I just started reading this great book – Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. It’s about using real food, or table food, to start with your ~ 6 month old baby. I am so excited about starting solids. I am especially excited for Paige! The cover boasts: No purees, no stress, no fuss. And I believe them.
As an Occupational Therapist, my background is working with children with complicated feeding issues. These are not just picky eaters, but problem feeders. Kids that will not just eat if/when they are hungry. It’s primarily a sensory thing, which includes texture, taste, smell, feel, and look of the food but context, social setting, experience and their history with eating and food also affect their perception. So far, this idea resonates with me both as a new mom and as a professional working specifically on child feeding. The courses I have taken, and the experience I have gained from working with these children, makes me wholly support this Baby-Led idea. Also, I want Paige to begin with the best possible start to eating solid food. I believe that began with breastfeeding on demand.
The Baby-Led Weaning book confirms that idea, by explaining how the typical progression from breast to purees to real solids follows the pattern of: baby-led, parent-led, then back to baby-led. But with the Baby-Led Weaning (also referred to as Baby-Led Solids, so as not to be confused with weaning from the breast or bottle) way of introducing solids, your baby is always in control of the amount, and what, they eat.
Two of the many convincing anecdotes they provide, along with more scientific information, are: 1) Babies know when they are hungry, especially breastfed babies; if you’ve ever tried to breastfeed a baby who is not hungry, you will know what I mean. 2) Many mothers who have 3 or more children often do this instinctively by the third child as they know a 6 month old can handle real food AND because they don’t have the time to cater to each child specifically.
A baby can really only eat purees if spoon fed. The authors go into detail about why baby food, such as cereal and jarred food, was first developed. It was to supplement malnourished formula fed babies; because formula alone, particularly the first kinds introduced onto the market, did not provide enough nourishment (whereas breast milk did/does). Baby cereal was created for formula fed babies, who needed more nutrition by 3 or 4 months of age, and who could obviously not consume real food.
Baby food does not seem that appealing. Although Paige is not ready for solids quite yet, she is interested in watching us eat. Now, it does seem absurd to let her watch but not taste what we are eating, when she is ready. In the book, they also explain what it will look like when your baby is ready, given that you provide your baby with the opportunity to show you. By having your baby at the table when you eat, and within reaching distance of food, or at least able to make an obvious show about wanting food, then they will reach when they are ready. Of course, they should also be able to sit with little or no support (otherwise a choking risk), and bring their hands to their mouth. You may be concerned that choking seems more likely with this method but it’s not. As I have witnessed with Paige, when she is holding something, such as a spoon to play with, and she jabs it into her mouth, if it goes too far back she gags. She removes it quickly, and tries again. Soon she learns not to gag herself, and the problem is solved. This would be the same when eating. As long as she is in control, she will learn not to choke (or gag) herself.
I want Paige to enjoy eating, for it to be social and fun with her family, and ultimately, for her to choose to be a healthy eater, without my help. Baby-led weaning appears to be the start to make that happen. It is explained that once babies are able and willing to eat solids, that there is no reason, physically, to start with purees. By about 6 months, babies can eat real foods, and you can skip the pureeing. I should add that I am a teeny tiny bit disappointed to not be making homemade, organic baby food for Paige, but mostly I am relieved. Now I can make homemade, organic real food for the whole family, because obviously Paige does not need to (and should not) eat processed food, or food with added sugar or salt. Spice is okay and encouraged!
Take for example a tuna casserole. If there are noodles, peas, tuna and carrots, the baby can see all of these things. They can try them all, but neglect to eat the orange things if they want. This will also go miles to develop fine motor coordination, another area I worked on with kids at my previous job, by the way. With pureed baby food, what do you get? Everything lumped together. So if the same casserole was pureed, your baby may not like the taste of carrots, and you would only know that they didn’t like that flavor. And you may never realize that it’s always, and only, the carrot that is disliked.
I should also add that when starting solids, the child is not going to consume very much. In the beginning it’s all about learning and experience. Most of their nutrition will continue to come from the milk they drink, whether from a breast or in the form of formula. Apparently, it will take about 6 months before a baby’s body can consume and utilize enough of the solid food eaten to be healthy.
I do have issues with baby food made by formula, or other companies, but more to the point, I just don’t like the lack of texture. Sure there is some variety, but not like there is with real food. If a baby is able to smell, feel and taste different foods on their own terms, of course it makes sense that they will also be more willing to try a wider variety of foods, because they are not worried about being forced to eat it. This is exactly what I did with the kids at my job – empowered them, and let them be in control. By allowing them to see, touch and possibly try what they want, they will start to view mealtimes as fun exploration, not stressful events where someone might force them to eat. I followed this method with the older problem/picky eaters I worked with, and with perseverance from myself and the family, it works all of the time. Note: it can get messy!!
Of course, there will be foods that work best when using a spoon, such as soup. But why don’t you BOTH have spoons (a common idea we suggested to parents as a way to involve their kids). Or better yet, why can’t your baby have the spoon? If they truly like it, you can always help them eat more after. And although it would be messy, giving them the soup to feel with their own fingers is a great tactile experience. Just have the bath water running in the meantime!
One last piece of interesting information: a healthy, normal child’s daily caloric intake can vary up to 300% from day to day! So, by following the Baby-led method, you can watch your baby have fun learning about food and NOT stress about them eating the whole jar of baby food.
Also check out this website for more information about this method.