The task of feeding another human being is an enormous responsibility. It can really make you think about the foods you eat when you start considering them going into your baby’s mouth.
Prior to my online discovery of baby-led weaning (acronym alert: “BLW”), I had made and frozen a bunch of baby food purees—squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, peaches, pears. I had this image of Sadie dining on locally-grown produce, picked and processed while in season. We got a little hasty with starting Sadie on solids (she just seemed SO READY), so we stuck with rice and then oat baby cereal, putting the pureed fruits and vegetables on hold. Once she reached six months, we started experimenting with the purees. It was going fairly well, and I’m not even sure what prompted me to Google “baby-led weaning.” But once I’d done my usual amount (like 100 hours or something) of online research and ruminating, we went full-steam ahead and haven’t looked back since.
The basic principle is that, at or around six months, babies are developmentally ready to learn—not just to eat—but to feed themselves. What an idea! Instead of shoveling mush into Sadie’s mouth, I could give her whole foods (in appropriately-sized pieces, mind you—the definition of which is open for interpretation) and let her figure it out. There’s not a ton of information out there about baby-led weaning, so some of it involves just winging it and paying attention to common sense.
Basically, I try to feed Sadie some of what we’re eating. Of course, we only feed her the parts that are Sadie-appropriate (so, no fried catfish or anything like that). For example, the other night we had a dish with eggplant, onion, garlic, herbs, tomatoes and green olives. I didn’t want her to have the tomatoes (possibly allergenic—but I’m starting to question all of the allergy rules) or the olives (way too salty), so I just pulled out a few pieces of the eggplant before I added those ingredients. Should have pulled out more—she loved the eggplant! Sometimes our dinner is totally inappropriate (we’re working on this), so I’ll do a little something special, like steam up some carrots or give her some toast. And she almost never eats all that I’ve got for her, so I save it for a meal the next day.
So, let me clarify: I am by no means a nutritionist. Or a doctor. Or anything other than a mom who reads and writes a lot. Don’t take my word on anything—do your own research! I definitely don’t claim that this is the best or the one right way to teach babies about solid food. It’s just what makes the most sense to me with Sadie. If she weren’t the proactive baby she is, this might have gone horribly. Disclaimers aside, this REALLY clicked with me.
Ok, tips from my personal experience:
- I feel like Sadie is truly learning how to eat real foods. Yes, she gags. No, she’s never choked. A couple of times I’ve helped her get a tricky piece of food out of her mouth with her finger, but she’s even learned how to do this for herself. The gagging has taken some patience on my part to get through. Having always seen adults jump out of their seats at the first sign of difficulty and whack the baby on the back or swipe a finger in the mouth, I had to re-train myself a bit. Instead of assuming she’s about to need the Heimlich, whenever she’s having trouble, I just wait her out. And she works it out on her own. Oh, and this is all with just two teeth. She puts those gums to work!
- I feel like this will help her develop healthy eating attitudes and habits. My job is to present her with healthy food options. Her job is to decide what goes in her mouth. No force feeding (this goes along very well with Attachment Parenting principle two, Feed with Love and Respect). At this point, her nutritional needs are still being met by my breastmilk. Any solids she eats are just for the experience of it. I’m not sure how things might change after her first birthday, when she will need a more complete diet of solid foods, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
- I suspect this will also help her be a less picky eater. For one thing, she’s already been tasting my diet every time she nurses (so she’s good and ready for Ben and Jerry’s as soon as I let her, I’m sure). Aside from salt, I’m no longer avoiding seasoning the food I give her. There have been very few things she’s fully rejected, so I take this as a decent sign.
If there’s a Next Time, I definitely plan on waiting the full six months before introducing any solids and starting with whole solids from the beginning. No mush at all! I’m pretty sure that pureed baby foods came about at a time when the trend was to start your baby on solids at three or four months. And an industry was born. But at six months, many babies can sit unsupported/in a high chair, can pick up smallish objects, can put these objects in their mouths, and can do some chewish movements with their jaws. Sounds like a good case for not spoon-feeding a six-month-old to me!