First of all: in case, like my uncle, you are not up with the jargon and thought Baby-Led Weaning had something to do with special tiny LED lamps, I thought I’d explain the concept a little. Veterans may wish to skip this bit.
Traditionally, babies make the change from being purely fed on milk to eating solid grown-up food by being spoon-fed tiny bits of flavourless mush, through various single-taste purees to slightly more chunky mashed up meals to eventually tucking into a roast dinner with the whole family. Baby-led weaning basically skips all the in between stages that require a blender and moves the baby straight from milk to the roast dinner – and whatever else is on the family menu.
1. You want them to learn to chew. Breastfeeding already involves a chewing motion, but spoonfeeding does not. Why get them to unlearn it only to learn it again later?
2. The cautious, gradual method with mush was developed back when babies were weaned a lot earlier. If you start at six months, a baby’s stomach should be ready for many different flavours and types of food. Developmentally, babies are also ready to feed themselves at this point: their main occupation, all day long, is picking things up, putting them in their mouths and chewing on them. You would think this is nature’s way of getting them ready for self-feeding.
3. Food should be fun. With traditional weaning, you often spend a lot of time persuading the baby to open wide and swallow something unfamiliar on trust. With baby-led weaning, meal times start off as play time and the baby is in control of what it wants to put in its mouth and whether to swallow it.
I am now in danger of rehashing the entire book I read on the subject so I will stop here. I posted a little while back on how it worked out with my son, and now that my daughter is three weeks into her adventures with food I thought I’d do a little update on how she is taking to BLW (as the cool kids call it).
After a slow start, where I was a bit disappointed at how little success she was having with grabbing anything off her high chair tray, she has really taken off in the past week. It has all worked out a bit differently to how I was expecting though.
I had expected to be much less anxious and helicoptery with child number 2, having seen my son go from coughing up his first bit of cheese to astounding the waiting staff in the Toby Carvery with his eating – but quite the contrary is the case. It has been so long now since we weaned him that I am at once incredulous at her lack of skills and worried that everything is too hard. I hover over her, put bits of cucumber back in her hand when they fall out, guide her cup and keep adjusting how she is sitting as soon as she starts listing over to one side.
Another marked difference to my son’s journey through weaning is that she is already consuming things. I mean: I can see it coming out the other end. She is eating. In fact, she seems to love it. Whereas breastfeeding is often accompanied by crying and pinching and complaints that the milk is too slow, no no too fast!, breakfast, lunch and dinner are met with smiles and silent, hungry nomming. It took my son at least a month before he swallowed anything. I remember it well: we were in a restaurant and he was barely peeping over the table. We gave him a bit of chicken to chew on and a few minutes later we realised it was gone. Not in the bib, not on the floor, it was just gone.
Why is my daughter swallowing food already? Well, baby-led weaners, I guess it’s confession time. Besides the officially approved finger foods that she chews on and spits out, she actually eats Weetabix, porridge and soup. From a spoon. Granted, she holds the spoon herself – but the food is mushy and easy to swallow, and she eats it off a spoon. Hard-core BLW-ers would frown on this. Runny foods are to be served with fruit or steamed vegetables to dip in them. I’m sorry, but to me that seems like avoiding spoons just for the sake of it.
I would like to submit to you for your approval a few BLW Reality Checks, to add as an addendum to an otherwise excellent notion:
1. We grown-ups eat food of all textures, including runny and mushy food, and we eat it with spoons. Your baby can still be in control – just load the spoon for her and let her hold it herself.
2. Babies at six months mayactually be hungry! They may actually want to start eating things. Nothing wrong with providing them with foods that they can easily swallow/digest besides all the other exciting stuff off your plate they might like to explore.
3. The assertion that you will not need to cook separately or differently for your weaning baby with this method, and that you can put your blender away, is not strictly true. There are so many things that we might eat on a daily basis that are not suitable for your baby because they are full of sugar, salt or other things that are best left until they are older, that you will end up doing speci
al cooking anyway. With my son I tried lots of new recipes, I bought low salt stock cubes, I made him soup, baked special little pasties to fit his tiny hands – I have been known to puree fruit to put on toast as an alternative to jam. Yes, puree. But again: just as spoons are not inherently evil, neither is puree. Also, although your baby can eat at the same time as you, that is not always practical. He might be ready for dinner at 5pm, while your other half doesn’t get home until after bedtime and you would probably like to eat with him/her.
4. Finally, “baby-led” in itself is a little bit of a lie. Just a little bit. I mean, I’m still the one deciding what’s on the menu. She can’t very well send it back and say: “Actually, Mummy, today I would like to try the chicken and butternut squash risotto, hold the mushrooms, and I’ll have tiramisu for after.”
So there it is. Baby number 2 is loving food, but seems happiest on a joint Baby-and-Mummy-Led-Weaning regime. I’ll let you know when she swallows her first steamed vegetable!