I have breastfed for over 52 months. Fifty. Two. Looking back, it flew by. I hardly remember nursing my first baby, and now I'm about to wean my second. In fact, her last day breastfeeding will be tomorrow, the day before I leave for a trip. She will have nursed (nearly) every day for the last 2 years.
Breastfeeding is one of the most emotionally-charged topics of motherhood. It is a joyous experience for some, an impossible one for others. Some women love it. Others hate it. Many women who were unable to breastfeed harbor guilt and hard feelings about the whole experience.
This is not a post about breastfeeding being better than bottle feeding or why everyone "should" breastfeed. I am a believer in feeding your baby in a way that works best for mom, baby and the whole family. As a mom, I have loved breastfeeding my babies and I feel lucky that I was able to do it, but as a dietitian I am well aware that breastfeeding just doesn't work for everyone, for a variety of reasons.
If thinking about breastfeeding hurts your heart, please know that I am sending you a virtual hug and that I am proud of you for figuring out what worked better for you and for baby. Sometimes feeding issues teach us the first of many hard parenting lessons - we are not always in control.
I want to share some of my personal thoughts and recommendations about breastfeeding, as my experience - like every mom's - is a bit unique. I hope that in reading this you learn something new, can relate to something you've experienced, or find healing in your own story. Of course, this post could be much, much longer than it is. I am not an IBCLC and I know many of these topics could be greatly expanded upon, so I hope you find the help and support you need if you're struggling.
Get educated. Breastfeeding seems easy - what do you need besides boobs and a baby, right? Most of us haven't grown up surrounded by breastfeeding. Many of us were not breastfed ourselves, so we don't have a tribe of women ready and able to teach us what to do. Both my mom and my mother-in-law breastfed, but this isn't always the case.
Some aspects of breastfeeding aren't logical, either. I've had clients who think that feeding a baby less often - when their breasts seem fuller - is the best way to get baby more milk, As you may know, feeding infrequently can hinder your milk supply because baby is removing less milk overall and not telling your body to produce even more.
Those first few days after birth are critical in establishing your milk supply and learning what breastfeeding is all about. Read about it before having baby, or better yet - take a class. Many hospitals, birthing centers, and breastfeeding support groups have breastfeeding education classes. If you're local to Phoenix, check out Modern Milk or Babymoon Inn to learn all about breastfeeding before baby arrives.
Keep your eyes on the prize. Feeding your baby in the early weeks and months is very overwhelming because it's 'round the clock. I felt like I went from an independent woman to a mom tethered to a baby, literally overnight. My babies never liked bottles, so it was even more overwhelming to be their only food source.
Take it one day at a time, mama. Make a goal of 1 week, then 2, then 1 month. If you can get to 6 weeks you've likely gotten over many breastfeeding humps.
Believe it or not, once you figure out breastfeeding, it can be much, much easier than pumping or bottle feeding. In fact, one reason why I continued to breastfeed into toddlerhood is because it was easier than weaning (true story). You don't need special equipment or gear when baby is with you. No washing or heating bottles, no cleaning, no worrying about sanitizing equipment.
Remember that this is a temporary time in your life. It will be all done before you know it (insert sobbing here).
Find an IBCLC, especially one trained in understanding tongue and lip ties. If you have issues breastfeeding, a consult with an IBCLC is the best money you can spend. Seriously. International Board Certified Lactation Consultants are God's gift to new moms, and many are even covered by insurance. WIC employs IBCLCs as well. If something seems wrong, trust your mama gut and get help. I promise you won't regret talking to a pro.
I could not have breastfed without the help from Amey Clark, and there are so many wonderful IBCLCs (including Stephanie Nguyen and Lori Isenstadt) who are willing and able to help you navigate this new world of feeding your baby.
Both of my babies were severely tongue and lip tied, and it takes a trained practitioner to identify and revise these ties. Make sure your providers know how to revise - or who to refer to for revision. If your provider doesn't "believe" in tongue ties and breastfeeding isn't going well, I strongly consider that you shop around for a second opinion.
Above all else, keep seeking help if you're not getting the support you need. There's someone out there who can help you make breastfeeding successful (or at least understand when it's time to switch to another feeding modality).
If you use a breastfeeding pillow, bring it on trips. It's so much easier to nurse a young baby with a pillow if that's what you're used to. I brought my Boppy everywhere when we traveled. It's helpful on the plane and is critical at your final destination. Plus, you can wash it when you get home!
If you don't respond to a traditional electric pump, try a manual pump or hand expressing. I was a breastfeeding unicorn in that I could never pump much milk but could hand express 5-8 ounces of milk at a time. (I had massive over-supply. Normal pump output when breastfeeding full-time is 0.5-2 oz between both breasts.) It was a little freakish. For some reason, I never did well with an electric pump. I have friends who did much better with manual pumps instead of an electric pump too. Don't get discouraged if pumping isn't working - try other options! Your IBCLC can help you with this.
Don't cover - or do. Basically, do what makes you feel comfortable. I always applauded moms who nursed without covers, but I personally didn't feel comfortable doing it with my uber-distracted babies (who whipped their heads around at any slight noise as they nursed). The cover actually kept them focused as they nursed.
I did master breastfeeding in the Ergo uncovered, and that was a great option while grocery shopping or traveling. I think the baby's height, mom's torso length, and mom's breast size all influence how well upright nursing in an Ergo or other carrier works, but it's worth a shot. (I even nursed in a carrier while teaching classes at Babymoon and Modern Milk - talk about redefining working mom, right!?)
Don't feel pressured to stop breastfeeding at age 1. (Above is my first baby nursing sometime in her second year of life. Gymnurstics.) Breast milk has an important role for toddlers too - it helps fill their nutritional gaps and can provide extra immune protection as they become more mobile (and more adventurous with what they touch). The World Health Organization actually recommends breastfeeding until at least age 2 - it's not uncommon for women across the world to breastfeed until 3 to 5 years of age.
Do what works best for you. My goal with both girls was 2, and with my first I was sad to stop at 28 months - I was 5 months pregnant and didn't want to tandem nurse! My second is only breastfeeding once a day but is pulling back hard as she nurses, which really hurts. That's one reason why she will be done about 2 weeks after her 2nd birthday.
Take pictures and videos of your baby breastfeeding. I know this seems silly, and you don't ever need to show these to anyone (although I think they're absolutely beautiful, so show me!), but I think breastfeeding photos are some of my most cherished keepsakes. I treasure the professional ones from Jenn Hydeman, and I also love the ones I took myself in those sweet, quiet moments.
Cherish your time with baby. Breastfeeding forced me to sit down, slow down, and focus on my sweet little infant (or toddler). Both girls have had fun routines and quirks around breastfeeding that I will never forget. My eldest loved saying, "Switch sides!" and I adored that my youngest would demand, "Light OFF!" and smile as she got ready for her naptime routine. I loved how breastfeeding seemed to solve all infant problems. I loved hearing my girls exhale a quivering sigh as they settled into their feeding rhythm, or make small coo's as they relaxed and started to fall asleep. I loved the lip shake they made as they stayed latched for comfort, or the sweet gummy smiles they gave me as milk poured out of their toothless mouths. The sound of a breastfeeding baby is magical. It literally makes my uterus hurt.
I don't know if I will miss breastfeeding as much as I will miss what it meant - peaceful time with my babies, where there was nothing more important in the world than being with them. I will always be grateful that my breastfeeding experience was a wonderful one (despite tongue/lip ties, clogged ducts, mastitis and thrush). I don't remember the hard parts - I remember the pure magic.
Remember that breastfeeding is successful only when it works for both mom and baby. There is much more to feeding and being a good mom than the type of milk baby gets. Give yourself grace to do what works for you and your baby, whatever that may be. I wish you joy and peace on your feeding journey. Never forget that you are an amazing mother, and your baby was perfectly designed to be yours!
One of the most common questions in our Feeding Littles Group on Facebook has to do with a baby's first birthday cake:
"What kind of healthy smash cake should I make for my baby? Do I need to do a low sugar cake?"
I always love reading the wide array of responses and seeing the smash cake photos that are inevitably posted. (True story: photos of babies eating are my favorite thing ever.)
What do Judy and I think about a baby's first smash cake? In honor of my daughter's second birthday this week, I wanted to share our thoughts. In short:
Do whatever causes you the least amount of stress. Seriously.
Not a baker? Buy something, don't make it. Super anxious about added sugar? Don't offer it (but make sure to read our thoughts on it below). Not into the idea of a smash cake in general? Do something different. Or do nothing at all.
Seriously, mama - this is meant to be fun. Don't let it stress you out.
You will have enough on your plate planning your baby's first birthday. Worrying about a smash cake only makes your life harder. Below are a few things to consider.
A little sugar will not hurt your baby or cause her to become a sugar fiend. Your baby already knows what sweetness tastes like and is predisposed to favor sweet flavors. Don't believe me? Taste breast milk or formula. Yup, your baby has been drinking sweet milk for a year now. (Yes, it's perfectly and healthy for her to have milk sugars and fruit sugars, and while they're probably "healthier" than added sugars from sucrose, honey and syrup, they're still technically sugars. Your baby's diet has not been "sugar free" up until now.)
It's very important for our kiddos to have a normal relationship with food and to know how to manage their food environment. Introducing baby to some added sugar on her first birthday will not ruin her taste for healthy food, I promise. Most babies who go to town on their cakes act no differently afterwards either (according to the hundreds of parents we've asked!). Plus, don't you want your child to be able go to a party when he's older, have some cake (until his body tells him he's satisfied), and move along? Promoting a "good versus bad" mentality around food increases your chid's risk for an eating disorder. We recommend not even talking about the food itself - just serve it, eat together, and enjoy the food. No biggie.
Most "Paleo" or "healthified" cakes still contain added sugars. Yes, maple syrup, agave nectar, and coconut sugar are still sugar. They may be nominally healthier, but the difference is pretty small. These cakes may be great options for kiddos or party-goers with food allergies, and some of them taste pretty darn good. Want to use one for your baby's birthday? Great! Just don't feel pressured to make a maple syrup-based cake if a more "traditional" (or heck, store bought) cake is easier for you.
Oh, and watch out for "sugar-free" cake recipes. If they're sweetened with applesauce or fruit, that's great (and technically they'd be "free from added sugar" since fruit has fructose, or fruit sugar). Truly sugar-free cakes usually contain artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame, which we don't recommend for babies, children or adults.
Many babies do not touch their smash cakes anyway. Parents oftentimes go overboard ensuring that their baby's cake is beautiful (or healthy, tasty, themed)...and baby won't even eat it. This happened to my first baby, and it happens all the time with our clients.
See that frosting on her hands and face? Yup, it's because we pressed her hand in the cake and put some on her lips just for the photos. Girlfriend refused to try any at all. I'm glad I got a bundtlet from Nothing Bundt Cake because it was so easy (and it photographed so well)...and when she didn't eat it I wasn't disappointed that I had spent too much time.
This photo from one of our group members cracks me up. Baby wanted nothing to do with her beautiful cake, but mmmmm, that carrot!
Remember, offering your baby a birthday cake (or something else) is all about the moment, the memory, the tradition. It's a rite of passage for many families. Think less about the "healthfulness" of the food and focus more on the memories you'd like to make. Your baby's first birthday is a celebration of surviving the first year (more for you than for them!), and having birthday cake if you want to is about celebrating. Food has an important part in our culture, and it's OK to eat certain foods as part of a celebration. Think long-term about what you want for this moment.
I think super messy cake smashes are a hilariously appropriate way to usher in toddlerhood and the joyful craziness that it brings.
You don't have to do a smash cake. If you still want to do "smash" food or messy play, get creative! Check out the awesome ideas here and here. The sweet girl in the photo below did a quesadilla/taco smash, which was a perfect option for her family.
One thing I do look for in cakes? Artificial dyes. I personally don't feel good eating them, so I try to get cakes that don't use them. However, they're hard to avoid when using fondant and specific cake designs, so it's usually that's something I let go of and just enjoy.
Remember, your baby's first birthday is a momentous occasion for the entire family! Enjoy it, and have some cake if you'd like - or not!
Feeding a baby or toddler can seem very overwhelming. There are so many routes to take, potential products to buy, things to consider. In a time when parents are bombarded with too much information, choosing the right approach for introducing solids may be more overwhelming than ever.
Our followers know that while we love the Baby-led Weaning (infant self-feeding) developmental approach (and even have an online course all about it), we also support all families on their feeding journey and recognize that what works for some doesn’t work for all. Yes, we work with families who spoon feed and love to help them make that a positive experience. No, we don’t think spoon feeding is unnecessary for some families, nor do we think that there’s one right way to feed a baby. Ultimately, we want feeding to be a positive experience where the caregiver follows the baby’s lead. We also want the caregiver to have positive feelings about the feeding experience, since babies can pick up on anxiety surrounding mealtime.
Eventually, the goal for every baby (barring health or medical issues) is independent, safe self-feeding. This may happen at a different rate for each baby. We’ve seen some confusion about how long to spoon feed, transitioning from spoon feeding to self-feeding, if food before one is even important, and other feeding fiction over the last few months in our Feeding Littles Group on Facebook. We want to set the record straight from a nutritional and developmental perspective on a few key feeding issues.
1. There are essentially two main approaches to infant feeding - Baby-led Weaning (infant self-feeding) and traditional feeding (sometimes referred to as Traditional Weaning). While the approaches seem different, the eventual goal for both BLW and traditional feeding is self-feeding all safe textures.
Baby-led Weaning is defined by babies feeding themselves whole foods (not exclusively purees) from the start. These foods are offered in the shape of a stick or strip because 6-month-olds usually lack the pincer grasp and cannot pick up a small piece of food. However, many parents are nervous about babies eating textures like avocado, banana, cooked sweet potato, or softly cooked chicken, so a modified approach may work better for these families. Offering pureed or mashed food on loaded NumNum GOOtensils (or dumping a puree on baby’s tray!) can be a good way to start letting your baby feed herself a texture that makes you feel more comfortable. Once you see her maneuver the food in her mouth, you may be willing to offer her other foods. Learn more about smart spoon feeding here.
2. Anything that’s not breast milk or formula is considered a “solid” or a “complementary food,” and we don’t recommend offering these foods until baby is ready.
Some parents confuse the guidance on offering complementary foods because they assume that pureed food is not a “solid.” Recommendations to wait until around 6 months for solids apply to feeding your baby any type of food that isn’t breast milk or formula. In assessing readiness, keep in mind that sitting with minimal assistance is key. For most babies, this is around 6ish months. Read more about developmental milestones for solid readiness here.
3. Food before one is not just for fun.
In fact, introduction of food in the second half of infancy is extremely important for a variety of reasons. The term “food before one is just for fun” sounds catchy and has gained in popularity since the BLW movement has gained momentum, but the unfortunate reality of this phrase is that some parents take it to mean that food has no importance before one and breast milk is all a baby needs. Some “crunchy” circles consider it best to not give baby any food except breast milk until 1, which can set baby up for a host of developmental, allergenic and nutritional issues.
Yes, breast milk or formula fulfills the majority of baby’s nutritional needs in infancy, but at or around 6 months of age baby needs some iron and zinc from food. Allergenic foods are important to introduce by around 6 months as long as baby does not have a high allergy risk (parent with an allergy or eczema/other allergic condition – if this applies, talk to your doc). If you skip offering food until 1 year of age, you may potentially miss a key allergen window. Plus, babies who don’t have exposure to various food textures by around 9 months run the risk of feeding issues later in life. They also miss exposure to a variety of flavors and may be less likely to accept strong flavors as they get older. We work with toddlers who have struggled to accept new textures and flavors for a variety of reasons, including lack of exposure in infancy, and it can be tough on the entire family. Of course, sometimes kiddos end up in feeding therapy or nutritional counseling for many reasons out of a parent’s control, but not offering food to babies after around 6 months of age and letting them play, explore, taste, chew and learn about food is a concerning trend in the parenting world.
Above all of these reasons, we encourage parents to watch their baby’s cues and to follow their lead with feeding. Many babies are interested in food as they approach 6 months of age. Not letting them eat food of any kind until 12 months hinders their natural interest in the world around them and doesn’t let them model what they see adults and other children do every day – eat food! They also miss out on the social and language-building element of eating together. Yes, we need to wait until baby is ready for food, but waiting much past 6-7 months doesn’t give your baby some sort of advantage (barring medical issues); it may prevent him from being the eater he’s meant to be.
This phrase may also be taken to mean that food introduction can be casual. We strongly support keeping mealtimes fun and low stress and not worrying if baby misses a food meal due to teething or illness, but we've seen in time and time again that babies who get more practice with food are more skilled, successful eaters.
4. Make sure baby can pick up the size food you offer.
This is especially important in Baby-led Weaning, where baby feeds herself from the start. Since 6-month-olds lack a pincer grasp, offering diced up food can make them frustrated. As your baby becomes a more skilled self-feeder, she can handle smaller pieces of food.
5. It’s important to follow your baby’s lead.
Some parents become frustrated when their spoon-fed baby starts grabbing for the spoon. Remember, we want all babies to eventually self-feed, so this is a great first step! Offer her the spoon (or a NumNum GOOtensil) loaded with some mashed or pureed food, and try some soft finger foods like avocado or banana spears, softly cooked chicken, or cooked sweet potato spears after that.
6. If you have decided to spoon feed your baby, we recommend encouraging independent self-feeding by no later than 14-16 months.
Of course, if your baby has developmental or medical issues, this may not be the case. Some parents love spoon feeding their baby and enjoy making baby food. If that works for you, great! Spoon feeding is not meant to be forever, and the term “traditional weaning” doesn’t mean that baby is always fed by his parents. That’s why technically you don’t “switch” from traditional weaning to BLW – inherent in traditional weaning is the idea that your baby eventually self-feeds.
Even though it’s a messy process, let your baby and toddler feed himself a variety of foods. Regularly putting food in your toddler’s mouth and not letting him try it himself prevents him from developing the skills needed to self-feed. It can also lead to distracted eating or overeating and a host of other feeding issues.
7. You do not have to wait 2 weeks between spoon feeding a baby and giving her finger foods.
The myth that there should be a “rest period” after stopping spoon feeding and before letting your baby self-feed whole foods has been flying around BLW boards for years, and it’s simply not backed by science. The theory behind this “guideline” is that when babies go from being fed a puree to putting foods in their own mouths, they are more likely to choke because they will swallow the food without chewing. Well, babies new to BLW who have never had any kind of food may also try to swallow without chewing - that’s what they have the protective airway mechanism that is the gag reflex. In fact, Judy uses smart spoon feeding and self-feeding other textures within the same feeding therapy session all the time. The entire premise behind BLW is that it is safe for a baby to self-feed all textures; if this 2-week “rule” were true, it wouldn’t be deemed safe to let baby self-feed yogurt, hummus and guacamole while simultaneously letting them self-feed spears of avocado or cooked broccoli.
8. Gagging is a reflex and is your baby’s way of safely protecting her airway. However, gagging should improve over time.
For many babies new to self-feeding whole foods, gagging is a common thing. It should get better with practice. If your baby continues to gag very frequently after many weeks of practicing with real foods, talk to your pediatrician. Excessive gagging can lead to a feeding aversion.
9. A choking hazard is a choking hazard for all babies, independent of feeding style.
Just because a baby starts food utilizing BLW doesn’t mean he can “handle” choking hazards better than another baby. Cut grapes, cherries, and cherry tomatoes into quarters, and remove skin or small bones from meat. Avoid popcorn, chips, gum, and hard candy until age 4. Apples and raw carrots are unexpected choking hazards; we recommend softening both or shredding before serving (until age 4).
10.You do not have to offer only vegetables if you want to raise a veggie-lover.
Fruit won’t ruin your baby. Have you ever tasted breast milk or formula? Yup, very sweet. Your baby already knows what sweetness is, and starting on just vegetables hasn’t been shown to improve his diet quality long-term. What does help foster adventurous eating is exposure to ALL foods, with lots of repetition - some babies don't like foods until they've seen them 20-30 times!
You don’t have to offer fruits with every meal, but rather make sure to have at least one veggie and/or fruit at every meal for exposure to different flavors and nutrients. Don’t forget to pair the produce with a high-iron food like beef, salmon, chicken, lentils or beans!
11. When your baby turns 1, you can offer a sugary cake – or not.
Do whatever makes you feel comfortable. (Judy and I gave our kiddos real cake, for what it’s worth…and my first didn’t even touch hers!) If you want your baby to eat a Paleo cake, fruit, or a cupcake made with applesauce, great – just don’t overly stress yourself. Many, many babies don’t eat their first birthday cake – offering one is more for fun, tradition, even just photos. We've also seen funny taco, BBQ and watermelon first birthday smash photos that look just as fun if you want to try something unique.
If your baby eats some cake, he will be OK. Remember that all foods fit, and we need to teach our kiddos that it’s not a big deal to have some cake eventually. Focus on the fact that you survived your first year with baby! That calls for some cake (or champagne!) for you!
Megan and Judy, co-owners of Feeding Littles, bring you helpful info on food, nutrition, picky eating, and feeding young children. Megan McNamee MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Judy Delaware, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist specializing in feeding therapy with children 3 and under in Boulder, Colorado. Megan and Judy are both moms of two and love helping families develop a healthy appetite for all foods!