Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Baby Led Weaning

As promised, a less whiny, and hopefully more interesting post :) 

When the kid was barely 4 months old, I got home from work to a grinning man, who was quite proud of himself. Hubby informed me that he'd just fed the kid cereal for the first time, "and he loved it!!". Now, I was really ticked off for several reasons. First, he'd done it WITHOUT ME!!! (mostly it hurt my feelings that I'd missed such a huge milestone) Second, though, I didn't feel like the kid was anywhere near ready for this huge step. He wasn't sitting by himself (hubby had put him, reclining, in his bouncyseat to feed him). He wasn't acting any more hungry than normal. Yes, he was drooling more than he had been the month before, and he was super interested in our food, but those are just what 4 month olds do - they don't mean a baby is ready for the introduction of food. We continued to give it to him, though, because, well, I don't really remember why. But I DO remember that this was right around the time he stopped sleeping through the night. Of course, I don't know whether there's any connection there or not.

Because I worked at the health department and was used to giving parents the very strict feeding guide used by WIC, we followed that. Thus, the kid first got rice cereal, followed by green then yellow and orange veggies. Then we moved on to fruits, saving meats for last (actually because those so grossed me out and I wasn't willing to make him eat anything I wouldn't, we held off on meat til he was more than a year old and went straight to real meat).

Now, this coincided with when I started reading lots more non-health department-type stuff ('cause I read all the time.  What I found from reading those websites, blogs, books, etc... was that there was no real basis for doing this in such a regimented way - there was no benefit, and, in fact, it was likely limiting his diet. So, we started adding in all kinds of things - avocados, chickpeas, couscous, hummus, asparagus, other veggies and fruits that we couldn't find in jars, and pretty much anything we were eating. We started letting him feed himself and found that not only was he willing to try anything, as long as he could do it himself, he loved everything we gave him. To this day, the kid is an AWESOME eater. He'll try anything multiple times, even foods that he has previously not liked, he's willing to try again "because maybe I'll like it this time".

So, when I was hanging out at my favorite book store just before Christmas and saw a book titled "Baby Led Weaning", I casually picked it up, intending to leaf through it for a few minutes while the kid was running around. I was instantly intrigued by the whole concept. And now I'm convinced, and it's how we're going to proceed with baby E.

To start, here's a baby led weaning (BLW) website HERE. But, for those of you not inclined to check that out, here are the basics of BLW: starting at around 6 months, babies are developmentally capable of starting to feed themselves. Thus, with BLW, you let them. This means no baby food as we've come to think of it (pureed stuff in jars). You provide food to babies and let them go at it. No foods are off limits (other than those that are a concern because of allergies like peanuts), they're just given to babies in "finger" sized pieces. At first babies just play with food, and really eat little. This isn't concerning because babies' primary source of nutrition for the first year should come from breastmilk (or formula). It's about letting babies practice the skills of feeding themselves, and letting them be in charge of what and when and how much they eat.

This makes perfect sense to me for several reasons. First, self-feeding is a developmental milestone, just like rolling over, crawling, using a pincher grasp, etc... And in none of those developmental milestones do we, as parents, dictate when our child is ready to start doing. Sure, we give babies opportunities to practice those skills, but babies do them when they're good and ready. Why should eating solid foods be any different?

Second, the way most people start babies on solids can lead to lots of food struggles. Think about the stereotypical scenario of the parent making the spoon into a plane to get the baby to open his mouth and eat it. The parent gently (or not so gently in some cases) coaxes the baby to eat, just one more bite. The baby clamps his mouth shut, or spits the food right back out. The parent assumes the baby doesn't like that particular food and rarely offers it in the future. In reality, the baby may be trying to say several things other than that - I'm full, I am more interested in what the dog's doing than in eating, I want that spoon to chew on, I want to do it myself, etc... These kinds of scenarios can lead to picky eaters.

Third, babies and small children inherently know when they're hungry and have an innate awareness of how much they need to eat. This is one of the benefits of breastfeeding - babies are in complete control over how much they eat. BLW is an extension of that. Why should we all of the sudden assume that we, with our spoonfuls of goo, know better than they do? Overriding this hunger signal is likely related to why so many of us struggle with eating and weight (anyone else remember the clean plate club, and still feel obligated the eat everything even when full?! It starts with babies.)

Yes, BLW is messy. So it's a good thing we have a broom, and paper towels, and a vacuum, and a dog. The dog, I find, is particularly helpful with messy little eaters. Yes, I'm a little sad that we won't have all those stereotypical pictures of the airplane and the baby with goo dripping down to his chin after he's spit it out. But, we feel BLW is what is going to work best for baby E, and for our whole family.

Today's lesson - starting in another month of so, if you invite us to your house for dinner, be warned, it may be messy. But, I promise, we'll clean up after ourselves :)


Amanda said...

neither of my kids has had a single jar of baby food. I did do some purees to get them started (months 6-9) after that...they ate what we ate only in smaller chunks. I found this site to be incredibly helpful.

Good Luck! ...and Messes Rock!

JE Melton said... cups for the next MP Game Night? Or maybe just bacon? :)

ali said...

Baby feeding is so exciting! I was intrigued by BLW, too, but I have to say I'm a little terrified of a lot of finger foods: toast (will a big chunk break off and choke her?), veggie sticks (will a big chunk break off and choke her?), fruit.... you get the picture. So we've done a hybrid: mashed sweet taters, avocado, peas, homemade oatmeal & rice cereals... and shredded apples, cheese, baby crack, tiny banana pieces, etc. I think part of the problem is I never did the baby cpr class, so I feel like I'll freak out and not know what to do and it'll be all my fault for not going to the effing class! I do feel like it's pretty easy to tell if she wants the food on the spoon (she divebombs the spoon) or not (she doesn't). I'll be so interested to see how it goes for you. I hope you keep us updated with what kinds and especially what shapes of food you try!

Becky said...

@Amanda - Thanks for that site. I'm interested to check it out :)

@JE - ew, but funny. We may wait a bit on the bacon, you know, since it's not all that healthy and all.

@Ali - "baby crack" is, I', sure supposed to be "baby crackers", but it's funnier the way you wrote it ;) I will def let everyone know how it goes!