Baby Led Weaning

A slight rant about formula feeding and breastfeeding - bear with me...

A slight rant about formula feeding and breastfeeding – bear with me…

Okay, so I tried to breastfeed. I really tried. Really really really. But the baby was about ten days old, losing weight and the doctors pretty much told me that unless I gave her ‘some’ formula then I would damage her kidneys. Great. So I did.

Aaaaaand, I think that’s one of the main reasons that my breastfeeding got bollocksed up.

Well, I have some medical issues which may also be implicated but we’ll never really know if the baby hadn’t been introduced to a bottle (‘hello Babybear’ ‘hello Bottle’) whether we might have been able to get my supply up a bit more. As it was, with feeding round the clock, domperidone medication and yield tests (expressing every two hours for 48 hours – what fun), combined with the expertise of one of the best breastfeeding specialists in the country, fenugreek, Guinness, other stuff I took that I can’t remember…. I managed to get up to about 30% of what she needed per day and so we did mixed feeding (otherwise known as the worst of both worlds) for 17 weeks. It wasn’t perfect, but I really loved it. And I think I went a wee bit mental, which helped.

People talk about ‘nipple confusion’ but I don’t think Babybear was in the slightest bit confused. She knew that the bottle was easier and so she slowly took less and less from me, therefore stimulating me less so the whole thing kinda petered out. Gutted doesn’t touch it. I was heartbroken. That’s why I put myself (and Babybear, if I’m honest) through the mill about it for such a long time. I was so sad when it stopped, so humiliated to pull out my formula bottle in cafes etc and it totally got me down. Still does, when I think about it, which I try not to.

Anyway, onwards and upwards, yes? If I can’t breastfeed then I’m sure as dammit going to see to it that she enjoys a healthy and varied diet…

So I look at weaning material online and pretty much everything talks about transitioning from breastfeeding to solids. I understand that the advice has to be pro-breastfeeding, but it rather seems to defeat the point of trying to create a strong and positive lifelong relationship with food for our babies if those of us who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed feel excluded when it comes to the next stage. Is it a class thing? Are formula feeders, having ‘opted’ for a processed solution to milk feeding just supposed to head for the jarred food section of the supermarket until the babies are old enough for turkey twizzlers? (Not that jars are inherently evil, don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but… oh you know what I mean.)

Then one day I was chatting with my rather marvelous ante-natal class chums and someone mentions baby led weaning and Gill Rapley. Really? No purees? Straight onto solids? Hhhmmmmm, sounds interesting…

At first I found it incredibly difficult to find written material (hence this blog, ladies) but when I did, on some crazy Dutch website, inevitably came the warning.

“Parents who are bottle feeding their baby should also consult with their health advisers, for the reasons outlined below.

It is not clear whether a baby-led approach to the introduction of solids is appropriate for babies who are bottle fed; more research is needed to establish this, since bottle-feeding seems to be more mother-led. It is difficult to make predictions about how bottle-fed babies will manage solids, so we need to be careful. However, as long as care is taken to ensure an adequate fluid intake, there would seem to be nothing inherently wrong in adopting this approach. It is recommended that parents of babies who are being bottle (formula) fed discuss the matter fully with their health advisers if they wish to use this method.”

Oh yeah. I forgot.  I jam bottles down my baby’s throat regardless of whether or not she wants it. In fact, I schedule her feeds solely to coincide with my soaps on the telly and the sooner she learns how to boil the kettle so she can make her mother a cuppa, the better.

Ach, I know that’s not really what it says, in fact I think it’s phrased rather well in a manner that is clearly designed to play it cagey while not ruling out baby led weaning for formula feeders, but when you’ve tried and ‘failed’ to breastfeed it doesn’t take much to kick you in the chops. And the advice to ask our health advisers..? Fine, but what if they say ‘I’ve never heard of it. Sounds unusual. Don’t they choke? I wouldn’t do it myself. Do you want a free pack of baby rice?’

So here’s what I think. It’s not medical advice, it’s just my feeling on the matter.

I can see the point that if you do keep to a strict schedule then your baby might be unaccustomed to regulating their own appetite… but I’m not 100 per cent sure I buy it. Maybe it’s just my daughter, but I can’t get her to drink half an ounce more than she wants to, and she will make herself perfectly clear if she fancies some milk at any time. I haven’t met anyone who feeds specific amounts at specific times, and certainly any reading material I have is quite clear about the necessity to demand feed with formula.

From my experience, therefore, I would say that if you are demand formula feeding I can’t see what the problem would be. (Frankly if you aren’t I can’t see what the problem would be if you were scheduled so long as you were able to cede control to the baby, but it’s not something I’ve done so I can’t really comment.)

With regards to the water issue, my daughter really didn’t drink much of it to begin with but I made sure it was always available as the formula is unchanging whereas breastmilk has a lipsmackingthirstquenching effect, so too much formula liquid can lead to over-feeding. It took a while and a massive heatwave to get her going with water, and she now drinks from a Tommee Tippee cup while we’re out and a shot glass in the house. With varied results…

To be honest, I don’t think that Babybear is drinking less milk than she used to, we’ve just incorporated the solids into her usual intake. (We normally make up about 6-sh bottles of 7 ounces per day, and she drinks what she wants of them. Sometimes loads, sometimes hardly any. She’s obviously growing fine so I think what’s happening is that the solids are supplementing her feeds so the milk isn’t going up but her meal time consumption is. )

So I know this is quite the rant, and to anyone who managed to get to the end of it, well done. All you breastfeeders out there, keep it up, you’re doing a grand job, really, and to the formula feeders considering baby led weaning… don’t worry, everything’s going to be fine.

Post Script

Guess who left a message on the main page? Gill Rapley, that’s who. Wasn’t that kind? In case you didn’t see it, here’s what she wrote.

Hi to everyone! Amazingly I have only just learned about this blog – I think it’s great! I’m looking forward to reading everything! For now, I just want to comment on the rant about formula feeding:

I’m delighted you’ve raised this. Personally, I have little doubt that babies who have been formula-fed are just as capable of self-weaning as those who have been breastfed. My hesitation in saying so in public stems from the fact that I am working in the world of academics and health professionals. In that world, any new drug, procedure or idea has to have a research evidence base to substantiate it before it is accepted – common sense is not enough. This is a safety feature – just in case there could be a hidden danger. If I step outside that I will not be taken seriously by people who, if they are convinced, have the potential to share the BLW message with lots of parents. So, since my own small piece of research was done using breastfed babies, I am not able to make assertions that are more general. You, as mothers, are perfectly free to state what makes logical sense – and I thank you for doing so!

One final small note: I hoped to publish my research in 2003 (as mentioned on your home page) but in fact have still not done so! (I am about to re-submit it to a journal after making amendments to the write-up.) I have, however, had a chapter published in an erudite book and am in the process of making a video about BLW. Watch this space!
Best regards to all of you, Gill Rapley