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Baby Led Weaning
Baby led weaning may only be fairly recently gaining popularity, but it is arguably the most natural way for a baby to move from being milk fed onto solid food. Baby led weaning essentially puts the weaning process into the baby's control, allowing them to explore food themselves and follow their own internal clock to move onto eating solid foods.
The stress of mealtimes with baby
Most parents will tell you that one of the most stressful parts of bringing up a baby (apart from getting your baby to sleep) is worrying whether they eat enough, especially when they are weaning them. In our current times, where mothers are going back to work early in their children's life, it can be very stressfully to wonder if your child is eating enough and will be eating enough when you go back to work and they are with a child minder or in a nursery. But the stress only makes mealtimes less pleasant for baby; and infants pick up on their parent's mood more quickly than you think. Baby led weaning offers a perfect alternative because you baby follows their own personal development, but it does mean that parents need to step back and trust that their child knows what they want to eat.
Baby lead weaning - first steps
Usually, with this type of weaning, babies will start with picking up
and licking bits of food before moving on to actually eating anything.
This is all part of the exploration of food that babies will naturally
do. Normally, you can start weaning at about 6 months, but anywhere
between 5 and 8 months most babies will start showing an interest in
food; they may reach out for a piece of fruit that mummy or daddy is
eating or try to grab a carrot from the table.
When your little one starts to wean, they will probably ingest very little at first; this is normal, after all, there are many different tastes and textures to get used to when you start weaning off milk. So when you start baby fed weaning, you will still be breast feeding your baby and will probably still need to up until about 12 months.
No more puree
One of the benefits for parents when you go with baby led weaning is that you won't have to puree food your baby. Traditional weaning process uses a lot of pureed food, which you would either buy or make yourself. Making puree can be fairly time consuming, whereas if you follow a baby-led approach, they can simply join you in what you are eating that evening so you don't need to prepare separate food for your infant. The other thing is that when you try and feed your baby puree, you get a lot of food everywhere, except in your little one's tummy. We've all been there, pretending a spoon is an airplane or trying to sneak a spoon of food in when we think baby isn't concentrating; but that never works. Food ends up on the floor and on your little one's clothing and face. It can be terribly frustrating to feed your baby like this - I know, I tried it a lot with my daughter. Eventually I got fed up and started letting her choose what and how she wanted to eat - what a relief!
Baby led weaning isn't new, lots of us have found that our children help themselves to what we are eating - this happened to me a lot when I was carrying my daughter around and she took pieces of my apple out of my hand. Finger food is often fed to babies after they have eaten puree for a while, but really spoon feeding is simply not necessary.
What food should you start with for baby led weaning?
Carrots, cucumber, apples, pieces of strawberries, peas, beans. In fact pretty much any good food that is freshly prepared is suitable for your baby to explore. Steamed or roasted veg are great to start with and if you roast parsnips or carrots they tend to accentuate the natural sweetness is those veg which my daughter certainly loved. Don't be surprised if they don't actually swallow anything for a while - it's natural. But after a while, your little one will start to eat more and more, until eventually, they are eating full meals with you. Though you will still go through periods where your baby will eat less than usual - don't worry it's perfectly natural. Once our daughter had the hang of roasted veg, we introduced other foods - peas are great for developing the pincer grip, toast, rice crispies, sandwiches, cheese. We always put a spoon next to her food and when she was about a year old she just started spontaneously using it - no doubt mimicing mummy and daddy.
But won't my baby choke?
Some of the main concerns of baby led weaning is that your baby will
choke. However there is no more risx of choking than with any other
method of introducing solids. In fact you are more likely to choke if
someone else is feeding you and you cannot control what is going in to
your mouth. Your baby needs to learn to chew before they can start to
move food from the front of their mouth to the back and babies don't
learn to chew until they have learned to grasp something and place it
in their mouths. So baby led weaning really follows your child's
natural development very closely.
Basically, as long as you make sure that your baby is sitting upright and don't feed them fruits or nuts with stones in them (like cherries or olives) and of course don't leave them alone while eating, you should have no problem allowing them to feed themselves.
Where is the best place to start? Well there are some great books you can buy from Amazon that will give you the low down on Baby led weaning - Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett have written a fantastic guide which is practical and lets you know what to expect when following BLW. Other than that, sit your baby down with you at mealtimes and let them follow their instincts and reach out for some food!