Tuesday, 11 March 2014


Nearly three weeks have passed since my last post. Is it the curse of thirteen, a writers hex that has obfuscated my literary drive? Not since entry seven - Bringing up Baby - have I struggled so hard to compose a coherent article. 

Much has happened in the past weeks that has kept me otherwise engaged. You see - at age five months - I have started weaning Felix, a whole month before the suggested six. Bring out the rack and the thumb screws folks, this mother has gone against current medical advice! Why? Well Felix is a brute of a baby; chunky, long and strong. He has been fascinated with food for ages. His hand eye co-ordination and neck control are excellent and he is exceedingly curious and agile. I mention this as he ticks most of the boxes that indicate your child may be ready for 'early weaning'. Despite this I have been advised both by my GP and by the ladies at the baby clinic not to start weaning. 'The WHO states that babies should be fed exclusively on milk till they reach six months' they have repeated like a mantra. My 'Yes buts' have been met with derision.

There is another reason I've started weaning early. Since Christmas Eve Felix has been refusing the breast; only now and then to begin with but in recent weeks more often than not. I have found this deeply upsetting and have sought desperately to find the reason. I have pined for the contact with him, the unique intimacy of nursing mother and baby, and have struggled to control my anger and resentment as he seizes on the bottle with urgency. Try to imagine the person you love most in the world choosing a plastic model of you over you, though you are side by side and offering yourself. Heartbreaking. And then one day about two weeks ago I had a Road to Damascus moment. He was bored of milk. It was as simple as that. He had just refused the breast again, making it almost a whole weekend without, and I was sitting and expressing from my painfully swollen boobs while my partner fed him the blasted bottle. I may have also been crying tears of self pity and loss, trying to reconcile myself to the end of our special time of intimacy, when I had a blinding flash of understanding. My motherly intuition spoke up loud and clear. 'FEED ME' 

And so I found myself grabbing an apple from the bowl, peeling and cutting
and boiling and mashing it, approximating a high chair with a Bumbo and a kitchen chair, and gingerly feeding him apple mush. As the first spoonful entered his face registered surprise. 'Stone the crows mate, what the heck is this stuff?!' his inexplicably Aussie voiceover said, and a large quantity of mush was expelled back out. His mouth moved awkwardly, unsure of what to do with this strange new substance, but within a few spoonfuls he started to get the hang of it and lean forward in eagerness, mouth wide open like a hungry chick in the nest. Within a couple of minutes the bowl was empty and he was smiling with delight. Bingo. 

Since then Felix has enjoyed sweet and normal potato, courgette, pear and carrot. Week two I've become braver and gone tropical; cantaloupe and watermelon, avocado and banana, all have disappeared down his gullet with gusto. I've veered slightly off menu; melon for example is not on the sanctified 'first foods' lists but he's guzzled it with evident delight and so far there have been no bad reactions. I've also discovered baby rice and baby porridge, perfect for thickening a runny puree or just mixed with a bit of milk. Having always avoided blenders - who has time to wash all those bloody parts?! - I've fallen madly in love with my new hand blender. Watermelon and blueberry smoothie for me, Felix and my mother this morning...boom! 

And what of the boob crisis? I'm happy to report that he is back on the breast, the timing co-inciding perfectly with the introduction of solids. It may seem contradictory, but for me early weaning has solved the problem. Mr Milk -  as we've been calling him since he was tiny - is becoming Mr Mush, and mummy is enjoying our last few weeks of breast. I know I'll have to stop eventually; I don't want to end up like the character on Little Britain 'BOOOOOBY!' but in the meantime I rejoice in our special time together, even as the end draws nearer. What makes it even sweeter is that by listening to my motherly intuition, by tuning into Radio Felix, I made the decision that was right for us. Mr Mush is happy once again, going smoothly from boob to bottle to purree to porridge, equilibrium restored. 

One final word on feeding while I'm on the subject. Formula milk seems to be the Botox of the baby world; everyone's on it but no one wants to admit it. Aptimel is a dirty word in breastfeeding circles and NCT groups, and yet it seems to me that the majority of couples are topping up. In fact I know of only two women out of maybe twenty that are able to regularly produce enough milk to completely satisy their baby. I'm not one of them, and we've been topping Felix up with formula pretty much from the word go. Not only has it not harmed him, he's in ruddy good health - slap bang in the middle of
I drink formula...do I look unhappy?
the 75th percentile. That may or may not mean anything to you, but I'd like to put out there loud and clear that it's OK to feed your baby formula! Let's break down the wall of silence and suspicion that surrounds it. Yes, breast is best, but we don't all have the milk capacity of a herd of prime hiefers. Combination feeding is increasingly the norm and there are many benefits; your partner, mother or mate can prepare and administer an entire feed while you sleep (or go out to the pub!) and you know your baby will be happy and full. Nothing compares to breastmilk, with it's infinate complexity and specific tailoring, but recent research suggests a baby needs only three ounces daily to get all the goodness and immunisation it provides. The rest is merely making the nappy wet. So for the love of God can we please stop beating ourselves and others up about topping up, and let the formula out of the closet!