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A feeding observation: from breast to finger food!

Jane Blatt


I first observed Daniel feeding at his mother's breast when he was two weeks old. Mary, his mother was recovering from an emergency caesarean section (C-section) and was still very sore from a wound infection. Preparation for the feed was lengthy and Daniel waited quietly in his father's arms. There was the plastic ring to be arranged around her midriff and footrest just so, and a decision to be made as to which breast she would use before she received Daniel from his father, Tim, and laid him across the ring. She tucked her large hands around his back and bottom and held him as closely as she could. I could not see his face but his mother told me how he was latching on. What I did then hear was his peaceful sucking.

In my final observation eighty-two visits later when Daniel was nearly two years old, Daniel was feeding himself in his high chair. He ate his smoked salmon and French toast finger food quietly and independently. When finished his mother gave him a choice of pudding and he said "an orange spoon". His mother handed over a "fruity" with his orange spoon, which he dipped into the pot and spooned into his mouth.

How Daniel moved from the dependency of early breast-feeding to the independent eating just described is the subject of this paper. It is a long and emotional journey and so much more than the mechanics around taking in food. "Food is the earliest intrusion that is brought to the child from the environment (Kanner, 1973) and it is the prototype of 'taking things in', of internalisation and as such is the basis for communication and language development" (Stroh, 1986, pp. 116-117).

Daniel is the first and much-loved baby of middle-class parents in their early thirties. I met the couple through the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) at my local General Practice centre. I introduced myself to the parents one evening when father was back from work. His mother did most of the talking and both were interested that I hoped to observe at a time when it was convenient to see both parents. We agreed on an early evening time each Tuesday and over the two years father was present for part, if not all, of seventy-three out of the eighty-three visits. His mother had decided to give up her civil service job to be the primary carer at home. Father is an engineer.

This paper follows the pleasures and the frustrations, the conflicts and the resolutions around feeding in Daniel's first two years of life; a life which was underpinned by loving and containing parents who were actively involved with their baby and each other. I hope to show how in my presence the parents expressed their joys and anxieties about their baby's feeding. There were times when I felt the parents were jostling to be heard by me, even vying for my attention but there was from the outset, an openness to trust in me and my containing capacities ("We know how supportive a regular visitor has been to a friend of ours", his mother told me when we first met). Every visit I felt privileged to spend time in such an intimate and special setting, a setting which allowed me to observe Daniel's development with minimum formalities or barriers.

The paper is divided into four sections: Breast feeding, Weaning, Early solids, and Self feeding.

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