I remember sitting with my partner just before Gracie was born saying, “how will we ever love another baby as much as Tilly?” says Penny, mother of 5 year old Tilly and eighteen month old Gracie.
Feelings of anxiety that a second child will never be as special as the firstborn are common but, fortunately, if you are considering (or already expecting) another baby, it can help to consider that love is like a chocolate cake – and we have a whole chocolate cake for every person in our lives, we don’t have to divide it. There is enough love for everybody.
However, you might also be dismayed (or relieved, if you already have a second child) to learn how normal it is for your unadulterated feelings of tenderness towards your first-born to evaporate into frustration and irritation as you fall in love with your new baby.
Penny says, “the first few months were hard work trying to juggle Tilly’s feelings while I sat for hours and breastfed, and Gracie needed the majority of my attention. Just as Gracie latched on, Tilly would say, “what can I eat, I’m hungry”, and I would find myself snapping, ‘can’t you just wait!’
Betty Chetcuti, psychologist and mother of two was completely shocked to discover she had ‘fallen out of love’ with her firstborn. She explains, “there was a point when I felt that all my love had been transferred from my firstborn to the baby. My older child became the bad boy – I was tired and stressed and I was always upset with him. Betty’s wakeup call came when she was watching a video of her children. She says, “the baby was standing doing nothing for about five minutes and there was my toddler in the background wimpering, ‘Mummy, Mummy’ the whole time. I had panned the video towards him for a moment and offered some superficial praise, then focussed straight back on the baby.”
Betty Chetcuti, who now shares her hard won mothering skills along with her professional knowledge through Being a Mother workshops (www.beingamother.com ), went into action to rekindle the flames with her older child. She says, one thing that helped was a drawing I made of a sun with my toddler’s name in the middle. Each day, I wrote down all the good things he did at the end of the rays –for instance, if he wanted to share his toast, instead of being annoyed I would write down ‘sharing.’ This helped me change my perception so I was focussing on the positives instead of being hypersensitive all the time, and really taking time to notice my toddler helped me fall in love with him again.”
Penny’s tip for keeping love growing as your family grows is “letting the first child help with pushing the pram and baths and nappies so that they feel they’re really involved. In a way, watching Tilly do those things made me love her even more. She was so gentle and proud of her new sister that my appreciation of her as an individual deepened”
Learning to love again:
- Look at your first-born’s photo album to remind you how adorable (and agreeable) she used to be – and will be again soon.
- Give yourself time with each child separately. Taking turns with your partner, rather than simply handing the older child over to him, will help you both bond with each child.
- Remember, if you had a close, loving relationship with your first child there is every reason to believe those loving feelings will return.
I’d love your opinion and the opinion of other mum’s out there who have chosen not to send their kids to prep (QLD) as it is not compulsory, and just send them in grade one. My daughter will turn 5 in March of next year, so she will be on the younger side of the kids that start prep as the cutoff is June 30. Academically she’s ready but next year is going to be a really hectic year in the family – spending time between dad’s and mum’s house (not together), with a lot of driving between suburbs as the school is in a central location not near either of our houses. I also don’t think she’s emotionally ready to go. She goes to kindy 5 days a week, (although I often keep her at home when I don’t have uni) and still after all this time she cries and clings to me when I leave. The kindy staff think that she should go to prep but I know what an incredibly stressful time it will be for all of us if she went – she would have to go to a family daycare for before school and afterschool care when I have work/uni commitments, it would be incredibly stressful and impactful upon my state of mind and wellbeing, which she picks up on and I don’t want that.
I am leaning towards keeping her in daycare where she is used to going for another year and just putting her into grade one instead and bypassing prep altogether, by this time I will have graduated uni and settled into an area where we will stay put for a while. My friend thinks she will be fine if I just try and teach her basic literacy and numeracy as well as maybe taking her to a prep tutor once a week, and allow her to do a lot of play based learning and investigating. Am I disadvantaging my daughter by not sending her to prep? She’s smart and she would thrive there, but she still cries for me when I take her to kindy and I am unsure if she is emotionally ready to go.
I would love some help, I’m very stressed and hoping I’m making the right decision for her future and not hindering her education!
I think you have almost answered your own question just by writing it all down. I personally have strong views on sending children to school too early: they need to be able to manage whole days away from you; they need to be confident enough to play and hold their own with peers; and they need to do all this without feeling stressed, because a stressed child isn’t available for learning.
When we discuss the age to start little ones at school, it’s worth considering that a child who is almost six, is a whole year older than a child who is still four years old – this extra year is a quarter of the younger child’s age. This is a lot of development that gives an older child a head start. It’s nothing to do with intelligence or learning capacity. Some younger children will cope just fine, but do you want your daughter to ‘cope’ or do you want her to be a leader with great self-esteem because she is mature and ready to separate from you and feels emotionally available to learn?
It sounds as though you have a lot of family and personal stress and you are very conscious how this impacts on your little one. Before and after school care will make the days very long for a little one who still needs you a lot. By keeping her in a familiar environment for another year, you will be creating a buffer against further stress. This will not hinder her education at all – in fact, rather than start her in grade one next year, you could start her in prep.
If you start her straight into grade one, she will be one of the younger children and the school environment will be new to her, whereas the other children will have had that year getting used to the school environment and many will be older than she is. You can make this decision next year, depending how confident she is then. If she engages in some extra activities – eg a dance/ sport/ music class during this year, this may help her social and emotional readiness too.
Take the stress out of this for yourself and your little one. You are mothering consciously, you have a lovely bond and you are sensitive to your child’s needs. Trust yourself and follow your heart. You will do what is best for your child.
A mother asks….
For the past 9 months that my 17 month old son has been going to Family daycare for 2 days a week, he has had approximately 5 really good, happy days. The rest have ranged from whingy/whiny/clingy to full on crying/screaming all day. We are all stumped as to what to do – the only thing that worked so far, was telling him the day before, the morning of and all the way in the car about what was happening that day – and that only worked for 2 days! The next week (which was last week), was his worst week ever! He was in the process of a cutting a molar, but it seems to be more than that. The daycare coordinators suggested we might need professional help to “break” his attachment to me – he is perfectly fine if I am there, even after he has cried all day, he will get down and play and not want to leave, as long as I am there. I don’t know what to do, his daycare mum (who has really tried to help him) is getting stressed out and so are the other kids. I hate that he is crying and upset all day, but I feel that we need to work through this, rather than just quitting work. The only thing I can think of to do now is to go back to just dropping him off for an hour and increasing the length of time. Otherwise, I don’t know what to do! I am still breastfeeding him when he wants it – he is fine without it if we are out and busy, or if he is with someone else (i.e. Dad) but when it is just us at home, he feeds before each nap and whenever he wants it. I don’t know if this is making the issue worse. He is also obsessed with my hair – and over the last few weeks won’t go to bed at night without me sitting next to his cot so he can play with my hair. He also ends up coming to bed with me around 11pm most nights. I’ve probably missed some important information, but I’m just lost. Please help!
Your toddler’s separation anxiety is a normal stage, not something you are doing wrong – you sound like a warm, connected, loving mother. Some children simply are naturally more sensitive and ‘clingy’ (for lack of a better word) – and this is perfectly healthy!
Your baby’s needs for you show that he has a wonderful strong attachment to you – you are his rock, his sunshine and the most important person in his world! Children need a strong attachment to their primary carer to be able to develop relationships with others. Your connection, modeling and loving example are the prototype for future relationships.
This is a big developmental stage for your little one, cutting molars can be very uncomfortable, so please don’t underestimate how much he would like you to be the person soothing him with your cuddles, your smell and your magic mama milk.
It is great that you talked to your child about ‘what is coming next’. This is really helpful for him to anticipate his day and reduce anxiety. Try to put yourself in his place and how awful it could seem to be dropped off and left with a bunch of other people and not know when you will be picked up or what the itinerary is for the day, especially if you have no markers to help you predict the time that this day will be over and you will be reunited with the person you love most of all. Itcan also be helpful to have consistent rituals for when you leave and when you return - practise these at home as you pop in and out of the room, leave him with Daddy or a friend that he knows well for short time periods – taking it slowly as he seems ready to increase separations.
Although your child’s carers are trying to be helpful, comments that you need professional help to ‘break’ his attachment to you would be a big red flag to me that they don’t value how important this attachment is; that they are ignorant of ‘attachment theory’. Really, your child’s ‘attachment’ to you is a positive, not something to be ‘broken’.
There is a saying, “the two greatest gifts we can give children are roots and wings.” My take on this is that when we have given children strong roots – ie a strong foundation of attachment to us as parents and the child’s primary carers – and the child’s needs for security have been met, only then can they feel truly safe enough to grow their ‘wings’ and venture forth, knowing they can come back and literally ‘touch base’ whenever their little emotional tanks need a refill.
You sound as though you have a choice re whether to work or not right now so perhaps, rather than rationalise and justify that he will ‘get over it’, it may be better to take some time out and help him regain his confidence then, instead of gradually building up his times at THIS daycare, it may be better to do this with a different carer, especially if there is already a stressful association for him in this situation.
Meanwhile, take heart, many small children who have strong separation anxiety as toddlers, do grow strong ‘wings’ when we meet their needs and help them feel secure. Then, when they are ready, they will soar!
You have lovingly, gently responded to your baby’s cues, you have been respectful about how you interact with your toddler, you have read and researched how you can help your child develop optimum mental, emotional and physical well-being and you have encouraged his joyous spirit. Along the way, you have copped reactions from family, friends and perfect strangers, ranging from intrigue (Are you STILL breastfeeding? You mean he sleeps in YOUR bed?) to downright rudeness ( he needs a ‘good’ smack! He’s too big for THAT!).
You probably have some dreamy image of a bonded, loving family of cooperative, placid children as a result of your gentle, connected parenting but I would just like to offer a caution:
Whatever parenting style you choose is hard work, but it can seem particularly intense to implement a very conscious, attached parenting style. It can also be a shock to discover that these empathically parented children can be strong-willed, independent and often quite feisty individuals. There will be days when you question whether it might have been better all round to have kept your baby in a darkened room with little stimulation (so she isn’t so smart); or perhaps to have been more rigid in your style of discipline (so she would be more compliant). On days like these, it can help to remember how important it is to nurture an independent child who can think for themselves:
*Independent children are less likely to be compliant to peers (this becomes especially pertinent in their teenage years).
*Independent children are more likely to have intact self-esteem, which will impact their entire lives and how they allow others to treat them.
Although they are likely to experiment, explore and push the boundaries as much or more than any children as they grow, if the connection between you and your child is strong, you will intuitively sense when they need some extra support or firmer boundaries. As a connected parent, you will have the confidence in yourself to do what is best for each child (this might mean seeking referrals for extra help or support for yourself, at times). You will be secure enough in your role as a guardian of and model for your child that you won’t need to be ‘best friends’ to ensure your child’s love.
One day your child will happily wave ‘good-bye’ and another, she will cling to your legs; she may have been happily enjoying family meals at the table for weeks but then suddenly want to sit in her highchair and be fed again or, even though she has been sleeping all night long in her own bed, she may start waking and needing a cuddle in the night.
Even completely secure toddlers can take two steps forward and a step or more backwards along the bumpy road to independence. Sometimes the reasons for returning to ‘baby’ behaviour are obvious. At other times there isn’t an obvious explanation for regressive behaviour, although a step backwards can often precede a big developmental leap as though your little one really needs that extra security before she takes two big steps forward.
Whatever the reasons behind this unpredictable progress on the path to being ‘big’ most ‘backward’ steps only last a few weeks at most if you allow your child to rest and feel safe again, rather than pushing him away and ‘be a big person’ before he really feels ready.
- Don’t react strongly if your child reverts to ‘babyish’ behaviour. Respond with, “ oh, you want to pretend to be a baby and eat in the highchair.” Without a fuss, she will soon become bored and want to eat at the table again.
- Encourage ‘big’ behaviour by appealing to the ‘grown up’ nature of your toddler. “I’m so happy to have a big boy who can hold my hand when we walk to the shops.”
- Give your toddler language to express his feelings. “I miss Daddy when he has to go away to work, do you?” “Sometimes I feel angry when the baby wakes up.” As he becomes more capable of expressing his feelings in words, he will no longer have to use baby behaviour to get his needs met. Of course this will depend on his language and cognitive skills as well as your patient modelling, so please don’t expect miracles from a toddler – just because he can talk well and ‘use his words’, doesn’t mean he can contain his feelings yet.
Above all, try to see things from your child’s perspective: consider how you feel yourself when your world becomes stressful or you are about to undertake a new project. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some extra support? A hand to hold? A hug? Tiny tots who are just stepping out into the world also need a hand to hold, hugs, lots of smiles and kind words to help them face new challenges with confidence.
A mother asks:
“My question is regarding physical exploration between children. My little girl is 3.5 yrs and spends 1 day per week with my husband’s mother. On this day she often sees her cousins aged 5, 8, 11 and 13, all boys. She loves them all and has a fantastic time. I have noticed on a few occasions that when I go to pick her up she is alone in a room with the 8yr old and they are playing Dr’s and nurses. I don’t have a problem with this kind of curiosity and I am very honest about it with my daughter when she asks questions regarding our anatomy etc. I have recently discovered through talking to my little girl that he has put his fingers inside her vagina. I don’t want to make it into a big deal and make either of them uncomfortable about their bodies or asking questions I just want to make sure it doesn’t turn into anything more than innocent exploration. I guess I am a bit concerned that he always takes her into another room away from everyone else and he obviously feels like they are doing something naughty. Should I be worried about this or am I overreacting?”
Pinky says: You are obviously feeling uncomfortable about the children’s ‘play’ and this is an ‘early warning sign’ that it’s not ok. Teaching children about personal safety includes helping them listen to their own body messages about what feels ‘comfortable’ or not. Listen to your own heart – and YOUR early warning signals, and trust yourself.
While it’s one thing to be concerned about upsetting children, it is important to give children clear messages about personal safety. This cousin is a lot older than your little girl and he knows what’s acceptable and what’s over the line – this is why he is taking her into another room and initiating a Drs and Nurses game.
This isn’t ‘innocent exploration’ with this age gap – for instance, 2 three year olds wouldn’t be playing Drs and Nurses in this way. It is your responsibility as a mother to protect your little girl. Three year olds don’t understand that they are being ‘coerced’ (8 year olds do understand that they are coercing a younger child). You do need to speak up and discuss this with adults who are caring for your daughter. This will be confronting and will take courage but doesn’t have to be done in any shameful way for either the carers or the children.
It’s important to teach little ones that body parts covered by bathing suits and mouths are not to be touched by people without their permission. Of course that is not the language to use with a three year old because they don’t yet fully understand the concept of ‘permission’ but you can model this by asking your child’s permission to touch her and respecting her when she refuses kisses, tickles or a massage, for instance – in fact you can start this with babies . You can also teach little ones to say “stop” when people touch her in ways she doesn’t feel comfortable with. You already have very good communication with your little girl , this is a great start for the lifelong message that ‘nothing is so awful, we can’t talk about it,’ whether this is a child’s fear about say, being bullied, not wanting to jump in a pool that feels too deep or later, not wanting to get into a car with a friend who has been drinking or being pressured by peers to try drugs.
Most sexual abuse starts with somebody the child knows and trusts, often an older child. This 8 year old is still a little kid but he may have been exposed to inappropriate video/ talk / pictures/ internet sites /behaviour that he is ‘exploring’ like this – this consideration needs to be explored by his parents. Perhaps he has heard or watched older brothers talking/watching movies/ searching internet sites that are inappropriate for a child his age. Perhaps there have been discussions between kids at school.
Clear messages and supervision are important preventative measures to protect your little girl. Otherwise, how is she to understand that it’s not OK for say, an adult, to touch her or for this child to ‘groom’ her into more sexualised behaviour – she shouldn’t be exposed to this ‘play’.
This needs to be backed up by adults supervising and making sure opportunities for this kind of play don’t happen. Nobody needs to say anything to the children (yet), but it is time for the adults to have a family discussion. Right now the best prevention is for the adults present to keep an eye open and distract the children – organise games that involve them all in a space that is within view.
Trust your feelings (your ‘early warning signs’) , brave up and talk to the other family members – perhaps get your husband to talk to his mum and sister if you feel that would be helpful.
Pinky has done protective behaviours facilitator training with Victoria Police.
It’s scary isn’t it, being a new mum and feeling pressured from all directions to resist cuddling, rocking (or heaven forbid!), feeding your baby to sleep – in case you create’ bad habits’?
The good news is, you can relax: rocking your baby to sleep at four weeks old (or even four months), won’t set him on a path to delinquency, despite the dire warnings you may be hearing right now. Just to get a bit of perspective, imagine you are snuggled next to your partner, you are enjoying cuddles. The love hormones you are both releasing, especially if you are snuggling skin to skin, are making you feel drowsy. You start to drift off, feeling calm, loved and safe. Then, suddenly, your partner pokes you and says, “get onto your own side of the bed! We mustn’t cuddle to sleep. We are creating bad habits! “
Ridiculous isn’t it? But still, you can’t help wondering, if we do rock/cuddle/feed our baby to sleep, will she ever learn to self-settle? Are we depriving her of learning a skill? Are we just postponing the ‘inevitable’ (read, sleep training)?
Most newborns and young babies need some help to fall asleep. This is a complex neurological process that is a reflection of your baby’s developmental stages, not what you have ‘taught’ your baby: for the first four months, babies enter sleep from an active sleep phase and younger babies also have a startle reflex that can wake them randomly, so they will usually need help to calm and settle into a deeper sleep at first. Also, at new developmental stages, your baby’s little brain will be so busy he may have trouble ‘switching off’ and relaxing, so he may need some extra help. The good news is that the help you are giving your baby right now is helping him develop the brain wiring to be able to soothe himself when he is ready – without any sort of ‘training’.
It can be lovely to rock and cuddle your baby to sleep or to watch him doze off, full and contented after a breastfeed. However, even if you aren’t worried about it being a ‘bad habit’, you may still be wondering, will he ever be able to go to sleep all by himself? Or, how can I make changes so he can settle without so much help? You can relax, there are gentle ways to do this without causing stress to either your baby or yourself.
It’s perfectly ok to cuddle your baby to sleep until he ‘weans’ onto bedtime stories as a toddler, if this feels right to you – and even then little ones enjoy bedtime cuddles. If your baby has always been parented to sleep, whatever his age right now, it is respectful and kind to make changes, gradually with love, not suddenly by implementing sleep training that involves tears (for both of you – you will miss these delicious snuggles too!). If you feel ready to see whether your baby can fall asleep without help, give him the opportunity to do this by popping him in his cot when he is comfortable and drowsy, but awake. You may be pleasantly surprised – often at just a few months old babies will have a wee chat and doze off, regardless of how much you have rocked and cuddled previously. Your baby may not do this at every sleep, but if he can manage to doze off by himself sometimes, and has no sleep association with being let to cry, he will feel safe and relaxed at bedtime and will do it more often.
If your baby can’t settle by himself yet, please don’t let him become distressed. Instead, you can try a ‘baby steps’ approach to helping him ‘wean’ off needing to be rocked or fed to sleep – or even to help him give up the dummy:
I explain this in more detail in my book ‘Sleeping Like a Baby’ but, briefly:
Work out a realistic goal, then ‘reverse engineer’ that so you start changing one ‘baby step’ at a time towards reaching your ‘goal’.
For instance, if you rock or breastfeed your baby to sleep but want to change this, start by introducing a more easily discarded cue as rock or feed, such as gentle music and ‘sleepy words’. Simply swapping one cue for another will be stressful and your baby won’t know what to expect so the idea is to ‘overlay’ the new cue (the music).
Play the music on a low volume without making any other changes to your bedtime routine for at least a week. Regardless of promises on CD labels, it will take your baby 7 to 10 days to ‘condition’ him to any music, and you want a positive association with this new routine. Going too quickly can be stressful , so this defeats the process , especially when you have worked so hard to make sleep time a calm and positive experience.
After a week, keep playing the music, but remove your baby from the breast or stop rocking before he falls asleep, just holding him until he dozes off. If he is upset, pop him back on the breast or rock a little, until he settles, then try again. Tip: as you remove your baby from the breast or take a dummy out, press your fingers under his chin and gently hold his mouth closed – he will suck on his tongue a moment and relax, instead of grasping for the breast again.
Once your baby is happily falling asleep in your arms without being fed /rocked to sleep, the next step is to breastfeed him then pop him in his cot drowsy but awake. Keep your hand on him firmly (patting is usually too stimulating) and gently rock him a little if this seems to help.
When baby is settling at this step, you can start moving the bedtime breastfeed back a little and pop him into the cot with his music playing. If he gets upset, always move back a step until he is ready to move forward. With an older baby, once you get to this final stage, you may like to get your partner to start helping at bedtime. He or she won’t smell like milk so cuddles and music will often work very easily.
Whenever you want to make changes, whatever these are, remember the mantra, ‘gradually with love’ and plan backwards from your goal, then work out baby steps and implement these, one at a time. There is no need for distress and if your baby’s ‘habit’ isn’t a problem for you, it’s not a problem at all, whatever your critics might say. If you cop any flack, unless the person giving it is bringing a casserole, you don’t owe them an explanation or an excuse about why you choose to give your baby extra cuddles.
Pinky McKay is the author of ‘Sleeping Like a Baby – simple sleep solutions for infants and toddlers’
Around the middle of your baby’s first year, that is at about six months, your baby will start showing signs that he is ready for family foods: he will be able to sit up in a high chair or on your lap; he will have lost the tongue thrust reflex (that protects him against choking in the early months, but also means food gets thrust out of his mouth, rather than swallowed); he will be watching you closely as you eat and probably reaching for your food and he may seem to suddenly be more hungry but not satisfied by extra milk feeds.
Introducing new foods – baby led or parent feeding?
There are two main styles of introducing family foods to your baby’s diet : you can introduce foods on a spoon or your clean finger to your baby or you can simply offer him pieces of what you are eating from your own plate (as long as foods are soft and safe). Many parents choose a mixture of both baby led (letting baby feed himself ) and parent feeding (with a spoon or finger).
When to start family foods
You may be told or hear that you should start your baby on solids earlier than six months. Unless this advice comes from a medical practitioner who is caring for your baby, this isn’t a sensible decision. There is absolutely no advantage to starting solid foods earlier than around six months – there is no evidence that solid foods will help your baby sleep longer for instance and, in fact, a baby with an upset tummy is likely to be more wakeful.
Starting solids early poses a number of risks such as premature weaning and malnutrition if your baby eats too many solids and these displace milk feeds (milk will be most of your baby’s diet for the first year). Or you could increase the risk of allergies by exposing your baby to potential allergens that his tiny gut isn’t equipped to deal with: between four and seven months a baby’s intestinal lining goes through a developmental growth spurt called closure. This means that the intestinal lining becomes more selective about what to let through. This is due to increased secretion of IgA, a protein immunoglobulin that acts as a protective coating in the intestines, preventing harmful allergens from passing through the gut wall. In the early months, IgA secretion is low (although breast milk is high in IgA), allowing allergens to easily pass through the gut wall and enter the bloodstream. As these particles enter the bloodstream antibodies may be produced to them, causing an allergic reaction. So-, of course, these are valid reasons to see introducing solid foods as just that –an ‘introduction’ rather than a meal, and to wait until your baby is developmentally ready.
However you choose to introduce family foods, if you have a family history of allergies or your baby has been sensitive to foods passing through your milk, it is wise to introduce a single food at a time in increasing proportions so that you can see how it affects your baby. If he experiences any adverse reactions such as tummy discomfort, vomiting or rashes with a new food, it is best to stop that food.
Ditch rice cereal
Common infant feeding advice suggests rice cereal as a first food because it is low protein and therefore low allergenic (allergic reactions are triggered by foreign proteins). This advice started when babies were generally introduced to foods other than milk early (at around 3 or 4 months) . At this age babies are not ready to manage anything other than runny mush, nor are their gut linings ‘closed’ to foreign molecules that may increase sensitisation and potential allergies. This advice was (and still is), heavily promoted by baby food companies. However, evidence based advice from the WHO recommends: ’As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.’
In a 2011 White Paper: Why White Rice Cereal for Babies Must Go’ Paediatrician, Dr Alan Greene, Clinical Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine warns of a potential connection between feeding babies refined cereals and obesity. He says, “I have been studying nutrition very carefully for more than a decade now and one of the things that I have become convinced of is that white rice cereal can predispose to childhood obesity. In fact I think it is the tap root of the child obesity epidemic.”
Dr Greene advises that white rice cereal is high in calories and made of processed white flour. “The problem is that it is basically like feeding kids a spoonful of sugar.”
He also explains that first food experiences can set babies on a path of food preferences. He says, “We know in animals that the first bite of solid food can be particularly influential. For human babies the moment of the first bite is laden with positive associations. The child has often been staring at the parents’ food choices, eager to learn what eating is all about. The child is the centre of attention at an emotionally charged moment, often with a camera capturing the event. The processed white rice flour is often mixed with breast milk or formula, giving it an even stronger positive association. Conversion of the white rice flour to glucose begins while the cereal is still in the baby’s mouth, lighting up the hard-wired preference for sweets (and the cereal is nearly 100% glucose by the time it is absorbed in the intestines).
Dr Greene says, “given this “perfect storm” of extrinsic and intrinsic factors, both initially and throughout the formative months, it is easy to see how a preference for processed refined grain products could become firmly established, and later in life, challenging to change.”
Rice cereal is very bland, so often parents mix it with stewed fruit such as apple or pears but why not simply offer your baby the fruit which is more nutritious? Or, your breastfed baby may enjoy a small amount of ripe mashed banana as this will be sweet like the milk he is used to. However, by the time your baby is truly ready for family food (around 6 months), he will be ready to explore a variety of tastes and textures. Consider, if you are breastfeeding, he has already experienced a range of flavours passing through your breast milk.
Baby led weaning
This style of introducing family foods is simply offering your baby whole pieces of food from your own menu and allowing him to choose how much to eat, rather than pureeing or mashing ‘baby’ foods and spooning them into your baby’s mouth (and often ‘encouraging’ him to ‘eat it all up’). This has now been labelled ‘Baby Led Weaning’ because your baby will naturally set the pace at which he is ready to proceed with eating.
The main principle with baby led weaning is that you offer your baby food by either allowing her to take it from your hand (or not, as she chooses), or you simply place food such as soft fruits or cooked vegetables on her highchair and allow her to feed herself. There are no purees and no spoon feeding. The baby leads.
Proponents of baby led weaning claim the advantages of this style of baby feeding include:
- babies get to explore taste, texture, colour and smell of foods naturally
- it encourages independent eating
- helps develop hand-eye coordination
- makes fussy eating and food fights less likely because you avoid stress around meal times and pressure to ‘eat it all up’ or encouraging your child to eat when she may not want to.
For a more comprehensive look at baby led weaning, check out Pinky’s audio interview with with Gil Rapley, UK Infant Feeding Specialist, author and proponent of Baby Led Weaning.
Baby won’t eat yet?
Please don’t worry if your baby seems disinterested in eating with gusto for several months after you introduce his first tastes of solid foods. It is important to be respectful and trust that your child knows his own body signals for food. A good rule to consider is: ‘it is your responsibility to provide healthy food and it is your baby’s choice whether he eats or not.’ And remember ‘food is fun until they are one!’ Your little one will never starve himself as long as he has access to healthy nutritious foods and at this stage milk will form the majority of his diet anyway. If your baby is a ‘late starter’ and still seems disinterested in eating family foods at eight to ten months and you feel concerned, you can ask your doctor for a blood test to check his iron levels. Chances are, if he received all his cord blood at birth, you are breastfeeding and eat a healthy diet yourself, he is active (a baby with low iron levels will probably be lethargic) and his growth and development is on track, you can relax. Just expose him to family mealtimes so he can join in socially and model your enjoyment of food when he is ready.
A mama asks….
I received some conflicting advice at my DD’s 12mo checkup. Firstly when i said my DD cries in the car but she’s too small for fwd facing the nurse suggested I turn her round anyway since it’s bad for their mental health to be so anxious and upset regularly and she could see she was quite a clingy baby and that could be cos she’s at childcare 3 days.
Then when I “confessed” that we bed share and I still feed her at night, I was told under no circumstances should I be feeding her as she doesn’t need it and i could be affecting her growth because she won’t be filling up on solids properly if she’s full of milk. And obviously bed sharing was a big no no. So I’m supposed to let her cry in the middle of the night but not in the car?! Confused!!
The nurse then proceeded to explain attachment parenting and how I need to make sure I pick her up when she’s upset (eh, hello I’m bed sharing, i get attachment parenting?!).
I’m now worried that:
A. She’s not eating enough solid food and its because she’s filling up on milk at night (how much is enough?)
B. I’m damaging her mental health by having her rear-facing in the car and crying sometimes, and taking her to childcare 3 days (which she loves btw but is more clingy to me the other days)
Its sounds as though you have a well- meaning nurse and it is great that she considers babies mental and emotional health, but it also sounds as though you are very aware and sensitive to your baby’s needs so you really don’t need to worry that you are causing harm to your little one.
You say she ‘sometimes’ cries in the car – I doubt you have her in the car for long periods. Occasionally we get things a bit out of ‘sync’ with babies, then we comfort them – this is actually called ‘rupture and repair’ by the experts. It is not all the time, it’s not deliberate and it’s not constant. It’s ok. Sometimes we do have to get in the car or peel the last potato (or it all goes to crap), but it’s not something we do lots and we comfort the baby reasonably quickly. Perhaps you could play some music your baby enjoys in the car, perhaps hang some toys where she can see/play with them and try to make car trips fairly short when you are on your own. If you have somebody else driving, sit in the back with her. When she is safely big enough, turn the car seat around or if you do need to travel in the car frequently and she is very upset, it would be worth looking at alternative car seat options.
Perhaps your baby is naturally clingy – some babies are ‘velcro babies’. Yes it can be stressful for babies to be separated from you but co-sleeping is the ‘fix it’ if you have been separated during the day. During co-sleeping, your baby is releasing oxytocin – which HELPS her brain develop wiring that aids her mental health, encourages bonding and attachment and will reduce cortisol release (which is likely to happen during separation) and encourage the development of cortisol receptors – more cortisol receptors mean a better ability to switch off the stress response throughout life.
Night feeds also encourage good mental health – night time breastmilk is high in tryptophan, a precursor to seratonin, a neurotransmitter that induces calm feelings and happy moods. There are also amino acids in breastmilk that aid the development of seratonin receptors in the gut – recent research shows that most of our seratonin is actually produced in the gut – these receptors are important for future production of seratonin and good mental health. This means your night –time parenting (co-sleeping and breastfeeding) is actually good for your baby’s mental health!
Re night feeds and ‘filling up’ on milk. Breast milk is FOOD! It’s a COMPLETE FOOD! Many babies take time to really eat lots of family foods – how much is enough, according to your nurse? Often people expect babies to have bowlfuls of food, when they may only be ready and happy to taste and experiment – and this is fine. As long as the foods you offer are healthy, your job is to offer food and it’s your baby’s job to choose what and how much to eat.
Please relax – you are doing a great job; you are sensitive and responsive – otherwise you wouldn’t have asked about the car seat issue. When you feel confused by conflicting advice it can help to do a check by asking: Is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right? If anything feels stressful to you or your baby, consider what can we change or tweak? What are our options? Where can we find out more?
I put you in your cot at night waiting for your call,
When you cry I rush to you, bolting through your door,
Gently picking you up I cradle you,
I’m secretly glad you called for me so I can squeeze in some more love,
As if I want to sleep all night missing out on our precious time,
Your head is cradled on my arm as I hold you close to mine,
Your eyes have closed and you nuzzle in feeling safe again,
I can smell your sweet breath and love it more than words,
I stroke your soft hair and hold your hand,
I feel so very blessed,
Thank you for calling out to me,
From this I never tire,
Even if it means sleepless nights,
I truly love our time.
Written by Simone Thompson for Archie and Natasha xoxo