Feeding your baby in a zero waste friendly way is super easy if you are able to exclusively breastfeed. Breast milk and breastfeeding has huge benefits for both the mother and baby. It is package free, easy to transport and always fresh 🙂 Babies can thrive on breast milk alone for the first few months of their life. But it’s not always easy and if you really want to breastfeed but are having trouble, I strongly suggest seeking out help from a good lactation consultant ASAP, within the first days postpartum. The longer you wait, the more problems will pile up. Problems that are an easy fix in the beginning, turn into big, difficult to change problems later on. Dr. Jack Newman is also an incredible resource. He is a pediatrician who specializes in breastfeeding. He has a clinic in Toronto but also responds to emails. For more info and great information check out his facebook page
If you cannot breastfeed, see if you can get donated breast milk from a trusted mother. This is not a well known option, but it is a good option for those who need to supplement or cannot breastfeed. I regularly donated my milk on a Facebook page called Human Milk for Human Babies. Find your local chapter! So many generous mothers are willing to give away their extra milk! Breast milk is of course a bodily fluid, and carries a risk that is it not properly handled or contaminated. Most people don’t realize this, but formula preparations also carry these risks. Most mothers have been tested for diseases during their pregnancy and are very upfront about their diet, lifestyle and medication uses. The milk sharing page is mother to mother, so you go to their house, you see their baby, you can get a good feel about whether you trust this milk source or not. Where as in a store, it is just packaged on a shelf. You never see the facility it is prepared in or what goes in it, you are just trusting that they adhere to safety standards. You can arrange for the donor mother to store her milk in provided glass jars, which you can sterilize and bring back to her to refill. Or just get the milk bags, yes they are waste, but most can be recycled if washed out and are creating a lot less waste than any formula you buy. If you are not comfortable taking from a stranger, if you have a friend that is breastfeeding, see if they would be willingly to share milk with you.
If your baby is in the NICU, you can also get access to donated breast milk from a milk bank. I have also regularly donated to Hema quebec’s milk bank. Mother’s who donate this way undergo regular blood tests and the milk is treated and screened. This milk is vital to the survival of premature babies, who have extremely delicate intestinal systems and immature immune systems.
If you are a breastfeeding mother with an abundant supply, consider donating to these causes. Breast milk is so, so beneficial to babies. And the Saddest thing is when you have a freezer full of milk, only to discover that your baby doesn’t drink from a bottle, or your baby has a bovine intolerance and you need to change your diet. That milk stash does not need to go to waste! Please pass on that liquid gold 🙂
But please remember that health always comes before Zero Waste! Obviously do what you need to do to make sure your baby is healthy and fed! If you cannot breastfeed and do not have access to trusted donor milk, the next best milk for infants is commercial formula. Get the largest tin you can purchase and find ways to reuse them, there are tons of ideas on pinterest
Eventually your baby will need to have something in addition to breast milk. One of the easiest, zero waste friendly ways to introduce your baby to solids is Baby Led Weaning (BLW). I was so excited when we were given the go ahead to start solid food with Skyla. I had never heard about BLW, so I spent all day cooking, steaming and roasting to make all sorts of beautiful purees. Package free, healthy homemade baby food, zero waste win right?! But she refused them all. She wanted what was on OUR plates. After getting splattered yet again with my latest puree attempt, I gave in and handed her a steamed broccoli floret. She devoured it. And thus our adventures in Baby Led Weaning had begun!
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is basically skipping the pureed foods and going straight to real food. It is about letting your child lead when it comes to food introduction. This method allows them learn how to chew and swallow food, as opposed to drinking their food as they do with purees. It allows the baby to decide what and how much they want to eat. I always breastfed my babies on demand, trusting that they knew how much and when they needed to eat, so I found this method of food introduction a lovely continuum that kept to those same principles.
BLW fits in beautifully with the zero waste lifestyle because you don’t have to buy any packaged baby food, hooray! It’s also great time saver because you don’t have to do any special preparations for your baby’s meals. They simply eat what you are eating.
The recommendations on when and how to introduce foods to babies are constantly changing. We let our baby guide us. Our son would wail during meals times and frantically tried to grab food off our plates at 4.5 month old. So that’s when he started eating food. My daughter was a bit later, around 6 months old. We have no risk factors for allergies, so aside from honey, our babies ate everything right from the start with no special introductory order. Max started eating while we were traveling in Greece, so one of his first foods was calamari!
*Disclaimer: Of course you should always do what is best for you family and children. This is just what worked for us. It is also a good idea to be familiar and comfortable with emergency response techniques like the Heimlich maneuver in case of choking.
For anyone curious about how to do Baby Led Weaning, there are many books and websites to guide you, but here are our Top BLW tips:
- Start with large pieces that the baby is able to hold in their first and gnaw on.
The pincer grasp only develops between 8 and 12 months so we found at the beginning it was easier for the baby to eat food they could pick up and hold in their fist. Max’s favourite was a whole chicken drumstick. He would hold it by the bone and gnaw on it for ages. Toast cut into strips with peanut butter, orange or apples cut into quarters with the peel on, banana cut into long halves, large lightly steamed broccoli or carrots, whole asparagus sprigs, sweet potato cut into long quarters with the peel on, healthy homemade muffins and bars are some examples of foods we started with
2. Know the difference between gagging and choking.
Max loved to stuff his mouth full of food and then to spit it all out. This is how he explored food, got used to new tastes and textures and leaned how to move food around in his mouth. To reduce food waste, we would give him just one piece of food at a time. He would sometimes stuff his mouth so full that he would gag. This is normal, though it did cause some mini heart attacks! The gag reflex helps protect against choking. In babies between 4 and 6 months the gag reflex is closer to the opening of the mouth, so they will almost always be able to push out food before it comes close to the back of their throat, thus reducing their risk of choking. But of course, it is a good idea to be familiar with signs of choking and what to do if that occurs. And actually our daughter would gag a lot more when we tried to feed her purees, she did much better with solid pieces of food.
3. Have fun with different spices or flavours.
Our babies really enjoyed all sorts of flavours, Skyla still loves to chew on lemons! I really think introducing lots of flavours, textures and tastes early help reduce pickiness later on. I always remind myself that somewhere in the world, this food is a staple and regular occurrence. So have fun 🙂 I just made sure not to make things high in salt or sugar….and maybe go easy on the chill flakes, hehe!
4. Trust your baby when it comes to portion size.
With BLW it is the baby in charge of deciding how much they eat. It is ok if they don’t seem to eat much, their tummies are small. If they are hungry they will eat. I believe letting your baby have control over how much they eat sets up good eating habits later in life. They learn right from the start to listen to their body and respect their hunger cues. Someone told me, as the parent you are in charge of what they eat and the baby is in charge of how much they eat. So long I was providing nutritious, healthy options, I was doing my job well. This was a huge weight off my shoulders. They also said to focus on their weekly intake as opposed to daily intake. Some days all my kids wanted to eat was carbs. Other days only yogurt. I did my best to hide in fruits and veggies where ever I could, but if over the course of the week their diet was pretty balanced, I knew not to worry.
5. Be flexible
Just because you chose to do BLW, doesn’t mean you can never offer purees. With Skyla, she pretty much skipped purees completely, but she liked yogurt, so we took that opportunity to mix in purees and baby cereal to incorporate some extra fruit, vegetables and iron into her diet. With Max we did a mix of both. He Loved real food, but at the beginning wasn’t able to eat much and would still be hungry. I tried to breastfeed more, but he refused, he wanted food. So we gave him some purees to top him up and then he was happy. Sometimes when they were teething or sick, they would only eat pureed food. It’s ok, with BLW it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you don’t have time to make your own purees, stick to the glass jars of baby food. The pouches are really convenient, but they are horrible for the environment.
6. Experiment with different sizes and textures
As our baby grew older and his pincer grasp developed, he no longer wanted big chunks of food, he preferred little pieces that he could pick up with his fingers. By this time he was a very confident eater, so we felt at ease giving him smaller pieces. We cut up his food or gave him little finger foods like peas, raisins, cereal etc… If he refused things, I tried to offer it in a different way. For example, cheese can be offered in slices, cubes, grated or melted over a cracker.
7. Last bits
Babies love to explore foods. Be wary of labelling your child a picky eater or projecting food preferences on to them. It can take 10 introductions of a food before a baby will eat it! Just because they don’t like it at one meal, doesn’t mean the next day they won’t like it. Offer small portions to reduce food waste. Many of us were trained to clean our plate, but food habits like that can lead to over eating. Trust your child to know when they are full. If they haven’t eaten much, keep their food in the fridge and offer it again later when they are hungry. Let them eat naked, or with an old t-shirt on and keep a rag handy, BLW can be messy! Offer spoons or forks as your baby gets older. Max loves to eat with utensils and could use them around 10 months old. Skyla is 4 and still prefers eating with her hands. Growing a garden is also a fun way to teach kids about healthy foods and encourage young ones to eat their veggies….and is an excellent source of fresh, package free food 🙂 Cherry tomatoes and bean straight from the vine are a favourite around here and can be grown on a pot on your balcony, which is great for city dwellers like us!
My last bit of advice is to have fun with food and not stress about it. My kids are both very slim, tiny and boob-a-holics. My daughter never wanted to eat and it was a huge source of stress for us. Max Loves food and eats like crazy, but he is still small! I come to realize that my children are just small people and that is ok! I no longer stress about food. I offer them what we are eating. If they dont want it, they can have plain yogurt loaded with fruit/veggie, oats, chia etc… or we try again with their meal later. It makes meal times much more peaceful and easy 🙂