Throughout my pregnancy, I was told to expect a small baby. I'm 5'3 when I stand up really straight, and generally weigh around 50kgs, so I certainly understand that being on the smaller side doesn't mean being unhealthy. Still, to realize that in theory is one thing. To give birth to an underweight baby is another.
Those words '2nd percentile' felt like a personal failure. I wondered if I should have eaten more protein, or iron, or less sugar, or... the list was endless. It didn't help that I was told to compulsorily feed eM every 2 hours till she reached at least the 5th percentile for weight. She was a foodie from the start and we'd no trouble latching her on, but the problem was keeping that teeny tiny fellow awake long enough to eat. I'd set an alarm, and call in reinforcements to prod her and tickle her as I tried to coax her awake. All the while, I felt ridiculous, and desperately wanted to just go back to bed myself. My journals from that time contain incoherent rambles, I was exhausted to the point of sleepwalking.
I understand these were exceptional circumstances and maybe eM wouldn't have gained weight normally without that extra effort. That said, ever since her weight increased to a medically acceptable limit, I've let her decide when and how much she wants to eat. Some times she slept through the night, other times she ATE through the night. If I'd watched the clock rather than my baby, I may not have offered enough at growth spurts, or obsessed when she didn't eat. But as it was, frankly, I let her decide and didn't think twice about it. Common sense showed me she was energetic and engaged when awake, and the monthly health checks reassured me that she was, in fact, gaining weight consistently when left to her own devices. By the end of the first month, she'd climbed to the 50th percentile for weight (isn't breastmilk awesome?!). This gave me the confidence to trust her instincts when it comes to food.
So I took the same approach to introducing solids - my job as a parent is to offer healthy food at regular intervals, roughly every 2-3 hours. Deciding what and how much to eat is up to her. Some days she eats as much as me, other days she does upvas bhojan 😂 But no matter what, she decides, and I don't keep tabs. Since she's always eaten the same food we do, there's no wastage, or tension from looking at all of 'her' food left over. We eat together, and I focus on my plate rather than hers. After all, whether at 2 years old or 30, we each know our own bodies and appetites best. Baby led weaning, as this approach is called, is also a matter of convenience. It's usually just the two of us at home... and though I may not get to sleep when the baby sleeps, I definitely prefer to eat when she eats! This style of weaning gave me back some time, while providing my toddler with some much-appreciated independence.
At 6 months, she was handling all her finger food well. By a year, she was making a bit of a mess but essentially able to get daal rice and so on into her mouth. All this while she had no teeth, haha. Even so, she managed to eat everything we did, albeit without salt, chilli and honey. She thoroughly enjoyed Sri Lanka, where we went for her birthday - string hoppers were a favourite dish! Over time, she's travelled around the world discovering local foods with as much enthusiasm as her mother.
I've never considered hiding or disguising her food in any way. She's told what's available; and she can either eat it or not. There are no convenient treats available to bribe her with if she decides she doesn't want to eat something. After all, she doesn't eat to please me; she eats to fill her stomach. Which means that when she's hungry, she'll come and ask for food herself. Yes, that food may be curd or a fruit rather than a full meal. But that's her choice, and I leave it up to her. After all, haven't we as adults skipped a meal because something just didn't feel appetizing? We make up for it later, and so does she. Her health checks continue to reassure me that she knows perfectly well how much food she needs to grow.
By now, at 2.5 years, she can be trusted to sit wherever we're sitting, and eat off whatever plate is given to her, without more than the occasional splatter onto her clothes, if that. Here she is, all dressed up in a tutu skirt, eating off a banana leaf like everyone else did at a family get together this weekend 😁
If you're interested in learning more about baby led weaning, I highly recommend joining the Facebook group Baby-Led Weaning India. If you weaned your baby traditionally and want support as you transition to letting them feed independently, do check out Traditional Weaning India. The admins of both groups are very helpful, and the groups have a wealth of resources available.