Giving up the white stuff (when they no longer want to booble)

I was contemplating my second birth last night. The reason for my reverie was that I suddenly realised that it was Pancake Day and I hadn’t had a pancake – my brain was obviously nudging me in a carb-deprived way!

Twenty-nine years ago I gave birth to my second son on Ash Wednesday having thought that the tummy cramps and diarrhoea I’d had all day were a result of dodgy pancakes the previous evening. I have photos from a couple of minutes post-birth of me and the midwife (still wearing her coat) looking white with shock – the midwife on the phone telling the second midwife to stand down as it was too late for her to come with all the home birth kit: baby was already here! He came yelling into the world wearing a glorious surprise of thick, long black hair and a sweet little “bum chin”.

Last night I was pondering the notion of “giving up for lent” and decided that now was as good a time as any to finally bite the vegan bullet. This is an easy ask for me as, not long after the birth of “Ash Wednesday Boy”, I became anaphylactic to egg and so, as a long-term vegetarian, the only thing I need to cut out is the occasional dairy cappuccino and a grating of strong cheddar on my Spag Bol.

Now I have also recently had a number of questions about weaning and how to move babes from mum’s milk to cow’s milk: when, how much, which type, formula or regular etc etc. So here is my guide to giving up the white stuff …

When we booble our babies, because of the language that surrounds us, it is easy to think that the boob is simply just another milk vessel. That a baby should switch his affection in time from the human to the bovine drink. But all mums know – even though they forget that they know – that babies don’t see the boob like that at all. To our baby the boob is quite simply his “sucky thing”. He doesn’t pop on and off and on and off and on and off ALL day and night because he is hungry or thirsty. He is heading chestwards to soothe, to snuggle, to warm, to fret, to chat, to off-load, to reassure (him and you) and to relax. He might have a few glugs of warm, endorphin-rich milk whilst he’s there, but he might not. Offering him a bottle of any milk, human or formula, will generally be met with complete bafflement.

As we start the long process of introducing our baby to family foods, our mum’s milk continues to be a vital source of nutrients and calories. Then over the months, slowly but surely, family foods start to provide more and more of her daily intake and the boob, whilst continuing to be the main source of comfort and sleep-soothing, gradually provides a smaller ratio of the nutrition. This really is a slow process and, until the first birthday, most family foods make up a very small percentage of the overall dietary intake. It can be useful during this time to offer water from a beaker during family food times and then offer the boob freely through the rest of the day and night. The same goes for the bottle-feeding mum (whether the bottle is full of formula or mum’s milk) – water with family foods, milk at all other times.

From the start of sharing family foods at about the 6-month mark, the boobled baby can have full-fat cow’s milk on cereal and in sauces. But there is no need, or advantage to introducing drinks of milk. In fact dairy milk inhibits iron absorption (unlike mum’s milk which can help it) and a beaker of it can simply fill a baby up so she no longer feels hungry for her nutrition-rich beans on toast. There is also no need to introduce formula – it really tastes, smells and feels nothing like mum’s milk. Follow-on milks are not recommended for any babies, formula-fed or boobled, as they are nutritionally almost identical to regular formulas and the added iron which is advertised as being important for the older baby cannot be absorbed by the human infant but can cause constipation.

It is so common as to be almost ubiquitous for the exclusively boobled baby to wean from the breast and never drink a glass of milk ever again. Milk on cereal, in foods and as cheese, yoghurt and cream, yes. But a drink of milk? Rarely if ever. When health care professionals and NHS websites talk about giving formula alongside family foods and of ensuring a baby still gets a pint a day, they are talking to the bottle-feeding mum, not you!

If your own diet does not include dairy but is a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of complex carbs, protein, healthy fats, fruit and veg, then, just like your omnivorous friends, wean your baby onto your family foods along with whatever milks you might use in sauces and cereals (rice, soy etc). Good sources of non-dairy calcium are nut butters, calcium-set tofu (check your packet), bread, dried fruit, hummus, baked beans, other pulses and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower etc). Remember, and this is true for ALL weaning babies, that your little one needs calorie-dense foods so don’t go filling him up on broccoli with its meagre calorie count so that he can no longer face his mum’s nutritious milk. Babies are growing fast and he will soon be on the move and burning up the calories at a colossal rate, so choose foods that will give far more bang to the buck.

Current medical advice is that ALL boobling mums and weaning babies should have a daily vitamin supplement containing vitamin D. There is a growing body of opinion that, in the northern hemisphere, everyone (women, men, babies and children) should have daily vitamin D supplements but the government guidelines are not quite “there” yet – watch this space …

In short, babies will slowly wean themselves off their mum’s milk and onto a gradually more varied diet over many, many months. There is no need to replace your own milk with dairy or any other milk drink as time goes on but ALL humans need adequate calcium in their diet and this can be found in a wide variety of healthy family foods. Supplement yourself and your baby with a daily vitamin containing vitamin D and get out in the fresh air to soak up what little sunshine we see during these winter months. And, of course, continue to enjoy snuggling up with your baby for a long, cosy booble in front of the TV for as many months and years as you both wish.

Now please excuse me whilst I go and finish my soy cappuccino before it goes cold!