Bounce back: Dietitian Aoife Hearne wants her pre-baby body back

FOOD FUN: Playing games during meal preparation and at the table can help to make dinner time a positive experience. Picture: iStock

Dietitian Aoife Hearne says you need persistence and lots of patience when introducing new foods to children.

ZOË is just about to hit the six-month milestone. The time has gone by in the blink of an eye. 

Of course introducing solids is just around the corner for us and despite the fact I’m a dietitian, the first few weeks of introducing solids is my least favourite. Up until now it’s been easy. I can’t forget to bring my boobs so the feeding part didn’t really take any brain power.

Now, all of a sudden I have to start remembering to bring food with me and considering I am still suffering from baby brain remembering anything these days is hard. It’s a time that signals Zoë’s first baby step towards independence as she tackles self feeding. It’s also a time for me to reflect on the massive changes over the past six months.

I love the newness of newborns, when you are still counting weeks rather than months. While I am happy Zoë is our last, there is still a little ache in my heart as she gets older knowing there won’t be another baby in our house. But then I get a reality check and realise there are days I can barely mange the three I have.

One thing I have realised when I reflect on bump to baby is that women need and crave support every step of the way. For the first time you are breaking new ground with so many decisions to be made — when it comes to birth plans, feeding babies and parenting — that sometimes it can seem all too much. Couple that with the extremes in hormones that last long after birth and you have a recipe for a turbulent time.

For me, despite the fact that Zoë is my third baby, I have asked “is this normal?” quite a lot. And particularly in relation to my own feelings and how I cope (or not) when the going gets tough. It is very clear to me that women often find it hard to articulate and understand how they are feeling during this time and also about parenthood. It is often hard to have that safe place to be honest about your feelings. There are times I find breastfeeding overwhelming, but that doesn’t mean I want to stop. There are times I really don’t want to be a parent. I want to go back to being just me without all this responsibility but that doesn’t mean I don’t love my children. It means I need a break, just some time out to put on my own oxygen mask and maybe eat some chocolate.

Of course the other big change has been in my body. In fairness, three pregnancies in three-and-a-half years was tough going. Despite the fact that I’m just about able to squeeze myself into my pre-pregnancy jeans, my body has changed. I look at my squishy belly and can’t help to wish I had my old body back — one that I really didn’t appreciate at the time. But then I think that in that belly I grew three little people, I kept them safe and my body kept them alive for their first year of life — so maybe just maybe that squishy belly is something to be proud of.

Safe to say we are still getting used to being a family of five. I just laugh every time I recite my children’s ages when asked (four, two-and-a-half, and six months) as I still can’t really believe it. But despite the craziness I love the dynamic that three children bring. What I don’t like is the noise. I feel the noise level has gone up by 300% since Zoë has arrived. There’s nothing like a crying baby in addition to two smallies to send the volume off the Richter scale. And don’t even get me started on the laundry.

When it comes to childhood nutrition, the best training has been the hands-on tutorials I get daily from Dylan, Alva and Zoë. One thing I know for sure is that encouraging children to be part of the cooking process really helps them feel connected to the food they eat and more likely to try new things.

Children have small stomachs and also short attention spans — both can have an impact on how much they will eat. I have learnt not to offer drinks at the start of meals to avoid them filling up on water/milk instead of their dinner.

In addition, I try to plate up their dinners first so that it’s not too hot and ready to eat when they sit at the table. And when we have energy we try to have a little fun with food too. Playing games like guessing what vegetables are in an omelette or who can crunch the vegetables loudest can help children enjoy dinner time and not make it a battleground.

Remember as the parent you are in control of when/what/and where you offer food. It’s up to your child if they want to eat it or not. If you can keep that as a yardstick it really will make things a little easier.

To help broaden food choices, don’t forget it can take seven to 20 attempts for a child to accept a new food, so be persistent and offer new foods again and again. I’ll be serving tuna pasta bake again tonight likely most of it will probably end up in the bin.

Only 18 more times before they will accept it and maybe eat some rather than just plain pasta. Wish me luck.

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