So, while we were visiting family over the holidays, my sister staged a little intervention (not like this one, though) to convince me that I need to feed Gwen more. Not more formula, more food. Yes folks, Gwen is nearly nine months old and her entire solid food intake was in one meal a day and consisted of a tablespoon or two of rice cereal along with maybe a tablespoon of limp (cooked, frozen, reheated) vegetables.
But in my defense, it's really hard to know what a baby should be eating. Every source out there is full of disclaimers about how different every baby is, and how it's really hard to quantify their appetites and how the MOST important thing is for them to enjoy the experience, not for a parent to be stuffing more food than they want down their tiny throats. And then there is that whole notion that kids don't really need solids for nutrition until they're over a year, so I was not getting too fussed about the fact that Gwen only got one solid meal a day.
(Um, that is, most days she got one solid meal. Sometimes she got none. Okay, maybe we did need that intervention.)
Feeding Gwen solid foods has been a challenge for a few different reasons, but before I get into that let me praise her for the one thing that has not been a challenge: she enjoys eating and has understood from day one (well, day 174) the mechanisms needed to do so. She never tried to nurse from the spoon, she never spat her food at me, and though she has made a stunning variety of amusing faces upon trying a new food, she has always been eager for a second bite. So that part works well. Now let me tell you the parts that don't.
1. I am terrified of Gwen choking. This probably needs no further explanation. Yes, I've taken the infant first aid class, but no, that doesn't mean I feel confident about putting those theoretical skills into practice. Anything that is big enough for her to pick up and maneuver into her mouth is big enough for her to choke on. So fingerfoods are out. When I feed her things that are supposed to be fingerfood, like O*s, I break them into like four pieces. I have a problem.
(Wasn't that awesome how I said that needed no further explanation, and then I explained it? Am excellent writer! Publishers, plz send book deal immediately!)
2. I hate dealing with the mess. If Gwen is eating cereal or any other non-fingerfed substance, it ends up all over her face, her hands, her hair, and so on. I've watched my friend Jessica feed her daughter Brenna a container of applesauce: Brenna sat calmly on the floor of my living room while Jessica spooned the sauce into her mouth. That is not how things go with Gwen. There's a reason that we go directly from high chair to bath tub in the evenings. And since I don't want to give Gwen more than one bath a day, that means I don't want to feed her more than one messy substance a day either.
3. I hate dealing with the tedium. Since she can't finger feed herself (since anything big enough for her to manage would choke her: see Item 1), it means I am feeding her. Which I find really dull. Dull enough not to even talk about it.
4. She has never given me a clear hunger signal in her life. Remember when she was a tiny baby, and would rather sleep for six hours than wake up to nurse, even though she was starving and losing weight like crazy? Yeah, we've never gotten this whole hunger cue thing figured out. On most lists of "ready for solid foods" indicators, "has a different cry to signal hunger" is number two. Number one is the ability to sit unassisted. Excuse me, waiter, but there seems to be some FAIL in my soup.
5. I don't know what the hell to feed her. Some sources say just give 'em whatever you're eating. Others say you should introduce foods one at a time to make sure that if there's a reaction, you know what foods to eliminate. Some sources say you shouldn't cater to a sweet tooth by, for example, mixing fruit into their cereal, because then they will never want to eat bland foods (such as plain yogurt or whole grain bread). Other sources say you should feed them lots and lots of different flavours because otherwise you'll end up with a three-year-old who will only eat mac'n'cheese. All this conflicting information is almost enough to make me long for the simple, halcyon days of the Exclusive Breastfeeding Reich. (Almost.)
6. I'm really picky about what not to give her. I don't think there's any reason for her to have sugar until her first birthday cake. There's no reason to have processed foods in general, I guess. There's also a slight concern about a possible dairy allergy/sensitivity.
So, we've eliminated processed foods, dairy, sugar, finger foods, and messy foods. What's left? A tablespoon of limp (cooked, frozen, reheated) vegetables. YUMM.
Well, sarapants staged the intervention, and stood by while I wrung my hands and fed Gwen progressively larger pieces of O*s. Gwen continued to survive, and I gradually calmed down. And then Sara gave me a book called The Baby's Table and told me I would find all my answers in there.
In the week since then, I have been making a good effort to feed Gwen solids more than once a day. We've settled into a bit of a routine, where if I am preparing a meal for myself I will prepare one for her too. It's actually made things a bit easier, because I don't have to worry about keeping her entertained while I try to grab something to eat; instead, we eat together. I'm still not 100% satisfied with the content of her meals, but at least the frequency is on the rise.
I've also done some research: read The Baby's Table and found a neat website that is loaded with recipes and information. It was here that I was able to get an idea, at last, of how much a nine-month-old baby should be eating. The answer? Oh, about five or six times as much as I'm feeding her. Yeah, I've got some work to do.
My work starts in earnest tomorrow, for tomorrow my spud order arrives with fresh organic fruits and veggies chosen specifically for recipes in The Baby's Table. In the next couple of days, in amongst everything else I'm doing, I'll be prepping a few new dishes for Gwen to try - actual meals, instead of plain limp vegetables. How exciting! I hope she's hungry. Of course, if she is, I'd be the last to know.
*They're not Cheerios. They're not even Nutreeos. They're Barbara's Bakery Organic Breakfast Os sweetened with natural fruit juices and made with organic oats and corn. I can't even think of a way to make fun of myself as much as I obviously deserve.