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Baby-led Weaning

By 8th March 2015

With baby number two on the way, I’ve recently been thinking about the early days with Skye, if there’s anything I’ll try to do differently this time round and what I would definitely do the same.

A couple of things spring to mind when thinking about what I would try to do differently:

Good sleep habits - introduce them from the outset and stick to them! We started off well with Skye (loosely following the Baby Whisperer EASY routine) but I quickly slipped in to a habit of feeding her to sleep which in turn led to her waking up more regularly rather than starting to sleep longer. I’ll most definitely be re-reading Andrea Grace’s blog and book immediately before the new arrival. 

Bottle feeding - I was fortunate enough to be able to breastfeed Skye with no issues other than some initial discomfort however Skye would not drink milk (expressed or formula) from a bottle and was breastfed until 17 months. Whilst I fully appreciate that I was lucky to be able to breastfeed her for so long, her total dependence on me for milk in the first 6 months did mean that I was unable to leave Skye with anyone for more than a few hours which can be quite limiting (I sadly missed one of my best friend’s hen party). I can identify where we went wrong here - we introduced a bottle of expressed milk when Skye was 4/5 weeks old, she guzzled it down. We gave her another bottle a few days later, which she similarly guzzled down. She’s got that sussed I thought, then left a gap of a month or so before giving her a bottle again - total refusal to drink from a bottle from then on and we tried ALL the recommended tricks. This time, I’ll make sure that I bottle feed every few days to hopefully avoid this situation again. 

So, what would I definitely do the same? 

I had a wonderful year off on maternity - we went to lots of classes, spent plenty of time in the fresh air and hung out with friends, old and new - Skye was a well-socialised baby and is now is a sociable, confident toddler. I’d hope to replicate this with baby boy Millard. 

From the book “French Children Don’t Throw Food’, ‘La Pause’ is one of the most useful pieces of advice we took on board as parents. Basically, if your baby cries, pause and observe before jumping straight in and picking them up; give them the chance to self-soothe. We lived by this mantra from day 1 with Skye and still do to this day when we hear her stirring through the night.

Something that I feel really passionate about and would most definitely approach the same way is Baby-led Weaning. As previously mentioned in ‘French Women don’t give up Cheese’, I’m a real foodie. In fact, Iain and I have a shared love of food - I think it’s one of the fundamental building blocks of our relationship. With this in mind, we were excited about introducing food to Skye. I know that some parents dread weaning and find it really difficult but we saw it as a new adventure and one that we all embraced with relish.  

I’d heard the term ‘Baby-led Weaning’ but didn’t really know much about it. It wasn’t until one of my NCT friends, Amy, was talking about how her friend had done baby-led weaning, how amazing it was and that her daughter would eat everything that I started thinking about it more seriously.

My interest piqued, I promptly downloaded a book for my kindle, ‘Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food’ by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. This book outlines the baby-led weaning philosophy in great detail. After reading the book, this approach just seemed to make so much sense to me. 

In eager preparation of weaning Skye, I also ordered a copy of the ‘Baby-led Weaning Cookbook: Over 130 delicious recipes for the whole family to enjoy’, also by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. This is an excellent introduction to baby-led weaning, combining an outline of the BLW philosophy with a comprehensive recipe selection. Some of the recipes can seem quite basic but they’re great for gaining confidence with BLW and inspiring you to adapt your own recipes for the whole family to eat together. If you buy the cookbook, I don’t think you need their other book as all you need to know about the BLW philosophy is covered in enough detail in Part One of the Cookbook. 

So what is Baby-led Weaning? In a nutshell, it’s a method of weaning where babies are included in family mealtimes and feed themselves finger food from the outset. There’s no pureeing or spoon-feeding your baby, just lots of texture and LOTS of mess. You allow your baby the opportunity to explore food by themselves with the overriding principle that ‘food is for fun until they are one’ . Solid foods can’t provide all the nutrients and calories babies need in their first year so milk feeds continue to be the most important part of your baby’s diet - they then reduce their milk feeds by themselves, at their own pace.  

Baby-led weaning is based on the way babies naturally develop. If you give a baby the opportunity to handle food, they will instinctively begin to feed themselves when they are ready. Most babies are ready to start exploring solid foods when they can sit up with little support, reach out and grab things, take objects to their mouth and make chewing movements. This generally happens around 6 months, the UK Department of Health’s recommended minimum age for starting solid foods. The ability to chew (with or without teeth) is an important skill as it softens food and mixes it with saliva, making it easier to swallow, beginning the process of digestion. The best way to learn to chew is to practice on solid food that needs chewing. Having the opportunity to practice this as early as possible ensures that babies learn to do it effectively.

A common concern of parents is that their baby may choke on solid food. There’s no evidence of any more cases of choking in baby-led weaning than traditional weaning. The interesting fact here is that baby-led weaned babies learn to eat differently than spoon-fed babies - they learn to chew then swallow whilst babies who are fed purees learn to swallow first then progress to chewing when more solid foods are introduced. With BLW, babies discover how to gum, gnaw, bite and chew food before they move anything to the back of their mouth for swallowing. This means that they rarely try to swallow anything that they haven’t chewed. 

The gag reflex in a baby is very sensitive with the trigger point being much further forward in the mouth. When a baby gags, food that isn’t ready to be swallowed is pushed forward in a retching movement. Gagging is not the same as choking - choking happens when the airway is blocked. Choking is no more likely with baby-led weaning than with spoon feeding provided basic safety rules are followed. 

If you think about it, this isn’t a new way of feeding babies - for generations, families have encouraged babies to eat finger foods along with the rest of the family. What has changed is the assumption that babies need to start off on purees before they progress to finger foods. Spoon feeding babies purees was necessary when parents were advised to start feeding solids at 3-4 months however now that the commonly held view is that babies’  bodies aren’t ready for solid food until around 6 months, they are quite capable of feeding themselves.

There are many benefits of baby-led weaning: it allows babies to explore the texture and taste of foods at their own pace; helps develop hand-eye co-ordination and dexterity; allows babies to self-regulate how much they eat, establishing good eating habits which may help to avoid obesity and other food-related problems; encourages exposure to a wide range of foods, making picky eating less likely; eating in is cheaper, eating out is easier and eating together as a family is a great way of developing and cementing family bonds.

So how did we implement this with Skye? When she was nearly 6 months old, we gave Skye some steamed carrot sticks. It was absolutely fascinating to watch her touch them, play with them, pick them up and put them in her mouth. She quickly progressed to a range of vegetables and fruit with avocado being a particular favourite (more for Skye than me, it gets EVERYWHERE). I would cut an avocado in four and she would sook the flesh out of the skin. It amazed me how quickly she worked out what parts of the fruit/veg to eat and what to discard. Apart from the mess (of which there was plenty) I absolutely loved meal times. It really was a journey of exploration.

Shortly after starting weaning, Skye and I were out for lunch at the Turkish restaurant ‘Tas' with my friend Seonaid and her little boy Noah. I’d ordered some pitta bread and houmous for Skye to eat but she was much more interested in my Lamb Kofte kebab, trying to grab it off my plate - this was to be Skye’s first introduction to meat! She happily gummed strips of the meat, to Seonaid’s amazement. 

A couple of weeks later, we were out for lunch with another friend, Mark. Iain and Mark both looked on somewhat nervously as I gave Skye some of my steak. She proceeded to gum it to death, loving the (rather tasty!) flavours. She quickly progressed on to legs of chicken, roast beef dinners, pasta, noodles, curry - in short, Skye eats what we do. We’ve never cooked separate meals and we pretty much always cook from scratch so we could adapt what we eat to make sure it was low in salt and baby-friendly.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times how messy BLW is and it really is messy, food gets everywhere but I’m sure it took me less time to wipe down Skye, the table, the splash-mat on the floor and (sometimes) the walls than spend hours cooking, pureeing and freezing batches of food. 

If you’re interested in trying baby-led weaning, the BLW cookbook is a great starting point. I’m a fairly competent cook but I found it really useful for finger food ideas when starting out - hot favourites in our house included porridge fingers, chickpea patties and tuna croquettes.

Now 2 years old, Skye continues to embrace food. Don’t get me wrong, she has her days like many toddlers when she’d rather be playing than eating and it’s a struggle to get her to eat more than a couple of bits of pasta but she eats a huge variety of food - she will generally try what’s on her plate, it’s very unusual for her to turn her nose up at a particular food because she’s not familiar with the sight of it.  We always eat our meals together as a family, which is really important to us and great fun now that we can have a proper ‘chat’ with Skye over dinner. 

For us, it’s going to be really interesting to see how the Boy takes to food. Did we just get lucky with Skye and she would have ended up eating the same range of foods anyway or has baby-led weaning been fundamental in introducing good eating habits from an early age? Only time will tell :-) 

Lou x


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