Baby led weaning isn’t what it sounds like. The term comes from the UK and means the introduction of solid foods to compliment breast milk/formula. Up until about one year of age babies don’t need more than breast milk or formula (generally speaking of course. I’m aware there are certain circumstances under which a baby needs to be spoon-fed for the extra calories). BLW is great because it gives a baby plenty of practice feeding himself during the months leading up to when he actually needs the nourishment. Any mother with more than one baby has probably done this without knowing there was a name for it. It is letting your baby feed himself. If your baby is breastfed on demand this is something that will come quite naturally to him-and I hear it’s a smooth transition for formula babies as well. You must, of course, provide constant supervision, and supply safe sized and healthy foods. But other than that, it’s pretty simple.
There are a few reasons people are sketched out by it. Choking. Of course this was/is a concern for us, and it’s why I was using a mesh feeder in the beginning. That didn’t work for my guy, however. He was completely unsatisfied with sucking “taste” out of the bag, and decided to bite a whole right through it. (A snapshot of my future? I had it coming, believe me.) There is a difference between choking and gagging though. Apparently gagging is kind of good. Babies learn at an incredibly rapid pace and when they gag they learn that they have stuck something in too far, and soon enough they learn not to do that. At around 6 months their gag reflex is pretty far forward (it moves back closer to where it will be as an adult closer to 8 or 9 months), so if they get a chance to feed themselves starting at 6 months, there will be less chance of choking in the future. Also, at 6 months of age the tongue thrust reflex is still there so if you watch a baby eating you can see that even when they get chunks of food they do spit it out. It is all about learning, and they learn how to chew/gum foods (mostly because they are imitating us) before they learn to swallow, once more, creating less of a likelihood of choking in the future.
There are social ramifications to BLW as well. Think about it. Our mothers were told to feed us single grain cereal starting at about four months. (Not healthy says Sally Fallon.) They had to hold our hands down because we wanted to be involved. They fed us separately than the rest of the family. We were essentially force-fed strange mushes and concoctions and it was either boring or downright yucky, depending on whether or not she made or purchased baby food. Am I being dramatic? I don’t think so, but I never think so. Now consider this. If you are practicing BLW your baby sits down with you for meals. He get’s some of whatever you are eating (cut to a safe size, more on that in a minute), he watches you talking, chewing, swallowing. He feels a part of whatever is going on, and in addition to that he gets to touch and see and taste and DECIDE what to do with the food in front of him. Yes, it’s messy. You have a freaking baby, get over it.
Now as far as safety and size they say ‘chip’ sized. When I read that I was like “WHAT? Do they know how many different shapes and sizes of chips there are??” The best example is broccoli. They can hold onto the handle and suck on the flower. Strips of bell peppers, strips of toast, orange slices, large chunks of meat that they can suck the juices out of. The other cool thing about doing this at around six months is that they haven’t yet developed the pincer grip. That is the thumb and forefinger. Because of this they can’t get small items like raisins into their mouths easily. Don’t give them those things of course, or peanuts, or round things. They also can’t open their fist to let the food go yet, so if you feed them things with a handle (twice the length of their fist) they can gnaw on it.
It’s taking some time for me to figure out what foods work, and at what consistency. For example, steamed apples are good (or just the whole apple with a bite taken out of it) but if you steam too long they fall apart in your baby’s death grip. If you don’t steam them long enough they pose a choking hazard. Sweet potatoes failed the first three times for me. The first two they were too mushy. The last time I thought I mastered it because I baked them in the oven and served them as fries and he was digging them until gagging turned into choking. Let’s just say good thing Mr. H. was home. That crap is not cool. It’s happened twice now and I suppose is par for the course, but let me just say it’s VERY important to make sure your little love has properly sized items and for you to be right there with them in the beginning.
Spoon feeding single grain cereals. The various drugs given to women during birthing that have caused countless damage over the years. The foods sold to us for convenience. The foods sold to us as “healthy.” The mono-culture farming practices that are supposed to feed the world have replaced bio-dynamic farming and ironically are going to lead to widespread starvation due to the depletion of nutrients in the soil, and the deserts they leave behind. My sole purpose since discovering the insane amount of misinformation out there regarding food is to question everything. How to do things as a mother naturally follows suit. I hope to dedicate a post to the truth about food, and the lies we have been told at some point. I hope, if you don’t already know about it, that it shocks you and leaves you wanting to shout the truth from the rooftops!
But I digress…this post is about letting your baby eat real food with his hands.
Baby Dub likes everything so far (except beets, but I’m going to try that again soon, it might have just been a fluke). His absolute favorite (although it might be a plain old steak) is whole milk organic plain yogurt. He GEEKS for it. How do you let your baby feed himself when there is a spoon involved? It’s not a tidy meal, believe me, but it is incredible how fast they get good at it. It’s called the “loaded spoon” technique. You just hand them the spoon with food on it, and they go to town.
Now, we were doing BLW a couple of meals a day for over a week when Dub got so good with his two bottom teeth that he could bite off unsafe sized chunks of food. We can’t go backwards now, however. He will not be fed. Bravo baby Dub, but what am I suppose to do? No pincer grip to pick up safe sized bites, and there is no way he is letting me get through the hockey sticks to the goal with puree. I talked to our cousin and she suggested just putting the food in front of him even if it is too small. If he wants it enough he will learn to get it in his mouth. Sage advice. So this morning Dub had leftover Easter quiche (recipe to follow, apparently my new name is quiche master, thank you very much), yogurt (of course), and coconut water in his sippy-cup. Boom, happy baby, happy mama.
I’ll try not to wait so long in between posts from now on, but this last week was dedicated to a) not getting any #$%^ sleep, and b) sleep training. Next up, an update on sleep baby central.