Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Baby-Led Weaning: A Year in Review

I can't believe she's 18 months old. That means she's been eating solid foods for a full year. A year of real food! Baby-led weaning, if you're not familiar with it, is simply allowing babies to feed themselves from the get-go with solid foods, once they are able to sit up properly at about 6 months old. (It's also sometimes called infant self-feeding, because of the confusion over the word 'weaning'. In Britain, weaning means to add supplementary foods to a baby's milk diet. In the US it refers to cessation of breastfeeding. We're using the British meaning here.) No purees, no jars, no stages of lumpiness. You provide a variety of healthy options, and they explore them at their own pace.
People who do baby-led weaning are sometimes evangelical about it, as seems to be the case with so many parenting approaches. However, everyone seems to agree that it doesn't matter nutritionally which way you go - so it's just a question of what works for you and your family. My health visitor is really into it, and as it was 'invented' by a UK health visitor, I suspect the NHS is widely supportive of the practice. I would definitely do it again, but it isn't without downsides. I won't go through all the ins and outs of HOW you do it (for one thing, I'm not qualified - read the book!), rather our experience:

Fortune favours the brave: First off, giving your exclusively milk-fed baby a massive stick of cooked sweet potato is a little nerve-racking at first. Or watermelon, or tofu, or toast and almond butter. But seeing them, first play with, then eat and enjoy real food is so wonderful. And I do think you just have to go for it; I was continually surprised at what she could handle. The first question you get, of course, is 'won't they choke???' Mine didn't (ever), but that's not to say you shouldn't be prepared and supervise closely. You aren't supposed to give them whole nuts, grapes, or cherry tomatoes. I was a little nervous with whole beans at first, so tended to mash them up a little with a fork - I asked my health visitor about it and her advice was to do what made me comfortable as well.  
Sitting down for a meal: One of the major advantages, for me, was the break you get while they play/eat. After six months of just snatching whatever food was the quickest, often standing up in the kitchen, it seemed absolutely luxurious to cook a meal for us, and sit down to eat it. In the early days, they are SLOW as well, so it's like an activity and meal in one.
Kale chips and Carrots!
The mess: Oh god, it's messy though. In the early days, we'd strip her down completely for every meal. Now she's much better, but it was carnage. I didn't really mind exactly, as we just put a piece of oilcloth underneath her highchair to catch the worst of it. I know people who were put off the approach because of the mess, and that's fair enough.
Speaking of highchairs: If you're planning on doing baby-led weaning, choose your highchair carefully! I bought an inexpensive, lined highchair that was totally unsuitable, thinking that there couldn't possibly be a difference between highchairs that warranted some of the prices. I was so wrong! My cheapo one was impossible to clean - I would have had to dismantle it and hose it down after every meal. It also looked uncomfortable, and she tended to slouch in it. Interestingly, the only two highchairs that I think are worth a damn are at the two extreme ends of the spectrum, price-wise: the Stokke Tripp-Trapp, and the Ikea Antilop. The Tripp Trapp is awesome, if you're happy for them to eat at the table with you (which we love!). Admittedly, it's eye-wateringly expensive, but they sit up straight, and it grows with them, eventually becoming just a regular chair. It's definitely one of our all-time top 5 best baby purchases. The Antilop is my second favourite, and it's something crazy like £13, with the tray. Easy to clean, though a little slouchier than the Tripp Trapp and obviously won't last as long. But at that price, you can't complain. I got one for the backyard so we can eat outside without moving furniture.
Take lots of photos: The book recommends this as well; the really explorative, wacky-messy stage is surprisingly short. The unexpected joy when she discovered sweet corn, the struggle to get half a tomato in her mouth at once (why??), the errant porridge in the hair - it's gold, this stuff.
On pickiness: One of the purported benefits is less pickiness about food, which I don't know about. Obviously it's impossible to prove, because you can't give the same child both experiences to compare, but I know that my kid is still pretty picky at this stage. Earlier on, she wasn't, and I hope that she will come out of it again (I think she already is a bit), but that's where we are now. I can see the rationale here though, that the table never becomes a battleground or a power struggle. That sounds awful. The philosophy has won me over completely because it's easy, and she's happy and fed. As long as she's eating real, healthful food, I try not to sweat the fads too much. It's yet another example of trusting your child and their instincts as well as your own.
On confidence: Mine, that is. I actually recommend the book to everyone, whether they are interested in feeding this way or not, because I found it amazingly comforting in terms of how their nutritional needs change over time. In short, in the beginning, their nutrition is from milk, so we can take a massive chill-pill about what and when and how much supplementary food they are getting (but don't take it from me! Not an expert! Disclaimer, disclaimer!!). Slowly over time, as they wean, the balance shifts. But it isn't overnight, and I could take it slow, and follow her lead. Isn't that a relief? As I mentioned above, I also love that you deliberately avoid setting up an adversarial relationship at the dinner table. You are trusting that they are feeding themselves, and, miraculously, they do.
On enjoyment: She may be a little pickier than I'd like, but she enjoys food. Now, she loves to name her foods with excitement ("Bean! BEAN!!"), she loves to help cook, and she loves to eat! I love the little appreciative 'mmmm's, and I love cooking one meal for the whole family. I love sitting down together, and eating real food. Yeah, there's no going back from baby-led weaning, I don't think.

As always, thanks for voting!

Vote for me @ Top Mommy Blogs - Mom Blog Directory

No comments:

Post a Comment