Jackie Cairns, of Kirkcaldy, Scotland, describes her experiences of weaning her son, and so attempts to answer a question often put to her: how did she manage to feed her child solids, when she could not see where to put the spoon?

When Ian was about 4 months old, our health visitor came to see us, and asked if we had thought about introducing our son to solids. I was still merrily breast-feeding, and was petrified at the thought of giving Ian something on a spoon, in case he choked. But I knew he could not live on my milk indefinitely, so took the advice of my health visitor to try some rice.

One day, soon after our chat, I sat Ian in his bouncy chair, and placed a tea towel round him. I had brought a packet of baby rice, and made a little up in a bowl with water I had earlier boiled. When it was cool enough, I sat on the floor in front of Ian’s chair, and showed him the bowl and spoon. He just gurgled at me, so I took the plunge.

Scooping a little of the rice onto a teaspoon, I put my index finger of one hand to Ian’s mouth, and gently followed up with the spoon, in the other. Ian’s mouth opened as if by magic, and I placed the spoon gently on his bottom lip. I did not want to frighten him, but he was not in the least bit bothered. He suddenly took the rice off the spoon and made satisfying noises as his lips smacked together. Slowly but surely, the rice disappeared from the bowl, and Ian had enjoyed his first solid meal.

I felt so happy that we had completed a first meal together, that I cried for joy. After that, I brought different packets of baby food, to give Ian a variety. Some he liked better than others, but as time passed by, his intake and taste for different flavours, substances and textures, grew. So too did the mess!!

A blind person who feeds a sighted child needs to pay particular attention to several things. Firstly, it was vital for me to have the kitchen quiet, so I could hear when Ian had stopped eating a mouthful, and was ready for another. As he got older, he would make noises that indicated his mouth was empty. If he put his hands up, and out of the tea towel, or turned his head, this meant he had either had enough of his food or did not like it, anyway. I sometimes offered Ian the spoon and missed his mouth, shoving the mixture against his nose. After wiping him and apologising profusely, we carried on, and the fact that I sometimes misfired never particularly bothered him. If he turned his head to watch his daddy enter the room, the spoon of food that was meant for his mouth, occasionally went into his ear, but he again never complained.

How much mixture to make up was difficult to judge, in the beginning, and I tended to over-fill the bowl as I felt it was better to make a little more than not enough. I bought most of my baby food from a local pharmacy where the staff were helpful in reading instructions to me, and the variety was more than acceptable. As time went by, I also bought tins of food for Ian, and found these were an ample portion at mealtimes.

I sat on the floor and strapped Ian in his car seat. This had a nice cover on it, that could be washed easily if messed up. With a supply of tea towels put aside especially for messy mealtimes, I would cover Ian’s body with one, including his hands. This meant that he was less likely to knock the bowl and spoon out of my hands. Much later, in his high chair, I started to give Ian the spoon to feed himself, and there really was a mess in the kitchen.

But as with all things one dreads, weaning Ian onto solids was not the trauma I first thought it might be. He was a good child for eating, and was nothing like as fussy about what he got then, as he is today.

In advising any other mother with a visual impairment who is soon to embark upon weaning a child, my suggestions are these.

When the baby is about 4 months or so, try something like rice, to start off with. Do not become anxious if the child refuses or turns away. Always encourage the infant whilst feeding, saying how much you like the food and pretending to share it too. When the child is older, there are lots of baby food packets, tins and jars, that are worth trying. These can become expensive if used every day, so when making your child a meal of your own, be careful not too add salt. But for a blind mum, using tins is quite easy, because they are convenient to open and stand in a small amount of warm water in a saucepan. As you progress with solids, try to give the child foods that correspond with daily meals – cereal at breakfast and soup at lunchtime etc. In this way, the child will come to know what they can expect to eat at certain times of the day.

I found that my tea towels got quite messy from food that I had spilled or Ian had dropped from his mouth. Unless you want the floor and your child completely covered in food, there is no way round having dirty linen.

For those who feed their children in the lounge, place a plastic sheet underneath the chair the child occupies, before feeding, to save your carpet from a meal too. I found the kitchen was the best place to feed Ian, because I could mop up any juice or splashes from the vinyl much more easily.

Today, Ian feeds himself, and we, as his parents, are left wondering if he makes more mess in so doing, with full sight, than we did in feeding him with none!!

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 20, October 1997.


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