04 March 2014

Baby Led Weaning(ish)

***** It's been a few months since I posted this originally and am still getting lots of questions from people about Baby led Weaning. That combined with the fact that this post has somehow gotten over 600 views (people read my blog?!) I can't help but think I should come back and add some more and expand on things I barely touched on. I'll mark areas I've updated with an asterisk**********

*I am by NO MEANS and expert on this topic, but I can tell you what has worked for us and that I would definitely recommend BLW to anyone and everyone!*

I am not a wonderful blogger because documenting life with instagram is SO much easier. I added the hashtag #babyledweaning on one picture and have had TONS of questions since. I am by no means an expert in baby led weaning but I have loved this approach to introducing solids to Henry so much I thought I would dedicate a post to it and so I could refer friends to it when I am asked about BLW.

The term "baby led weaning" isn't the American use of the word weaning, but the British, meaning introducing new foods. So, let me clear that up for you if you think I have transitioned Henry off of breastfeeding and onto solids. Breast milk is his most important and nutrient dense food for at least the first year of life. It is comforting to know that on days he eats only one "meal" or mostly gets his food on the floor, it's ok! He is just practicing and most of what he needs comes from me!

I will explain the theory of BLW as I understand it and also let you know we do not practice fundamental BLW. I read up what I could online and then adapted it to Henry and our lifestyle.

The main difference between BLW and the way Americans traditionally introduce solids to babies is that with BLW, you put baby in control of feeding himself from the beginning. Food is introduced for reasons much more than just simply eating. Mealtimes are social experiences, provide a perfect setting for sensory exploration, fine motor practice, and the practicing of so many more skills than just simply eating. My friend Aly was the one who introduced me to BLW and the more I read about it the more I liked it. She has been an excellent resource for me!

With Baby Led Weaning, introducing solids happens when baby is DEVELOPMENTALLY READY and not just a certain age. It is encouraged to wait until at least 6 months (because that is typically when the developmental signs of readiness occur and the gut is developed enough to handle solids). With Henry we started at around 5 1/2 months. Here is how we knew he was ready:
He was extremely interested in the social aspects of meal time. He was also sitting independently well, wasn't just reaching for our food to touch it but I could tell he genuinely wanted to taste it. He intently watched food go up to our mouths and would subtly imitate what our mouths were doing as we ate. He wanted to be eating because we were.
I love parenting strategies that involve lots of observation and that just make sense. It makes sense that babies aren't very good at purees when they can't even sit on their own. If they can't control their large muscle groups, why would they be any better at all the intricate muscles it takes to get food off of a spoon, into the back of their mouth, and down the chute?

The next big part of BLW is letting the child feed themselves. I can't tell you how great it is to just hand something to Henry and let him go at it. No battle of wills or fighting the gauntlet to try and get a spoonful of food into his mouth. The mouth is a very sensitive and guarded area of the body. I would not like anyone else being in control of what goes into it either!

***I think it is important to note that we approached introducing solids as a social experience, and not so much about actually eating food. It was more about us sitting together as a family, Henry observing our mealtime routines and being able to take part in them, and using mealtime as way to teach a variety of other skills. We started using some simple sign language to help Henry communicate More, All Done, and Please. It can be easy to get caught in the trap of being overly concerned with how much baby is eating and totally disregard all the other lessons happening beyond the food that makes it into their stomach. I constantly had to remind myself to just sit and observe, let him be in control, and look for all the other good thing Henry was experiencing at meal times. Did he spend a lot of time figuring out how to use new fine motor skills? Did he pay more attention to what and how we were eating than his own food? Did he have fun squishing, smearing, and experiencing food with his other senses? These are all good lessons to be learning that may not look like eating, but contribute to healthy eating habits.

I often saw the phrase "food before one is just for fun" in my BLW research. I do think that it is important to get nutritious food in their belly. Technically a child can survive on just breast milk (or formula)for their first year of life, but I would never force Henry to ONLY have breast milk for his first year. I think of it this way: Just because reading the scriptures is the best thing you can read, it shouldn't be the only thing you read. There is a lot of value in experiencing the other great literature there is out there. Just because breast milk is the best thing for Henry, I would never imagine keeping him from experiencing the joys of other foods out there. So with all of that said, "Food before one, is Mostly for fun" haha!***

The first food we handed Henry was Watermelon. We gave him a big slice and he went to town on it! I can practically hear the gasps right now. A huge slice? But won't he choke? Nope. Not once. He has yet to choke. Has he gagged? Yep. But he always works the food back into a good position in his mouth and figures out how to spit it out or chew it up better. By handing him large slices of food first, he learns to pick up, hold food, and bring it to his mouth, how to chew, move food around in his mouth, and how to tolerate a variety of textures and flavors, all before swallowing one nibble. Doesn't that sound like how we eat? There are so many things to learn before simply shoveling food down the hatch. (Go back and read those last few sentences again if you want. It really is surprising how much is involved in eating)

I still spoon feed Henry some foods. He adores Greek Yogurt and I make sure he gets plenty of prunes and pears to keep things moving (if you know what I mean). But for the most part, he eats what we eat! It has made me switch up a lot of what we eat to much healthier options because I don't think it is appropriate for some of his first foods to be processed or fried. Yep, you heard me. This woman who loves a good french fry has banned them from her son. And what about all those "baby foods" we see at the store? I like to think God came up with better baby friendly food than Gerber ever could. What is more baby friendly than an avocado, or sweet potatoes, or peaches? ***Besides, I am sure if all of our ancestors saw that we buy special foods for babies, they would think we were crazy. I wouldn't be surprised if Baby Led Weaning is just getting back to what parents have done since the beginning of time.***

Henry had zero teeth when we started and after only a few weeks he could down slices of peaches and bananas like it was his job! He eats a greater variety of foods than most toddlers I know because he has never been limited to "kid foods". Here is a little list of some of the foods Henry enjoyed just in the first month or two of eating solids:

avocado,zucchini, cooked onion, carrots, peach, mango, mushroom, raspberries, olives, watermelon, sweet potatoes, bell pepper, asparagus, noodles, rice, beans, chicken, ribs (you read that right), toast, yogurt, smoothies, apples, spaghetti squash... the list goes on and on

***Now that Henry is one and has four teeth on the bottom and two teeth barely poking through up top, he has gotten really good at taking bites out of food, chewing, and swallowing without having food to be as soft. I now give him smaller chunks and he will usually gobble down just about anything we offer. He has gone through some pickier stages, but with persistence, he would always come back to eating a variety of foods and textures.***

We are not perfect in what, or how, or when we feed Henry, but I like to think we are much better off than we would have been without BLW. If you were looking for more info, I hope this helped. I know this will help me the next time we have to introduce foods to a little tike. If you want more info read up HERE or join the baby led weaning facebook group. Oh! And also don't be shy to ask me more about it! Heaven knows we parents need a support group of friends to help us through it all!

I guess I should add that while BLW can be extra messy, it really is worth the effort because all that mess now means less mess and fights over food later.