I was asked how things were going, re: weaning Joe off nursing. I’ve been hesitant to share for a lot of reasons. However, I recently realized that you can disclaimer yourself into never saying a thing, and that’s no fun. Here is what we do for Joe. And note that when I say “I” in these posts, it’s simply because it’s easier than always typing “Chris and I” (and not because Chris is a side-lined parent).
When Joe was 6 months old, I started him on solids. He was r-e-a-d-y: grabbing at our food, grumping and harrumphing when he couldn’t get it, etc. Clearly, the boy wanted to know what solid food was all about. We did a few foods straight off the plate, but I was happy to take the meal that I’d prepared for Chris and I and puree it for Joe. It was as easy as dishing it into his baby bowl and whirring it once with the hand blender. He still nursed as usual and only had 1 solid food meal around lunch, always after nursing.
Toward the end of 6 months, I started to mash food with a fork or spoon rather than puree it and, once he was 7 months, he got 2 solid food meals a day: lunch and dinner. He was still nursed before each meal and hadn’t dropped any nursing sessions.
That changed by the end of 7 months when he started to nurse one less time per day. I can’t remember exactly which feeding he gave up – it’s been too many days past. Once 8 months rolled around, we introduced 3 solid meals a day, and by mid-way through 8 months I’d given up mashing his food. I was still feeding him whatever we were eating and only occasionally made “special” foods for Joe, but these were primarily to have on hand in a pinch: baby pancakes, sweet potato puffs, egg muffins… all of them were stored in the freezer for me to thaw, heat, and/or take with us if we were eating out, needing a snack, etc.
I stopped nursing Joe before his solid food meals at this point. By then, Joe had self-transitioned to nursing 4 times a day: first thing in the morning, mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and evening. This wasn’t forced, nor was it a heinous process: I simply stopped offering the breast as a first resort. I’ve always thought that if a baby is hungry, then there’s nothing that will work but to feed them. However, if they’re happy to play, be read to, go for a walk, dance around, or whatever else you try to do, then they’re not hungry, they’re bored. Or teething, but that’s another story.
When Joe was about 8 1/2 months, I decided to try going without that first-thing-in-the-morning nursing session. If I was being honest with myself, I could admit that the first nursing session was more for me than for him. Used to be that I always got up, got dressed, and then got Joe. I was more productive that way and the likelihood of it being 2pm and me still being in pajama pants went way down. But once he turned 7 months, I hit a bit of a rut. This was also when I started to experiment with working more hours at the hospital, often not getting to bed till after 1am, sometimes nearly 2am. You do the math. I’d begun bringing Joe into bed for that first morning nursing session. It let me doze a few more minutes while keeping Joe content and quiet. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if I wanted to finish nursing Joe at 12 months, then I needed to get up and feed him breakfast.
By the end of 8 months, start of 9 months, Joe was nursing 3 times a day and eating 4 solid food meals a day: breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner. He was eating breakfast around 7am (after waking at 6am), nursing immediately after that (literally wiping him down, taking him out of the highchair, and nursing him), napping from 9-10:30am, eating lunch around noon, nursing immediately after, napping from 2/2:30-4pm, having a small afternoon snack afterward (usually gave it to him by 4:30p, otherwise it starts to cut into dinner), and then eating dinner with us at 6/6:30pm. Good grief – reading that after writing it makes me realize what a process it is to feed a baby!
At the end of 9 months, Joe gave up his evening nursing. He’d been nursing for shorter and shorter periods in the evening, and I wondered if he might go without it entirely. When he went from very short nursing episodes to biting every time I tried to offer him the breast, I knew it was time to quit that last session of the day. So we did. I worried that it might mean a middle-of-the-night waking, but everything was fine: he slept like a champ.
Joe eats a BIG breakfast. I had wondered if the reason why he was eating so much was because he was hungry through the night and not getting enough at dinner. However, Joe almost never wakes up in the night. He started going for 6 hour stretches when he was 7 weeks old, and by the time he was at 3 months he was sleeping for 10 – 12 hours. I didn’t plan that, but it’s now pretty regular at 10-11 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Like I said earlier, I’ve always thought that if a baby is hungry, there’s nothing in the world that will satisfy them: not sleep, not a pacifier, not a toy, not a thing. So it made sense to me that if Joe was sleeping for 11 hours without waking and he was pushing the scales at his medical exams, then he was probably getting enough in his tummy.
When Joe does wake up in the morning, he’s in a happy mood and doesn’t scream or cry. He’ll let me kiss him, change his nappy, give him a drink of water, play by my feet while I get his breakfast, and then he eats. Sometimes he gets a bit grizzly just before he gets his food, but he’s not wailing as though he’s starving.
So, breakfast. What does it consist of? It varies, but a typical breakfast for Joe might be oatmeal, some fruit (perhaps homemade applesauce, a small banana, a mandarin, etc.), maybe half of an avocado or a piece of wholegrain toast, and plain water to drink. That’s a lot of food. I’m all for making the most of a mess, so it’s not uncommon for me to make a double batch of oatmeal and put half in the freezer for another morning during the week. I’ll set it out to thaw the night before and then heat it with a tablespoon or two of water added. His oatmeal might be plain, it may have homemade applesauce mixed in, perhaps some softened raisins, or maybe just a dash of cinnamon.
If he doesn’t get oatmeal as the “main” part of breakfast, then it’s usually something like an omelet, scrambled egg, avocado on toast, or some other easy to prepare thing. All of these options, including the oatmeal, take no more than 5 minutes to put together. Joe feeds himself any fruit that he’s offered (well, not the applesauce), can eat his own toast or avocado, does pretty well with picking up the egg, loves to eat the veggies from his omelet, and has now started to hold a spoon that I’ve filled with oatmeal.
And then after he eats all of that, he’ll happily nurse. The boy is a bottomless pit in the mornings!
Lunch is usually not as big as breakfast. Lunch “mains” might be something like a hard boiled egg, or leftovers from last night’s dinner (has included roasted vegetables, soup, pumpkin/squash, pasta…), or ingredients for that night’s dinner (such as chopped cooked chicken or browned ground beef), or an avocado, etc. Avos have a lot of potassium, so I don’t usually give him more than 1 avo a day, and usually not 2 days in a row. I always give him fruit and he feeds this to himself, same as at breakfast: chunks of banana, raw apple slices, mandarin orange, pineapple chunks, feijoa, or homemade applesauce (which I feed to him).
I also give him a veggie. Sometimes this is included in the main but if not, it’s as simple as handing him some raw carrot to chew on, a bit of microwaved broccoli from the freezer, etc. And again – plenty of plain water, which Joe drinks by himself. We’ve been working on keeping the cup on the tray rather than flinging it to the side once he’s had a gulp, and he’s figuring it out 🙂
Afternoon snack is easy, too. Sometimes it’s puffed brown rice cakes, sometimes wholegrain crackers, occasionally it’s plain Greek yoghurt with chia seeds and spirulina mixed in, or it might just be a piece of fruit that he hasn’t had that day. I’ve even given him small chunks of cheese, though I don’t do this very often. Babies have a hard time digesting dairy, so it’s best to use this sparingly if at all. Plain water is offered frequently throughout the day.
Dinner is whatever the rest of the family is having. If we’re eating fish, then Joe eats fish. If it’s stir-fry, then Joe gets stir-fry. If it’s a quinoa salad with beetroot and homemade tahini dressing, then Joe gets quinoa salad with beetroot and homemade tahini dressing. The only concessions that I make for Joe is to leave out the salt and to tone down the “hot” factor. He eats a lot of spices, but we steer clear of the jalapenos and chili powder. For now.
If either Chris or I had allergies, eczema, or a food intolerance, then I would have gone about things differently. But we don’t, and neither does anyone in our family. I keep the eggs and dairy to a minimum and lay off using too much nut butter simply because (a) babies often have a hard time digesting dairy and (b) eggs and nuts are one of the biggest allergy triggers there are, so if he is allergic, I’d rather find out after a small exposure. We also don’t feed him honey – not because babies are allergic, but because there’s a bacteria that can be found in honey that babies can’t handle, but adults can (Clostridium botulinum, if you really want to know).
My mother-in-law tells a story of soothing a teething baby Chris once upon a time using a nipple that had been filled with honey. Whoops. I’ll just say that baby Chris had a rough few days afterward, and leave it at that :-/
Joe is nearly 11 months old now. My plan is to drop the lunchtime nursing session once he’s 11 months. Hands down, his biggest nursing session of the day is right after breakfast. Depending on how Joe does, we may have to introduce a mid-morning snack once he stops nursing completely or just make sure he eats enough at lunch. I do find that if I try to rush mealtime, then Joe doesn’t eat enough. But if I’m patient, making a point of sitting there with him, talking to him, eating with him, praising him when he puts the food in his mouth, then he does a great job and isn’t hungry later on.
I’ve also been asked about teaching babies table manners. I don’t teach Joe manners – manners are just something that we do, no teaching involved. From the time Joe started on solids, we began praying with him at meals. We’ll hold his hand, say something as short as, “Dear Lord, thank you for the food – amen” and then eat. Joe usually fusses by the time we reach “amen”, but that’s how we do it around here.
If Joe throws food over his tray, I’ll say, “We do not throw food, no sir”. If I see that he’s dangling something (food, his cup, his spoon) over the edge of the tray, I’ll warn him with, “Don’t you do that”. If he brings it back onto the tray, then I praise him. If he drops it, I pick it up, say, “That was not nice – if you do that again, then we’re done eating” and then move on. Once Joe starts dropping food, I take it as a sign that he’s not hungry. The rule is usually one drop is fine, but dropping food twice means no more. I try to explain this to Joe – “If you drop that, then we’re done” – and if he drops it, I say, “OK, we’re done” and clean up. Do I think he understands? Not completely. Do I get frustrated sometimes? Of course, but it’s not a drama, and it’s not punishment. He’s just not interested enough in food to eat with it and would rather play, so instead of wasting food, we play.
I’ve been hearing a catchphrase lately: food before one is just for fun. This makes a lot of sense if you’re planning to do extended breastfeeding, i.e., nurse past the age of one, but if you’re planning to stop at age one, then food before that age isn’t just for fun, it’s for eating and fun. We play with Joe and laugh a lot at meals… but the main objective is to eat, not play. If all he wants to do is play, then he’s not hungry and down he gets.
Around here, food prep falls under the category of “mealtime”. I talk to Joe as I’m getting his meal ready. Sometimes he’s put out and crying because the food isn’t making it from the stove to his high chair in what he considers to be a timely fashion and, you know what? It’s fine. I don’t expect my 10 month old to wait 60 minutes while I prepare a souffle, but he can start to learn to wait for 2 minutes while I spoon food into a bowl or while his daddy cools it down by blowing on it. It’s not a big deal – he fusses, I tell him what I’m doing, and he eats when it’s ready. He’s happy, healthy, and we’re thriving by doing what works for us. And that, my lovely readers, is how things are going with weaning Joe 🙂
Feeding Joe isn’t a science, nor is it a militaristic routine. It’s an adaptable process that can change a bit every day. Of course I’ve had stressful moments, wondering if perhaps I ought to nurse him longer, or worrying that I wasn’t feeding him enough, or questioning what and when I ought to feed him. Was I offering enough variety? Too much? Was I damaging him in some way by using a spoon? It shouldn’t be that nerve-wracking and, once I stopped worrying so much about fitting into another person’s expectations, then it was easy. At times I get sad about the fact that he’s nearer a toddler than a baby, but usually I’m so happy and excited to see how he’s growing that I don’t think about it for more than a second or two. It’s wonderful to see him learn new things 🙂