I don't like filling my daughter's hair up with ribbons and headbands. I dread milestones like crawling and teeth. And for some reason, I never did look forward to the whole spoon-feeding "open-wide-here-comes-the-airplane" thing.
To me, the idea of starting solids spelled nothing but stress. Breastfeeding has been going so well for us that it seemed complicated to figure out a new routine. I don't think it sounds fun to sit there trying to spoon gloppy purees into the mouth of a squirmy baby. Also, the idea of baby food is kind of gross to me. Pulverized peas and jars of chicken? To someone who adores cooking and eating good food, that just doesn't sound like a hearty, delicious meal.
Well, one day I was perusing the message board of my online moms group and I saw someone wondering why we have to do all those bland cereals and purees. Couldn't we just feed our babies real, healthy food? Another mom replied: "What you're talking about is called baby-led weaning, and yes, you can totally do that."
I perked up.
I started doing some research and learned that baby-led weaning bypasses the entire purees stage and goes directly to finger foods - large chunks of soft, healthy stuff that the baby handles all on their own. With this method, you never put food into your baby's mouth. Instead, she learns to feed herself and controls when, what and how much she eats. I grew very excited about this idea and ordered this book. It is an excellent and quick read, and when I finished it I knew this was the right thing for us.
Here are just a few of the benefits of baby-led weaning:
- The baby can eat what everyone else is eating, provided you are a healthy eater. You save money, and you know exactly what's in their food.
- The whole family can eat at the same time, instead of mom or dad feeding the baby, and then parents eat later.
- Because BLW babies control their own intake, you avoid mealtime struggles to get them to eat. The book also says BLW babies often have better relationships with food when they get older.
- Baby-led weaning is fun! Your baby learns about the different textures, colors and flavors of food, and - the book says - is more likely to eat a wide variety of foods as an adult.
Avocado is a popular first finger food because it's rich in healthy fats and nutrients. (We'll introduce chips and tequila at a later date.) It was served alongside a spear of baked sweet potato sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon.
Since breastmilk or formula should be the main source of nutrition until a baby is one year old, the first months of baby-led weaning are about exploring and having fun. We have one meal a day (right before the bath, and you'll soon see why). "Dinner" falls between her normal milk feedings, so she's still getting all the daily nutrition she needs, and I don't have to worry about how much food actually makes it down the trap. Which is good, since most of it gets played with, but not necessarily eaten.
Here's Mia squishing and smashing her first meal. (Rookie parents forgot to put a bib on her - boy, you only make that mistake once!)
At first she mostly just sucked on the food, and seemed surprised when it started to come apart in her mouth. But within a week or two she learned to make deliberate chomping motions with her jaw to chew things up. She doesn't have any teeth yet, but that doesn't matter. Babies don't use their front teeth to chew food anyway, and she can do plenty of mashing with just her gums.
We soon moved on to steamed carrots and broccoli. Man, this kid is nuts about her broccoli.
One day I got a carton of gigantic organic strawberries in my weekly CSA delivery, so I washed one off and handed it to her. Do you know how cool it is to witness the first time a person tastes a plump, delicious strawberry? She sank her gums into the fruit and froze, her eyes wide as saucers as the juice streamed down her chin. Then she worked on that thing for a good 20 minutes.
With banana, I cut it in half, and then trim a ring of peel off the top. Then she can use the peel as a handle and easily get to the fruit.
She liked a few whole-wheat rotini noodles with a bit of marinara sauce.
She's loves cantaloupe, too, to the point that she bangs her hands on the tray and squeals when she sees me cutting it up for her. I leave the rind on so she has something to grip. It's amazing how fast she learned which side was edible. See? She'll even show you!
And after a skeptical first taste, steamed asparagus was a hit, too.
In fact, I haven't put a single thing in front of her that she didn't like. (That's my girl!) She has also had cucumber, yogurt, grilled chicken, toasted waffle, tortilla, tofu and rice cakes spread with hummus. Meanwhile on that online group I mentioned, moms who went with traditional jars and purees fret all the time about why their baby won't eat this or that - or why their baby won't eat, period. And while other babies Mia's age are only now starting to figure out how to go from purees to something more solid, she has been handling that stuff like a pro for nearly two months.
Oh, and she's not alone. At every meal, a faithful sidekick waits patiently by her high chair in the hopes that someday he, too, can do baby-led weaning.
He gets lucky now and then.