Our GP made me cry today. He’s the most gentle, considered and reasonable doctor I have met, and in my quest to find a GP who doesn’t make me want to punch them or stab myself in the eye with their otoscope I have met many. This one is holistic in his approach to care, embraces other modalities wholeheartedly, values individualised treatment and never rushes you out the door. Oh and he bulk bills children. Then today he forced me to look in the ‘parenting’ mirror and I didn’t like what I saw. Hence – crying (as if having a cold isn’t grim enough, crying sends the snuffliness to a whole new level of ick). I don’t usually go in for crying. Mainly I reserve that for irrational, relationship-related paranoia and overtired self-pity. Cushioned as I am by my cosy world of lovely midwife friends who are 99% affirming of my parenting choices and family who are 99% keeping-their-mouths-shut, I am not often forced to feel the vulnerability of uncertainty. Sure, there have been a hundred and one things about parenting and babies about which I have been proven wrong, but I have never really questioned the fundamental decisions – breastfeeding on demand, co-sleeping, babywearing, non/selective vaccination and baby-led weaning. People have queried them, but mainly through absolute ignorance or simple curiosity and my certainty has been unwavering.
So, baby-led weaning, a bit of a back story: Like most new mothers, our health centre mother’s group was given the class on ‘Introducing Solids’. Some time before the forty-thousandth plug for infant-formula branded rice cereal and the handing out of all the infant-formula branded baby spoons and infant-formula sponsored recipe books I had well and truly tuned out. I know babies need to eat, but you cannot convince me that if they don’t eat the dietary equivalent of clag they’ll just wither and die. At this point the small one was about three months old and it all seemed a kind of vague and far-off concept anyway. I hadn’t yet read anything about baby-led weaning, but I figured he’d get interested in food at some point a few months down the track and we could just give him a modified version of what we were eating (you also cannot convince me that there has been a worldwide embrace of the clag-cereal, there must be a lot of families in the world that just cannot afford to spend money on an absurdly specific food item that will mainly be thrown on the floor). The months passed and small never got interested in anything but more of the breast. He’d tease us occasionally by allowing a morsel of something peculiar to pass his lips (asparagus, goat’s cheese) but he has never enthusiastically tracked the progress of food-to-mouth or tried to grab at food or opened his mouth, birdy-style, for an offered spoon. Never, not to this day when he is now one year, three weeks and two days old. Nor has he ever accepted expressed breast milk in any vessel, at any time of day, from any person. While this can be the teeniest hardship (in a privileged, middle-class kind of way) I have never been genuinely upset about it. On the whole it’s been a relief and a blessing for breastfeeding to be so easy and ongoing. Not to mention the source of a smidge of smugness – See that baby person? I grew that. He’s powered by breastmilk.
If anything, small’s disinterest in solid food has become an ongoing source of amusement. He declines anything on a spoon, dramatically lurching away from it with pursed lips and pushing you away with his arm. If you give him a loaded spoon he’ll bash it on the table to dislodge any food and then chew on the handle. Won’t eat mashed pumpkin, will have three, dry, individual cornflakes thanks. Won’t eat banana, will eat ten peas but then refuse to swallow them, meaning someone has to fish them out later. He will hold food in his mouth for hours and hours – once we inadvertently put him to sleep with a stick of cooked carrot in there, only to have to extract it three hours later so he could open his mouth again (I know, we are terrible parents and it’s a miracle the kid hasn’t choked). While I’ve been bemused by this, I haven’t been especially concerned and I’ve just kept trusting that one day something will change. He can sit up at the table with us for meals, we’ll keep offering food and one day he’ll say ‘why thank you mother, this tender piece of broccoli is exactly what I have been holding out for – can you pass the pepper?’. All the beloved and I have wished for is that he learns that meals are for us to be present with one another, to eat and to share stories of our day. We’ve never wanted to force feed him, fearful that all he’ll learn is to associate meals with the tension and horror of someone trying to shove pureed peas on a spoon down his throat.
Now, back to the GP: today I went to see him to discuss vaccination options, we veered into talking about small’s feeding habits and he said several things to me. Small needs more than breastmilk now. The composition of your breastmilk won’t have enough bioavailable iron to meet his needs. Your breastmilk will decline in quantity and quality. You shouldn’t have small brought in to work to breastfeed. If he doesn’t eat or drink for eight hours it’s his decision. You need to make small eat solids. It’s okay to fight him to do this. Small might be stubborn but you are the parent and you need to lead. Forcing the issue will not ruin mealtimes for him for life. He needs to take the next step. On the topic of vaccination: Now small is one there are fewer risks and likely side effects when vaccinating. I think you should delay vaccination until he is eating and his weight has reached at least the 20th centile (currently on the 3rd, but head and length 75th, so go figure). I will make you an appointment with our homeopath to add her perspective. When possible I will access non-combined vaccines for you.
Without going on at great great length I can say that some of these statements I don’t agree with, some I don’t want to agree with and some I can accept. My instant reaction was ‘You’re telling me I have inferior breastmilk, small will be anaemic and I’m a crappy, negligent parent’. Hence – crying. When I thought about it some more – as I sat sniffling, with our kindly GP handing over the tissues, patting my hand and reassuring me that I’m not crappy or neglectful – I realised it’s not that I really believe I’m neglectful, it’s more that I worry that I’ve made particular choices that mean I never have to play ‘bad cop’. It’s easy to be the fun parent when you keep saying yes. Yes, sleep by my side. Yes, breastfeed when you fancy. Yes, I will follow you. Rationally, I know that parenting means sometimes making the hard decisions, being the strict one, not being fun. I’ve just never really had to do it. So now I am torn. I don’t believe my breastmilk is inferior nor that I am subconsciously stopping him from growing out of babyhood, but now I do question whether I’m avoiding pushing the issue of solid food for the wrong reason. Do I trust my original instinct to follow small? Trusting that one day he will voluntarily eat and that by waiting for that day indefinitely I don’t disadvantage him. Or do I take the advice of my GP to ‘be the parent and lead’?