Thank you to Jane at www.birthworks.co.uk for this great article on baby led weaning...
I like the idea of baby led weaning, although my youngest was born in 2005 before I’d heard of the term. Instead it was purees and mashed up food, spoon feeding and ice-cube trays full of miscellaneous vegetable mush in the freezer. However daughter number 3 was very enthusiastic about finger foods and wasn’t past grabbing a handful of food off her siblings plates. In hindsight she was initiating baby led weaning herself and I think it’s no accident that out of all my children she’s my most adventurous eater.
Photo courtesy of www.messy-me.com
Baby-led weaning is all about letting your child self feed and learn to love food through experimenting with taste and texture on their own terms. The idea is to involve your baby in mealtimes from about 6 months (when they can sit and hold their heads up properly) and allow them to try foods with the rest of the family. Milk continues to be your baby’s primarily source of nourishment in the initial stages of weaning: as they become more adept and consume larger quantities of solids they will naturally reduce the amount of milk they require.
Most parents will be anxious that there is a chance of choking, however the authors of Baby-Led Weaning – Helping your baby to love good food, Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, argue that there’s no greater risk of choking than for a child on spoon fed purees. In fact a baby’s natural gag reflex (often mistaken for choking) pushes food away and out of the airway. Of course babies and small children should never be left unattended when eating.
Advocates of BLW believe that allowing a baby to feed themselves independently gives them a healthier attitude to food by letting them explore a range of tastes, textures and colours, encourages dexterity and teaches them from a young age about the social aspect of mealtimes. Gone are the battles and frustration of spoon feeding: allowing parents to be much more relaxed about mealtimes and stop worrying about the quantity of food their offspring consumes.
Tracey Murkett says:
“Baby-led weaning is based on the way babies develop naturally. At six months most babies will start to reach out for food and are ready to learn to chew. It’s not really anything new – parents have been advised to offer finger foods at six months for years and years. We are just saying they can all their food like this. Spoon feeding is simply leftover from when we thought babies needed food before they are really ready – at six months babies don’t need to be spoon fed (and often don’t want to be!). Learning to eat is like learning to walk or talk – it’s a natural developmental stage that will happen when a baby is ready.”
Of course there’s also the middle way which is to combine both baby-led weaning and spoon feeding, some foods are perhaps a little tricky for a young child to manage alone – soup springs to mind! This takes us to the subject of mess. Having read various weaning forums many comments against BLW are that it creates mess. In my experience so does spoon feeding: babies spitting out what they’ve just been fed, missing their mouths completely or a baby taking control by grabbing the bowl or spoon and lobbing it across the room! Weaning is a messy process whatever method you use, the trick is to accept that and be relaxed about it. One of the main reasons for a child having issues with food (fussy eating etc.) is because of the atmosphere created around mealtimes.
Birthworks customer Victoria Newbould has tried both weaning methods. Just like me it was baby number 3 who was the catalyst for trying a new approach to weaning. Finding the time to prepare purees as well as physically feeding them to your baby becomes much harder when you have toddlers too. Here is Victoria’s story:
“When it came to weaning my 3rd son, I almost entirely dispensed with purees. I was too busy to spend time spoon feeding him with a 4yr & 2 yr old to look after as well and had always found finger food far more successful with all my babies despite having followed traditional guidance to feed mashed up food.
Cecily trying sweetcorn!
When my 4th child was born (now 9 months) I read the only BLW book I could find Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. I only needed to read half of the book before I was entirely convinced that this was the most natural way for babies to learn about and enjoy food. What is wonderful about it is that it frees you from all the worry normally associated with traditional weaning. When you know that breast (or bottle) milk is the key component of a baby’s diet till they are 1 year old you can then enjoy the weaning process.
I never worry about how much she eats I just try to allow her the experience of as many flavours and textures as possible. This in itself happens naturally when they simply eat what you eat, as we don’t eat the same textures and flavours of food everyday. Babies learning about food in this way will grab food from your and your family’s plates, they will drop a lot of food on the floor but they smile and enjoy every moment of mealtimes. The biggest obstacle to parents thinking about BLW is always the fear of choking on food. Most can cite a time when one of their babies were coughing and spluttering on ‘a lump’. What I’ve learnt from research and what seems to be borne out in my experience is that a baby needs to learn the gagging reflex in the same way that it learns to crawl, or to roll over. If a baby is 6 months and sitting upright when eating, and are allowed to control the food into their mouths themselves this reflex is developed naturally. In addition there is more and more evidence to suggest that is quite possible that there is less chance of a BLW baby choking than a purée fed baby whose gagging reflex is constantly bypassed by the action of spooning of a semi liquid into their mouths.
I can’t tell you how many different things Cecily has tried in the last three months because she has eaten virtually everything we have as a family – with the exception of a rogan josh – but she happily dipped nan bread into dahl at 8 months. I am incredibly passionate about BLW and have already convinced at least 2 friends to try it and they too have been delighted by the experience. I hope that soon all new mums will stop filling their freezers with purees and discussing endlessly what their baby likes and doesn’t like and will just simply sit to eat with their baby and enjoy a mealtime together because when it comes down to it that is what BLW is all about.”
Tracey Murkett summarises:
“Baby-led weaning is really easy and enjoyable for families – that’s why it’s becoming so popular. Once you see a baby eating this way you can see that it just makes sense.”
We would love to hear your stories about weaning whether you are disciples of Annabel Karmel and pureed food or whether you too are trying baby led weaning. Please use the comments section below.
For further information visit Baby Led Weaning
For further reading
- Rapley Weaning: The fuss-free way to introduce solid food
- The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook by Tracey Murkett
- Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Food
- For recipe ideas try the River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook which strikes a balance between both weaning camps.
- Baby Knows Best: Baby-led weaning promotes healthy food preferences
- Baby Led Weaning – How do you feel about letting your child feed himself – or herself?
- The Facts about Baby-led Weaning
Finally if you’re worried about mess, Messy Me have a great range of oilcloth bibs, highchair covers, tablecloths and mats.