Okay, so now that Sadie is nine months old, this isn’t going to sound like the major revelation that it was for us when Sadie was six and a half or seven months old (I can’t quite remember when we had this lightbulb moment). But that’s about when I discovered the concept of baby-led weaning.
Prior to this discovery, I had made and frozen a bunch of baby food purees—squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, peaches, pears. I had this image of Sadie dining on locally-grown produce, picked and processed while in season. We got a little hasty with starting Sadie on solids (she just seemed SO READY), so we stuck with rice and then oat baby cereal, putting the pureed fruits and vegetables on hold. Once she reached six months, we started experimenting with the purees. It was going fairly well, and I’m not even sure what prompted me to Google “baby-led weaning.”
So! The basic principle is that, at or around six months, babies are developmentally ready to learn—not just to eat—but to feed themselves. What an idea! Instead of shoveling mush into Sadie’s mouth, I could give her whole foods (in appropriately-sized pieces, mind you—the definition of which is open for interpretation) and let her figure it out. There’s not a ton of information out there about baby-led weaning, but I’ve read most of what these two sites have to offer.
Basically, I try to feed Sadie some of what we’re eating. Of course, we only feed her the parts that are Sadie-appropriate (so, no fried catfish or anything like that). For example, the other night we had a dish with eggplant, onion, garlic, herbs, tomatoes and green olives. I didn’t want her to have the tomatoes (possibly allergenic—but I’m starting to question all of the allergy rules) or the olives (way too salty), so I just pulled out a few pieces of the eggplant before I added those ingredients. Should have pulled out more—she loved the eggplant! Sometimes our dinner is totally inappropriate, so I’ll do a little something special, like steam up some carrots or give her some toast. And she almost never eats all that I’ve got for her, so I save it for a meal the next day.
A funny aside: when I was first getting started, I kept being so confused when I’d read on the website to cut fruits and vegetables into “chip” shaped pieces. I thought, “How the heck am I supposed to manage that—a chip?!” Well, duh. These ladies are Scottish, and “chip” to them is “French fry” to us. Much easier to cut a bell pepper into a fry-shaped piece than a potato chip-shaped piece. Surely you wouldn’t be as foolish.
Here are some of my thoughts on baby-led weaning.
- I am by no means a nutritionist. Or a doctor. Or anything other than a mom who reads and writes a lot. Don’t take my word on anything—do your own research!
- I definitely don’t claim that this is the best or the one right way to teach babies about solid food. It’s just what makes the most sense to me with Sadie. If she weren’t the proactive baby she is, this might have gone horribly.
- Disclaimers aside, this REALLY clicked with me.
- I feel like Sadie is truly learning how to eat real foods. Yes, she gags. No, she’s never choked. A couple of times I’ve helped her get a tricky piece of food out of her mouth with her finger, but she’s even learned how to do this for herself. The gagging has taken some patience on my part to get through. Having always seen adults jump out of their seats at the first sign of difficulty and whack the baby on the back or swipe a finger in the mouth, I had to re-train myself a bit. Instead of assuming she’s about to need the Heimlich, whenever she’s having trouble, I just wait her out. And she works it out on her own. Oh, and this is all with just two teeth. She puts those gums to work!
- I feel like this will help her develop healthy eating attitudes and habits. My job is to present her with healthy food options. Her job is to decide what goes in her mouth. No force feeding (this goes along very well with Attachment Parenting principle two, Feed with Love and Respect). At this point, her nutritional needs are still being met by my breastmilk. Any solids she eats are just for the experience of it. I’m not sure how things might change after her first birthday, when she will need a more complete diet of solid foods, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
- I suspect this will also help her be a less picky eater. For one thing, she’s already been tasting my diet every time she nurses (so she’s good and ready for Ben and Jerry’s as soon as I let her, I’m sure). Aside from salt, I’m no longer avoiding seasoning the food I give her. There have been very few things she’s fully rejected, so I take this as a decent sign.
- If there’s a Next Time, I definitely plan on waiting the full six months before introducing any solids and starting with whole solids from the beginning. No mush at all! I’m pretty sure that pureed baby foods came about at a time when the trend was to start your baby on solids at three or four months. And an industry was born. But at six months, many babies can sit unsupported/in a high chair, can pick up smallish objects, can put these objects in their mouths, and can do some chewish movements with their jaws. Sounds like a good case for not spoon-feeding a six-month-old to me!
Yes, I do have a freezer full of purees. Some of them have “expired,” because I made them too far in advance. The fruits have gone over pretty well when spread on a piece of whole wheat toast. And I’ve also started to pre-load a baby spoon for her, which she is then able to stick in her own mouth.
So what has Miss Sadie been eating? Well, she has had (in their non-mushed forms, and in no particular order) squash, zucchini, green beans, carrots, pears, apples, grapes, rice, oats, broccoli, wheat toast, flour tortillas, black beans, avocados, sweet potatoes, lady peas, green peas, chicken, turkey, eggplant, cauliflower, wheat pita, hummus, oat cereal and puffs. Her favorites so far are pears, black beans and green peas. She also really likes cereal. I bought some for her that turned out to be too crunchy for her…the solution? Soak them in breastmilk. She had that for breakfast this morning, and she loved it!
As for the food allergy situation, there is a lot of conflicting information out there on this. Even within my own family. We talked to Sadie’s pediatrician about this at her appointment the other day, and she said that the current guidelines are suggesting that waiting until a year to expose babies to potentially allergenic foods probably doesn’t prevent—and possibly even causes—the increased likelihood of an allergy. Since neither Trevor nor I (nor our siblings) have any food allergies, I think we’re going to relax a bit further on some of the foods we’ve been waiting to introduce (dairy products, citrus fruits, berries, egg yolks, pork, etc.). We will still wait for peanuts and egg whites, because apparently the reactions to those can be pretty ugly. Honey, of course, but because of botulism, not allergies. We haven’t exactly been by-the-book about the four-day rule, but I think I will stick to that when we introduce these foods.
How have you handled introducing solids to your wee ones?