Baby-led Weaning – A Daily Miracle!

A couple of weeks before she was six months old, Rosa started taking food off our plates when we were eating and putting it in her mouth.  It was a clear signal that she was ready to start exploring food. I had heard about baby-led weaning and bought the book by Gill Rapley.  It was a revelation!

I had not been looking forward to giving Rosa baby rice and purees.  The idea of giving her what we eat, cut into pieces or pre-loaded onto a baby spoon that she can grab by herself, just seemed right. Richard and I love cooking and eating and really want Rosa to share our enjoyment of a wide range of foods.

The first day we started, it was with some trepidation.  We put the baby in her high chair at dinner time and gave her a rice cake spread with soft cheese with a steamed stick of carrot and a floret of broccoli.  She set about them with gusto, sucking the cream cheese off the rice cake and sucking the veg too.  She seemed to enjoy the experience and it was lovely to sit together as a family and eat.   I was unsure of how much she had actually eaten, but her next dirty nappy had visible bits of broccoli in it.  I think they eat more than we imagine.  As she has no teeth, Rosa just sucks the food or gums it at the moment.  She can’t cut meat in her mouth without teeth, but sucks the meat juices out of strips of meat which provides her with that valuable iron.  If we eat purees or soft food that she can’t pick up in her hands, then we pre-load a spoon and offer it to her.  The very first time I did this, Rosa picked up the spoon and inserted the correct end into her mouth with the mashed potato on it.  It was amazing!

Before finding out about baby-led weaning, when I thought of introducing solid food to a baby, I thought of mealtime battles. The baby spitting out purees or baby rice and an increasingly desperate parent inventing games to try to hoodwink the child into eating more. The ethos behind baby-led weaning is that the baby will need the same amount of milk until they are one, so any food eaten will be complementary to that milk. You always feed the baby a milk feed before offering food, so that they don’t fill themselves up with solid food when milk is still the priority.  You then trust the baby to take as much food as they want.  Your job is to offer as much food as they want and they will take what they need. It just completely removes stress about eating.  Rosa has enjoyed every mealtime and has eaten everything we have ever put in front of her.  This includes home-made curry and chilli con carne!  She clearly gets excited about eating when we put her in her high chair.  It really is a miracle and is so different to how I had expected (or rather feared) it to be.

It means that she can see us eating what she is eating, so she knows that it is safe. She can work out how to move food around her mouth safely, because she is the one controlling how much and how food enters her mouth.  Choking is often mentioned as a risk with baby-led weaning, but actually as long as your baby is 6 months old and is always kept upright when eating, the risk is less than when spoon-feeding, because the baby is in control.  They do sometimes gag, which is alarming, but that’s a normal learning behaviour.  It’s your child learning how to not choke!

A fringe benefit of the baby-led weaning approach is that my 4-year old step-daughter, with whom meals were becoming a bit of a battle, is now much easier to feed.  Scarlett had, for the past year or so, started asking what we were having for the next meal purely so that she could say she didn’t like it or didn’t want it. Now, we cook whatever we planned and put the constituent parts in separate bowls for everyone to help themselves.  We let Scarlett help herself and she knows that there won’t be anything else so she needs to eat an adequate amount. It’s working a treat!

Many friends and family members who have witnessed Rosa eating have been amazed by what they have seen.  She sits there, eating away, making lots of noise that clearly indicates that she’s enjoying herself and she fully shares in the social aspect of eating. There is nothing so far that she hasn’t tried and enjoyed! I would heartily recommend baby-led weaning to anyone. It makes introducing solids fun and easy for parent and child. The only negative is that it is messy, but those long-sleeved bibs (£3 for 2 from Sainsburys) and a plastic play mat under the high chair help a lot!

Why Don’t More People Use Cloth Nappies And Wipes?

I know that a lot of people have a very old-fashioned view of cloth nappies.  The old terry towelling nappies that our mums used, that needed folding and using with those scary nappy pins, aren’t very appealing.  Or is the thought of needing to put dirty nappies in buckets to soak before washing just too much of a hassle? Or could it simply be the idea that it’s just a lot of extra work that puts people off?

Well, things are very different these days.  We have used mainly cloth nappies on Rosa since she got out of hospital and they’re brilliant!  The two types that we use, The Pop-In Nappy by Close Parent (our favourites) and Little Lambs (fine but not quite as good), are both shaped and are fastened with velcro.  They take no more time to put on or take off than a disposable and are just as easy to use.

Also, with today’s super-efficient washing machines, dirty nappies are kept in a dry bucket with a lid.  No smells escape from these and you wash the nappies every other day.  I haven’t found this to be very onerous at all.  Over the winter we have dried the nappies indoors on a clothes airer or over the radiator.  This has been fine, but we are loving using our outdoor clothes line now the weather’s getting better.

We use Eco Balls to wash the majority of our laundry, both for environmental reasons and because they save us a fortune in washing powder.  They are brilliant for washing nappies too, having anti-bacterial properties (although we add some tea tree and lavender essential oils to the wash too).  The one problem we have found is that modern washing machines are so water-efficient that they don’t rinse cloth nappies very well.  If you think about it, the nappies are designed to be massively absorbent, so they absorb a lot of the water that is meant to be washing them.  For this reason and because detergent residue creates sore baby bottoms, cloth nappy manufacturers recommend that you use a half measure of detergent when you wash them. We avoid this with Eco Balls, anyway.  I was finding that nappies would smell of ammonia after 2 hours, which was because the lack of water meant they weren’t being rinsed well enough.  So now, I either run them on a programme with a pre-wash function or put them on a rinse cycle before the main wash. This has solved the problem entirely.  The other issue with the Little Lamb cotton nappies was staining.  I tried using some eco-friendly stain remover but to little avail.  Now though I have discovered the solution – the sun!  Even in winter or spring the sun can remove staining without using any nasty chemicals which could harm your baby’s skin.

The Pop-In Nappies we have are bamboo, which has anti-bacterial properties and is nice  and soft for baby bots.  They are all-in-one nappies, with three parts that popper together.  There’s a soaker insert, then the main nappy and a waterproof outer, which is adjustable to fit babies from birth to potty training.  The Little Lambs we have are organic cotton and come in 2 sizes, so you need to buy two lots to accommodate your baby’s needs throughout their time in nappies.  They come with some waterproof wraps, which you put on over the main cotton nappy.  Inside the cotton nappy you can add extra booster liners, cotton ones for absorbency and fleecy ones for the catching of poo and to create a dry layer next to baby’s skin. We live in a very hard water area and the cotton nappies do end up being a bit cardboard-ish after washing, so I have to rub them together to soften them up a bit.  You can get bamboo or microfibre versions of the Little Lambs, but we haven’t tried these.  I don’t like the Little Lamb wrap system very much as you’re meant to use them for a few nappy changes, but I find they usually smell of wee at the first nappy change so I very rarely just change the cotton part of the nappy.

Anyhow, thinking about cloth nappies, there are many positives and very few negatives.  We have saved a fortune in disposable nappies, which means that we can buy the slightly more expensive Naty environmentally-friendly disposables for the odd occasions when we’re out and about and don’t want to carry re-usables.  Obviously, environmentally cloth nappies are much more virtuous, particularly with our use of Eco Balls to wash them.  It really is no hassle to do a couple more loads of washing per week when you have a baby. Rosa seems to like the nappies and has never suffered from nappy rash.

We also use cloth baby wipes and these are brilliant.  The ones we use are cotton on one side and fleece on the other.  The fleecy side is great for wees and the towelling side is best for number twos!  I use a plastic takeaway tub to make a solution of chamomile tea with 2 drops of lavender essential oil to moisten the wipes with. I put a lid on it and can keep 5 wipes in there, which last for several hours.  Only today, Rosa did an enormous poo and one or two re-usable wipes were enough to completely deal with it.  When we use disposable baby wipes, a big poo can use up several wipes.

All in all, having used disposables for 3 weeks when Rosa was in hospital and then moving to cloth nappies after she came home, I would highly recommend modern cloth nappies and wipes.  They are easy to use, don’t generate too much work and are kind to the pocket, the environment and your baby’s skin. Win, win, win!