A lot of people have been asking me about how I chose to introduce food to my bub so I thought I would post about it.
We used a technique called Baby Led Weaning. This just means that you let your child eat finger food from the start and skip the puree baby food stage all together. They learn to chew before they swallow and you don't have to worry about transitioning to solid food later (this can be a hassle when they are used to puree.) It worked really well for us.
Why We Chose Baby Led WeaningThere is a lot of confusion about when and how to introduce solid food to babies. Australian recommendations are changed yearly, midwifes and doctors give conflicting information and the mothers around me seem to find the whole thing pretty stressful.
I'm not interested in rules about when and how to feed babies that are different every year and in every country of the world. I'm interested in instinct and it just made sense to me that Scout would pick up food and put it in her mouth when she was developmentally ready to eat.
How do you do it?
I have a friend who wanted to do this technique but just found there wasn't enough guidelines available. The baby is really the main guide and I liked that but it's not for everyone.
When Scout started reaching for my food I started the process. She was six and a half months old and her little friends were eating three meals a day by this stage. Her first meal was steamed broccoli and she just picked it up and bashed it on her face a few times before she got it in her mouth. She had a little suck, pushed it out of her mouth with her tongue and repeated for about half an hour with an intense concentration.
As the weeks went on she got really good at chewing and started actually swallowing some food. We just introduced whatever food we were eating and she helped herself. Her chubby thighs reassured me she was getting enough nutrients from her milk so I didn't worry about how much she was actually ingesting. I know a lot of people talk about babies sleeping through better when they start solids but it can go either way. Regardless I was more interested in her consuming as much as she wanted than stuffing her full so she would sleep (I did that enough with milk already.)
What about allergies?
You can follow the allergy guidelines produced by NSW Health and still practice baby led weaning, I didn't though.
I think the culture around allergies is pretty alarmist, no egg, no strawberry, waiting four days between the introduction of each new food so you could monitor the baby for any changes in behavior...Seriously, in four days I would hope there would be a whole bunch of changes in behavior. It's a baby, not science experiment.
I took the extreme position of assuming my child did not have allergies rather than assuming she did. Only very few allergies are anaphylactic, a lot are small rashes or swelling. I just went for it, strawberries, egg and all the other foods that spend their time jumping on and off the list of what not to feed your baby.
With peanuts I waited a little longer and luckily for us she wasn't allergic because I just gave her sandwich and stared at her while she ate it. One of Scout's cousins did have an extreme reaction to peanuts only weeks after we introduced them so my blasé attitude was tested and I will probably be much more paranoid next time. This is incredibly rare but can run in families.
Do They Choke a Lot When Eating Chunky Food?
I had been told by a friend who had used this technique that she may gag because it is a natural protection from choking. I had also been told not to panic, shove my hand in her mouth or whack her on the back if this happened because it would just make it worse. I stood watching and holding my breath but nothing happened. She just used her tongue to direct the food in her mouth. To this day she has never choked and rarely gagged.
Feeding herself is one of the best sensory experience Scout has. All the slippery squooshy food made her giggle and squeal at the start. As she got older it became more about the little fingers determinately picking up all the different shapes and textures. Her fine motor skills are awesome, and her finger strength is great for a 16 month old (an important pre writing skill).The concentration she has developed from having a challenging task that she is so interested in is priceless, there is nothing else so finicky that she will do for more than about 10 seconds.
Isn't it really messy?
I'm not going to lie, it is MESSY! I worked in a Montessori 3-6 classroom so I am very used to letting kids make a mess in a controlled environment. The benefits they get from all those messy activities are priceless and there really isn't any way to replicate them neatly. She wants to know what happens when she throws and squooshes things, I would prefer if she finds out in her highchair than anywhere else in the house. At first I put down newspaper under the bumbo, plastic throw sheets are too high maintenance in my opinion. Now she is better at eating and after a meal she helps me wipe the chair and sweep up the mess. More importantly though, she can spend forty minutes eating her breakfast and in that time I can clean the kitchen, have a cuppa, load the dishwasher take the bin out and sweep the floor. I think baby led weaning has actually contributed to the cleanliness of our house.
A Few tips
- The bigger the chunks the better. Chip like long shapes are great as the bub can hold on to them easily
- Their gums are strong and they can smoosh cooked veggies and soft fruit pretty easily
- The steamer is your best friend
- Buy a knife that corrugates food so things like pear slices are easier to grab hold of
- Long sleeved plastic smocks are really handy
- Make sure you know what to do if your baby does choke but a little gag is all good. Puree fed babies gag too
- If you seaarch Instagram with a #babyledweaning hashtag you will find lots of great meal ideas and cute pictures
There are great Facebook groups, websites, blogs and recipe books about baby led weaning so get digging!