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Breastfeeding and baby-led weaning

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baby-led weaningBaby-led weaning is simple. It is about teaching a child how to feed itself, when it is hungry.

Science, health and fitness are subjects of interest to me, and I marvel at the engineering and care, management and repair facilities of the human body, so making the decision to breastfeed my baby was easy for me.

What was more difficult was dealing with the “interest” external parties had in my decision.

I strongly believe that women have the right to manage their own bodies, but, unfortunately, breastfeeding seems to fall into the same category as abortion.

What should be a personal decision has become a political and social battleground, with a woman’s right to autonomy falling by the wayside.

Yes, I believe in breastfeeding, but I also believe in a woman’s right to choose what is best for her and her baby. So if formula is the best option for a mother, there should not be any shaming of a woman for her choice.

Even before I had my baby, I was caught by surprise as a friend and her partner made continuous disparaging remarks about breastfeeding, including claiming that it was absolutely no better than formula, especially in terms of quantity and quality of nutrients.

Their campaign was so sustained that I began to feel uncomfortable and as if I should justify my decision, when what was probably going on was a search for reinforcement of their own choice – to formula feed.

And prior to getting pregnant, I thought breastfeeding a child who could walk was pretty weird and something that I was fairly certain I would not do.

Even during my pregnancy, having decided to follow the recommendations, including those of the World Health Organisation (WHO), for six months of exclusive breastfeeding, I thought that sounded like a lengthy period of time.

Six months flew by, and suddenly society was exerting additional unexpected pressure on me – via my husband.

As a new dad out and about with a cute baby, he discovered a whole new level of public interaction, and breastfeeding was an oft-mentioned topic.

The closer we got to our son’s first birthday, the more my husband said “No one else is doing it this long”.

It seemed that many, if not most, of the people he spoke to seemed to have either stopped breastfeeding between six and eight months or never started.

I would have preferred to wait longer than we did to introduce solid foods to our son, but I was adamant that our son and I would stop breastfeeding when it was the ‘right time’.

This created conflict in my relationship because I could not specify a month or day as the ‘right time.’

I didn’t have the heart to force our son to stop breastfeeding, I felt that such a decision if made by me was subjective and wilfully ignoring what he indicated he needed.

Then, before our son was one year old, Time magazine published its controversial cover story about women who breastfeed into toddlerhood.

The story was much discussed – with (it seemed) most people taking offence or expressing shock.

After my son turned one, many people revealed their assumption that breastfeeding was over, both because of his age and because he was mobile. Suddenly, despite my earlier intentions, almost without realising it was happening, I was breastfeeding a child who could walk.

And as he grew, and his needs changed, and my personal and professional obligations increased, we worked together to accommodate breastfeeding in our schedules.

We eventually reached an arrangement where we were both happy and breastfeeding could continue to wind down as he matured.

At some point in this process I came across literature about baby-led weaning and went on to read Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett’s book, ‘Baby-led Weaning: Helping your baby to love good food’.

I couldn’t believe that in all my previous reading I hadn’t come across it before. It was exactly what my son and I were doing, and I was surprised that the theory wasn’t more widely communicated, especially with on-going public debate over breastfeeding.

Baby-led weaning is simple. It starts when a baby is physically developed enough to pick things up and get them in their mouth and when they indicate interest in the food that the family is eating.

It is about teaching your child how to feed themselves, when they’re hungry, rather than eating specific amounts on a prescribed schedule. It also includes the child in mealtimes.

Much of the pressure was removed over what to feed him and when, and I stopped worrying about pureeing and freezing food for him and instead focused on feeding myself healthily to inspire him to eat well with me.

Unsurprisingly, his milk requirement declined as his solid food consumption grew.

Proponents of this style of weaning believe that by learning to feed themselves at a young age, which includes learning to listen to their bodies to know when they are full, babies are being set on a more healthy path, and one that is less likely to lead to obesity in the future.

For me, baby-led weaning was an all-around simple and enjoyable process in which the decision of when to stop breastfeeding, just like the one to start, was left to me and my baby, rather than being imposed on us by societal norms and peer pressure.

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