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!