for us to watch ‘together’. What? It’s super educational man! I mean, who knew there was an element called Einsteinium? Huh?

I’m not pretending this is the ideal in parenting habits. But I’m not the ideal parent. I’m a human. Shock horror.

Based on the anecdotal evidence I have, I am pretty darn sure this regular TV watching will cause Bubs no long term harm. As a child I watched a fair bit of CBBC, and Neighbours, and then switched over to BBC2 for The Simpsons (those were the days!). Still, I have managed to grow up into a relatively emotionally intelligent person who holds a Masters Degree in Cultural History with Distinction. #justsaying. I also have a friend who, as the 3rd child, was pretty much plonked in front of the TV with a colouring book for much of her childhood. She is now, as well as just being lovely, a qualified doctor who’s taking a year out to do an art foundation course. Well-rounded much?

Don’t get me wrong, I think parents who don’t let their kids watch TV are awesome; I just wish my admiration wasn’t accompanied by a stomach-curdling dose of inferiority complex. It’s not their fault I feel this way, of course it’s not. It’s the fault of a society that has come to believe we must consult ‘experts’ at every turn. Every parenting decision must be scrutinised under the microscope of Research, conclusions reached and expounded. A one-size-fits all code of parenting.

What if we, I don’t know, made decisions based on common sense that were guided by our love for our children, as well as a healthy dose of realistic expectations of ourselves? I mean, isn’t that what most of us are doing?

Yeah, I thought so.

So, in conclusion. TV, it’s like, totally fine. Isn’t it?

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Attention, Attention! Why all play is hard work.

Did you know that you’re supposed to talk to your baby? Well, you are. You should talk and talk and talk. All the time. At every opportunity you should be spouting forth nonsense in order to stimulate those tiny synapses. Or something.

Seriously, dude. Go and TALK TO YOUR BABY. DO IT NOW! Why are you still reading this? I don’t care if she’s asleep, go and whisper your shopping list into her little ear.

Of course, I jest. But it sort of feels like that sometimes doesn’t it? All the leaflets and webpages and well-meaning suggestions on engaging with your small, and perhaps as yet uninterested, person; it can be a bit daunting. There are pages and pages of this stuff. I came across one article whilst researching this post called ’50 simple ways to make your baby smarter’ (Google it if you like, I’m not going to dignify it with a hyperlink). It’s like, WHAT? Seriously? Make your baby smarter? Your BABY? The implication here is that you can also make your baby more stupid, by not following all 50 ‘helpful hints’. Bleurgh to that.

I kept seeing those articles about making sure your child was getting enough stimulation in the early days. It’s. Really. Important. *hyperventilates* One health visitor told me to talk to Bubs constantly. She used that word. I’m sure she didn’t actually mean constantly, but, you know, I was sleep-deprived at the time. Nuance wasn’t a thing.

So, I endeavoured to talk constantly to my baby, giving him a running commentary on nappy changes, shopping lists and antibacterial wipes. Let’s face it, I haven’t got much good chat these days. But still, we do as we’re told don’t we?  One NHS guide tells us

“When you cook, show them what you’re doing and talk to them as you’re working.”

Cooking is always used as an example. “Now, Bartholomew, I’m just sauteeing these onions and then I’ll tomatoes, thyme and a dash of salt.”  It’s a bit like being on Saturday Kitchen, except without make-up artists, an appreciative audience or getting paid.

Sometimes I just want to make some pasta. In silence. Who’s with me?

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Is ‘baby led’ a bit misleading?

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I love the ideas behind ‘baby led’ weaning. Waiting until your baby actually wants food and, therefore, escaping the vicious circle that is ‘mush on spoon à spoon in mouth à much spat out à mush on spoon again’ sounds like a reasonable proposition. Then there are the added benefits of not spending your evenings pureeing ‘batches’ for the freezer. Instead you just hand your baby a broccoli floret and let them suck on it for half an hour whilst you play Candy Crush. What’s not to love?

My health visitor was the first to explain the basics of ‘baby led’ to me. She was awesome; always really supportive and reassuring. She told me about the signs that your baby is ready for solids. They can sit in a high chair, has a gag reflex, hand-eye coordination and is interested in food etc. “You go with your baby” she encouraged me, and said that it didn’t really matter if I didn’t wait until 6 months as long as I was being attentive to Bubs’ needs. So, you know – baby is leading. Coolio.

Cut to a month or so later, when I attend a baby led weaning workshop at my local Sure Start centre. The nurse who ran it announced that ‘baby led’ weaning is waiting until six months and then only giving finger foods. To be fair, she did mention earlier weaning as an ‘option’ but it was clearly not recommended. It was a really useful workshop in a lot of ways, especially learning the difference between gagging and choking (that shizzle looks SCARY if you don’t know what it is). But I did not abide by the guidelines it laid down, no Siree. There were definitely some spoons and mush involved.

Still, Bubs eats almost everything with his hand nowadays; veg, cereal, spaghetti, you name it! And that makes things a lot easier as I can eat when he does. At some meals I even get to eat sitting down, using both of my hands, at the same time!!  #winning

So, I have no beef with ‘baby led’ as a method. Well, almost none. It’s just that I’m a bit irked by the fact that it’s called the ‘baby led’ method.

From what I understand (and I’m certain some of you will correct me if I’m wrong), baby-led simply refers to offering your baby finger foods etc from the beginning, rather than starting on puree etc. It also refers to waiting for them to be sitting, with good hand-eye coordination and the ability to swallow (okay, that last is pretty obvious, obvs). Then you have the whole six-month milestone, when they are ready for proper solids. Hmm.

If we’ve decided which foods we’re going to give our baby and what age they’ll be when we start, aren’t we the one’s leading?

I don’t know how else to put this, so I’m just gonna come right out with it: to me, the name ‘baby led’ just sounds a bit, well, smug.

Obviously the average parent chooses when and how to weaning their children based on a) what’s best for the child and b) what works for the rest of the family. So please don’t think I’m saying that parents who start with finger food are smug. I’m not. But what I am saying is words have power! If one group of people gets to say that they have engaged in ‘baby led’ weaning, whilst the other say ‘spoon-fed’ I think the latter might feel a bit belittled, or even disempowered.

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that a mother has a very big baby, who cannot get enough milk down himself. He’s depleted the breast milk supply and is a  formula fiend: hungry hungry hungry!! Say that mother does A LOT of research and decides to give him food bang on 17 weeks; just easily digestible mush on a spoon for the first while. Perhaps the baby is much more settled and happy after that, sleeps better, doesn’t cry as much… You see, to me that would seem pretty ‘baby-led’. But this mum might feel she isn’t doing the ‘right thing’, she might be seen as old-fashioned or, much worse, selfish for her decisions. She might even be told by a health visitor that she had “put her baby at risk”.

This is all hypothetical, you understand, and defo didn’t happen to someone I know or anything. Sigh.

No informed decision that a parent makes, lovingly or pragmatically, should be seen as inferior. I mean, come on guys, let’s not create an additional infant-feeding hierarchy. We already have ‘breast-feeding v formula’ pretty much nailed (insert angry comment below).

Terminology surrounding parenting choices often becomes value-laden. THIS way is the right way, and all others are what lazy/uninformed/bad parents do. Most of us know that is utter tosh but that doesn’t stop us from worrying that we are in the latter category sometimes. So perhaps we could choose our words more consciously. If it’s going to be ‘spoon feeding’ for the puree-first stuff then maybe the other approach should be called ‘finger feeding’ or something. Okay, that’s not the most inspired name but it’s a lot more accurate and not half as up itself!

Or maybe, perhaps, possibly, we might think about just not labelling ourselves in camps. Let’s face it, when it comes to parenting the only ‘method’ most of us actually stick to is trail-and-error (my new book Trial and Error Child-Rearing: the technique for parents who can’t be bothered will be in all good bookstores next Spring).

But that’s not enough is it? We have to have something to say about our choices. It has to be this guideline, or that book, or someone else who led us to our conclusions. We have to have thought it all through. Otherwise how will we explain ourselves?? I mean, imagine the scene:

Have you weaned your children?

Yes, I have.

What method did you use?

Oh, I pretty much stuck to the give-them-some-food method. You know, food in the mouth, swallowing it and then pooing a bit later. Then some more food after that at some point.

Great, where can I get the book?

Sigh.

What do you think? I ‘baby led’ an accurate and helpful name? Maybe you’ve felt judged for you weaning choices, either way? Get involved by commenting below, tweeting me @aafew or.going to my Facebook page.

Weaning: To purée or not to purée, that is the (tedious) question.

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puree

How old was your baby when someone of a previous generation said something along the lines of ‘he could probably do with some food now’. 3 months? 4? And what was your response? Did you look at them, aghast at their out-of-date information, and make it quite clear that the guidelines say no food before 6 months, thank you very much? Perhaps you smiled and made that non-committal ‘hmm’ sound we all have in reserve for when we don’t agree with older relatives but wish to avoid a pointless confrontation. But maybe you did agree. Your baby had been staring at up as you munched on your cornflakes that morning, with a look of strained longing on their face that very morning. Oh God, maybe there are right, maybe I’m starving her!!

When I was little, the recommendations were to wean babies on soft, mashed food at 3 months. Soon after that the guidance changed to 4 months. But now the NHS has assessed the research and decided baby-led weaning is the thing to do. And for that you have to wait until your baby is six months old.

But what is this baby-led weaning you speak of? Well, it basically means no purees, no mush, just straight onto normal grown-up solids. Not oven chips or a tikka masala, obvs, but normal fruit and veg and pasta and bread and all that good shit. In fact, in a video I was shown at a ‘weaning workshop’ a six-month old chows down a chicken leg. An actual chicken legs. Obvs the little thing has hardly any teeth, so it’s more a chicken lolly-pop (*gag*) than anything else, but you get the picture.

To be honest my first thought was ‘6 months?’ Six. Whole. Months? 26 weeks?? That is approximately 180 days of constant boob or bottle. So either your baby is attached to your body all day long (exaggeration alert) or you’re stuck in the tedious cycle of bottle washing, sterilising, formula buying and all that expensive nonsense. And that wasn’t my only objection. From pretty much the moment he exited my womb Bubs was hungry. Like, HUNGRY. And he let us know. Oh boy, he let us know. That scream. *shudder* Even when he was guzzling formula he still very often wanted copious amounts every two hours. Any hoo, as you may have guessed I didn’t make it to 6 months, alert social services immediately

But whatever my uninformed objections are, at least the guidance on weaning is pretty straight forward, you know, no mixed messages or anything…

Um, hold on a minute, I may be incorrect on that point.

When Bubs was about 4 months old I went to a weaning workshop put on at my local sure start centre (free at the point of delivery guys; you gotta love the NHS). The lovely and well informed nurse began by saying “NO FOOD BEFORE SIX MONTHS and, basically, then you can give them anything.” She gave us info about the ‘signs’ that your baby is ready for food and we watched that video. She answered our questions and it was all quite helpful. But as the session went on she started to say things like “ABSOLUTELY NO food before 17 weeks.” Wait, what? That’s a lot less than 26, right? I mean I only have a B in maths GCSE but even I know that’s, like, well different. Then she started to add “and if you do it should be SAFE WEANING, which is just pureed fruit and veg”. Purees? What? Confusion strikes!

I understand really. The nurse was aware that not all of us (me) would wait that long and she wanted to give a bit of information about what was safe for our babies. Fair dos. But then the books get involved too. Those darned books.

Enter, Annabel Karmel.

Karmel is the Gina Ford of weaning. By that I don’t mean that she recommends that you impose an anally retentive, unrealistic regime on yourself and your baby (sozzers Gina, truth hurts), but that hers is the go-to book for weaning. And good for her, I say! (Except not good for you for putting your name to a food range that includes E numbers; not cool Annabel, not cool) This was the book half of my friends bought and found very helpful. Though I think they pretty much just read the middle bit that gave them a little plan of which solids gradually. ‘At 6 months they can have everything’ is a bit vague, to be fair, so it’s not surprising that they wanted some guidance.

But here’s where it get’s tricky. After all the baby-led stuff we’ve been told about, Karmel’s book tells you to introduce totally smooth food first. That’s right folks: purees are a-go-go. Yes, with this method it’s all mushy pears and baby rice. But you’ve still got to wait until the baby is six months old.  Worst of both worlds, anyone?

May I interject at this point and just ask WHAT THE EFF IS BABY RICE? ISN’T IT JUST GROUND RICE? WHY IS IT A THING???

Needed to get that off my chest. I’ll continue.

It’s not just Annabel Karmel who still insists on basically making smoothies for your baby in the first month. Lots of books do. Including the one pictured below, which I was given whilst pregnant. Under the heading How to Wean Your Baby we are told that ‘first foods should be more like thick milk’ (#babyrice) and weaning is a “process” from liquid to solid. One could forgive a new parent for feeling like they’re getting mixed messages at this point!

pure ebba

I think you’ll agree that both the level of glamour and expression of joy seen in this picture accurately represent the average mother-of-four at tea time on a Tuesday evening.

 
To complete the muddled mixture of over-bearing instructions, throw in the advice of umpteen friends and family members (wewere told to feed them as soon as they hit 16 lbs; oh baby-led is the perfect way to do it; can’t you just give her a bit of banana??; oh, don’t give them ANYTHING sweet, it leads to obesity).

I was (sort of) lucky with weaning in that a) I had a pragmatic and supportive Health Visitor and b) I didn’t really give a shit. Early in my parenting ‘journey’ I had gone right into the middle of crazy town, oft to be found on Worry-about-every-tiny-decision Street and I-can’t-do-this Avenue, but by the time Bubs was five months I was out onto the open road heading towards How-Wrong-Can-it-Really-Go’sville.

Because here’s my assessment: Pretty much everyone who is now old enough to have a child was weaned at 3 or 4 months on mush. But also LOADS of babies have been in situations and times when pureeing wasn’t an option, ergo baby-led happened. In my current circle of friends some went hard on the baby rice, whilst others committed solely to finger food. And now? Well, all of our babies are healthy and they all eat food. And they are all, at times, fuss pots. Because they are toddlers, and that’s what happens when a human begins to discover it has free will (more on that in a later post).

Knowing that there are plenty of healthy babies who are Strictly-Karmel and another swathe who chomped on chicken legs before they could crawl made me think “Well, they both must be fine then!” Rebel that I am, I gave Bubs solids at 5 months (which he loved, btw) in both finger food and puree form. At the same time. What can I say? I’m just crazy like that.

So, whilst I should add the disclaimer that I have literally no expertise in weaning, or child nutrition, or really anything TBH, I want you to know that if your decisions about what to give your baby when are based on the welfare of that child then they are probably fine. Aren’t they?

 

What do you think? Maybe I’m being too blase and should get my facts straight? Or perhaps making decisions about weaning drove you up the wall. Did you have lots of unwelcome advice? Or would you have liked a bit more? Get involved by commenting below, tweeting me @aafew or heading over to my facebook page

This post is part of my ‘welcome to weaning’ series. Get the rest delivered straight to your inbox by subscribing above. (Yep, up there on the right, you know, where it says ‘subscribe’).

 

 

Welcome to Weaning.

The inclusion of this photo serves no purpose. But I have an intensely cute son and like to show off about it now and then.

The inclusion of this photo serves no purpose. But I have an intensely cute son and like to show him off now and then.

For a while now I’ve been trying to write a post about weaning. Where to start is the hardest part. I mean, it’s a pretty big deal. From the age 4/5/6 months (the controversy begins) you will have to feed your child actual food. No more milky one-stop-shop for you, good folk. Oh no, now you have to think about stuff like balanced diets and how to persuade a 9-month old to eat something that a) doesn’t taste like banana and b) isn’t covered in yoghurt. Some find this process quite fun; a new sensory adventure with their little one. Others see it as the next in a long line of ‘what-the-eff-am-I-doing?’ parenting moments.

Well aren’t we lucky, then, that there is such a clear, reasonable consensus on how to wean a baby. I mean, it would be a nightmare if, say, there was massive disagreement as to when you should start, how you should start etc. Oh wait, there is? Bums.

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Yes, that’s right folks, here’s yet another ‘issue’ to add to the long list of things-there-seem-to-be-a-thousand-experts-in-who-all-have-different-opinions. What have we had so far? Sleeping, breast/bottle feeding, routines (or not), discipline, going back to work, crying… Sigh.

But fear not! For I am here to tell you the secret of successful weaning. Are you ready? Because it may just blow your mind… *drum roll*

Just feed your baby, with food!

It’s crazy but it’s true. It could be baby food, it could be ‘adult’ food. As long as it’s real, actual food and not something developed in a lab using mostly E numbers, transfats and monosodium glutamate, then you’re probably fine.

This theory of mine is based purely on anecdotal evidence and the knowledge that every grown-up alive today was weaned at some stage, many of them in very haphazard ways that followed no guidelines or ‘expert’ advice. All of these people are, as afore mentioned, alive today.

My mum basically did baby-led weaning accidentally in the 80s because, well, she just did. I was chowing down a sausage as finger-food well before my first birthday. Meanwhile, some people’s parents were reluctant to give them anything that had the slightest hint of a lump in it until they had a full set of molars. And guess what? We all lived to tell the tale. Huzzah!

So, that’s the short version. But I realised recently that the reason I can’t seem to compose a bloody post on weaning is because there’s too much to say. So, the next few posts on here will all be weaning-related. A theme to start the new. I know, right, how thought through is that??? Ranting and hilarity will inevitably ensue.

Hold onto your highchairs!

What are your thoughts on weaning? Are you a regimented puree-er? An ardent baby-led believer? Or a bit laisse faire about the whole thing? Let me know by commenting below, tweeting me @aafew or going over to my facebook page.

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