One thing I have learned since I became a mother is that there are so many different ways to raise a child. There is no right way because each baby and each family is unique. Here is a different approach to weaning/starting solids that isn’t very popular but has great benefits. This is one of the best choices I have made so far in motherhood!
Introducing solids. It’s a big milestone.
In the United States it usually begins around 4-6 months with a little rice cereal and you gradually move on to pureed vegetables and fruits. I took care of a little boy for a year before Jolie was born and I steamed and pureed all of his meals starting at 6 months, so I thought I would do the same with my little girl when the time came. While I was pregnant I read about something called “baby-led weaning” that sounded interesting but I had a baby bullet that I couldn’t wait to use, and I had given purees before so I just thought I would stick with what I knew.
Little did I know, Jolie is a very independent little lady. She did not want anything to do with tiny spoons and learned to laugh through closed gums when we made faces, sounds and turned spoons into airplanes. We couldn’t get anything in her mouth. I was telling a friend who lives overseas about my experience and she suggested I try baby-led weaning. After a few days of failed attempts at spoon-feeding, I checked out the Baby-led weaning website and bombarded my friend with thousands of questions.
Baby-led weaning(BLW) is allowing your baby to self-feed starting at 6 months when he is ready (sitting well with little or no support, bringing objects to mouth). What really intrigued me about this approach was this: “The key difference between BLW and traditional weaning, when you think about it, is in the order that children learn to eat. With a puree, they learn to swallow first and then chew, which works fine until they meet a lump. With BLW, the babies learn to chew first and swallowing might come some time later.” Isn’t that smart? It makes perfect sense to me.
Jolie’s first meal she fed herself was avocado. It was slippery but she had a lot of fun with it. She moved on to other foods quickly and now eats anything I put in front of her.
Pros of Baby-led Weaning:
1) Convenience: Sometimes I feel like a lazy mom because I always choose the easy way. I feel better about it when i remind myself it is usually the “crunchy” way as well. Cosleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing, etc. It’s great for Jolie but its nice for me too because it makes my life easier. Letting Jolie feed herself has been so helpful. Yes she gagged a few times in the beginning, but she learned how to chew, she is learning to appreciate all kinds of food, and I have about 30-40 minutes of uninterrupted meal time where she sits quietly in her high chair exploring what is on her tray. If you have ever met Jolie since she started crawling, you might understand why I cherish the moments when she is sitting still. 😉
2) Cost: BLW doesn’t cost anything extra. Jolie eats what I eat. I do keep some frozen bags of (preferably organic) veggies and berries for when we might be having something with salt, or something we shouldn’t really be eating anyway, but for the most part Jolie enjoys the same food we do. This past week I bought a couple of those squeeze pouches for her to try, but they are so expensive! $2 for a little pouch of mush. It’s nice to not have to set aside a budget for my baby’s food.
3) Content: Organic or not, jars of baby food lack the nutrition of fresh produce.
This study that was done on the Nutritional quality and cost of commercial baby food reveals “Gerber and Heinz replace real food with water and thickening agents in many of their products for children over six months of age. Such adulterated products are nutritionally inferior to products made with more fruits and vegetables.” Preparing food at home, whether you puree it or not, is much better than buying jars that sit on shelves for months. (Disclaimer: There are some brands that do not add water or thickeners, such as Ella’s Kitchen. They have some fun products. Jolie loves the nibbly fingers!)
4)Control: BLW gives Jolie complete control over what she eats, how she eats it, and when she is done. Type into a search bar “BLW obesity” and you will find articles about how BLW decreases the chance of childhood obesity because it gives the child the control to regulate food intake, as opposed to an adult continuing spoonful after spoonful until the jar is empty. Remember “Food is for fun until one!” Babies should be getting most of their calories from breastmilk or formula until 1, food is all about exploring right now anyway! Some meal times less than a handful of food gets into Jolie’s tummy, and other days she eats an entire watermelon. I just let her do her thing, and she has been healthily gaining weight and getting the nutrition she needs.
5)Creativity: Exploring the textures, colors, and tastes of different foods is an incredible learning experience. It is fascinating to watch Jolie squish a blueberry between her fingers, “chew” a piece of chicken with only two teeth, and enjoy every moment of her meal. She developed her pincer grip around 7 months because she wanted to eat the peas I put on her tray.
I will try to list some cons, although I don’t have many, and neither does Jolie (check out that picture \/):
1) It’s Messy. If you have a problem with messy floors, well, you should just get over it because if you have kids it’s inevitable. I have a splat mat under Jolie’s highchair to catch most things, but if I miss something we usually have ants come visit. If i don’t search for hidden treasures leftover in her seat gnats will hang around, and I have to change her clothes after each meal. I really should just feed her naked but that idea comes to my mind too late when tomato juice is running down her arms.
4) It is hard if you aren’t into cooking. I love to cook. Actually I love to bake, cooking is sometimes fun. Coming up with different meals that don’t use processed foods or salt is a little hard, and when you have a 9 month old pulling the cabinet doors open (we are in the process of putting locks on the doors but we are a little slow), it can be very frustrating. I have started making up my own recipes, and I will share some of the good ones on here in the near future!
3) It makes you look at meals in a new way. Okay, okay this is actually a pro. I think about each ingredient when I cook now, and make sure its good for Jolie to eat. I sometimes just give her something else if I am eating a hot dog or something processed and nasty, but she never eats as well during those meals because she is watching what is going into my mouth and wants that too.
Baby-led weaning is an excellent approach to introducing solids at 6 months. It is not the only way, and there is nothing wrong with spoon-feeding. I know for some children baby-led weaning wouldn’t work, but if you have an independent child like I do, it’s worth looking into! Check out the website, cookbook, and forum. You could also leave me a question in the comments and I will try to have a good answer for you 🙂 Later I will be sharing some of my own recipes that are healthy for the whole family!