I didn’t expect it to be easy having a baby for the first time, but neither did I expect that we would have difficulties with the most essential needs of a baby – food and sleep. Of course, I should have anticipated that these basic needs are where challenges will arise with us understanding what Ducky wants and needs and fulfilling it in the right way. Alas, my naiveté caught me by surprise.
Writing about milk, I’ve got to describe the struggles we’ve had in the last few months related to it. Around the age of 2½ months, Ducky would have about 20 feeds a day from me, hardly sleeping more than an hour at a time. She very quickly grew cranky, exhausted and was hungry all the time. We reached a stage where there would only be a 1 hour gap between the start of one feed and her asking for the next – hours upon hours of cluster feeding. Needless to say, I was also exhausted. I felt like I was stuck in the room, glued to the feeding chair, where I also caught some naps in-between feeds. So off we went to the paediatrician, who suggested we start with top feeds – adding some formula feeds to her day. I was so excited to hear that there was a solution that would make Ducky feel better, that we immediately made arrangements and got the formula powder (thanks to friends of ours who found it in a pharmacy near their house and sent it across to us immediately). We gave her a little bit of it in her medicine dropper, as she hadn’t figured out how to suck from a feeding bottle as yet, and it was such a disaster!!! She screamed and screamed as we would try to feed her only about 10ml each time. She absolutely hated it. We persisted for 4 days with this and just as we were about to give up, lo and behold, Ducky started to enjoy the taste and started drinking 30ml per feed from a bottle.
I suddenly had this sense of freedom as Chaplu papa’s hunger was now getting satisfied. And I was able to have a bath or eat my meal completely. I found myself more comfortable in leaving the house and going visiting as giving her a formula feed when outside was an available option. I know that I should not be uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public and there are lots of women out there lobbying for it, but the truth is that I was just not as much as ease with it. Mainly because I found only certain positions, supported by specific pillows, comfortable. As Ducky’s neck control stabilised and she started to sit up, I felt more comfortable feeding her in unfamiliar places. By month 6, Ducky and I reached the stage where a feed could happen anywhere – from a hospital bathroom to a relative’s bedroom to an unused room in a gathering.
I’ve got to mention about my feelings of inadequacy during the trial phase of formula milk – that I couldn’t feed my baby by myself for the first 6 months of her life, while so many others around me were doing it successfully. I also felt really sad and helpless that I was putting my baby through the torture of having formula milk (in those initial 4 days) when she clearly did not like it. However, thanks to my family’s support, I was able to trash these unnecessary feelings into my mental dustbin and throw it far away. Taking care of Ducky doesn’t mean that I have to do it just by myself. As she started to lap up her formula milk, I was absolutely elated for 2 reasons – the first that we were not putting her through that torture every time, and the second that there was supplementation that my milk was not able to provide. Chaplu papa was now able to sleep for 2-3 hours at a time and it was such a relief. . I also noticed a sudden increase in her awareness and interaction with all of us – possibly because of the additional nutrition?
But this success lasted for exactly 45 days. The New Year rolled around and Ducky stopped drinking her formula milk. She would very cleverly roll the bottle nipple around her mouth and then shove it out. Or she would take a few sips and then spit everything out as soon as the chance arrived. We could no longer feed her while she was awake, however for a few very short days we were able to feed her the top feed when she was deep in sleep. Clever one that she is, Chaplu papa figured out what we were up to and deep sleep feeds also came to an end. My father came up with the analogy that Ducky likes food served at a gourmet restaurant (that is from me) as compared to fast food. Just before Chaplu papa went on her formula strike, we had restocked our supplies of formula in both houses. So now I have 3 unopened boxes of formula powder!!
Now you all know what happens to Ducky right? She gets hungry every hour or so, again. My chirpy meerkat vanishes and out comes out her cranky avatar. And naturally so, considering that her stomach is feeling empty a lot of the time. We were back to square one and back at the paediatrician’s office. Our doctor gave us two options – try out another formula powder, or start solids (which he would like us to push as close to the 6 month mark as possible). We tried out another powder and guess what – Chaplu hated it with the same intensity.
So, after much thought and discussion, we moved onto the second option. Ducky was definitely on the younger side to start solids, but after 2 continuous weeks of feeding an average of 18 times a day and still not being satisfied, there was no doubt in our minds. We started with cerelac and oatmeal – as these were great hits with my neighbour’s 7 month old. And Ducky absolutely detested it. We tried adding water / cow’s milk / breast milk; all with the same result – screaming and crying through those few bites. Trying to get some insight into what I can do, I put up my story on an online platform. Instead of the help I thought I would get, I was surprised by the kind of verbal bashing I received. I was told that I was being very naive in expecting my 4 month old to sleep for an hour at a stretch, that I was selfish in wanting to rest and therefore taking a drastic step that would injure my baby’s digestive system, that I was misinformed that starting solids can be used as a last resort. Well, I was shocked by this. Without understanding the whole story, I was point blank given general advice. I realised the mistake I had made by asking for advice on an online platform where the participants don’t really know each other. Instead I decided to trust my mothering instinct and suggestions from my mother & mother-in-law and put all of the ‘advice’ in my mental dustbin.
By the 3rd day and 6th session of cerelac / oatmeal feeding, I was seriously thinking of stopping this trial as I did not want Chaplu papa to hate the process of having foods other than milk. I felt really defeated that our last resort was not working at all. After one such disastrous feeding session, I broke down into tears. I was mentally and physically exhausted (with my body trying to produce enough milk and also not getting much sleep or rest). I was also going through the thought process of how difficult introducing something new to Chaplu papa was and the challenge that it poses for the next few months as various solid foods are introduced. There was no light at the end of the tunnel that I could see.
My mother, aunt and grandmother were there at that point and helped to calm me down. What my mother said makes so much sense – “This was only the first of the hurdles that you will face as a mother and it is important that you go through it with as much poise and composure as possible.” Ducky was picking up on my emotions, which was further unsettling her. Of course, it is normal to have these feelings but I realise that I shouldn’t let it over rule my life. This outpouring of my feelings with my sounding board – my mother – made me feel so much better and more able to deal with Chaplu papa’s needs.
It was not a coincidence that when I relaxed and felt calmer about the situation, suddenly a bright yellow light was seen at the end of the tunnel, literally. And that yellow light was none other than banana!!! Writing this out, I feel like dancing like the minions do when they see a banana.
It was pointed out that Chaplu papa probably enjoys more natural things – like my milk over formula, fruits over cerelac – and that makes so much sense. Being in the midst of all of this, I had not noticed this distinction at all. My focus in that first week was on making sure that Ducky ate a certain quantity of food and I would keep trying until she would eat that. What I realised by the end of that week was that this is a phase where we are introducing Chaplu papa to various kinds of food, so quantity is not important. I guess I was so keen on satisfying her hunger that I missed the main point of introducing solids.
Chaplu papa lives upto her nickname as she now goes ‘chapp chapp’ on most of the foods that we give her. We started with banana, steamed apple, mashed carrot, boiled beetroot and have now moved onto a lot more fruits, veggies and dal. Initially we gave only 1 fruit or vegetable at a time, but now we give a mixture of things. I am loving curating special menus for Ducky. In a few days, the annaprashna puja will happen when rice is introduced into her diet and from there on the whole world is on her plate….This is sooo exciting.
There has also been this dilemma of feeding Ducky pureed / mashed foods vs. the baby lead weaning method where food is left in front of the baby and they pick up whatever they want. Learning about both has made me understand that a mix of both is the best. We give Ducky her mashed food 3 meals a day, watching out for cues from her that she is full and not feeding her any more after that; and we leave bits of soft fruits / cooked veggies in front of her for her to get a feel for the texture and to try and put into her mouth. Chaplu papa, me, any other family members involved, her feeding chair, bib, clothes and surrounding area are always such a mess at the end of a feeding session that a good scrubbing is the order of the day. But I wouldn’t have it any other the way. Not only is it good fun to see Ducky growing and enjoying all this, but this is also a natural way for me to overcome my sensory issues with various textures.
I am very eager to see what Chaplu papa will lap up next, but equally have understood that it is ok for her to not like / not want something and for me to take it easy about this whole process.
Seeing as how food is such an important part of our lives, this longish piece was dedicated to my trials and tribulations related to food and Ducky. Have you had similar experiences and found ways of dealing with it? I would love to learn from you – so do leave me a note about it.
As Ducky crosses the half year mark, there are so many fun, energetic and mischevious things that she is upto. More of all of that in the next write up. Until then stay safe and enjoy yourselves.