Thursday, July 10, 2014

In Praise of Baby-Led Weaning

Since Aias has had major issues with selective eating, we were fairly nervous about introducing solids to Azi.  Fortunately, at around 5.5 months, Azi showed serious interest in eating solid food.  After all we had been through with Aias, we were not going to say no. We decided that as long as Azi could sit up straight and did not have the tongue-thrust reflex anymore, he could feed himself whatever food he wanted.

If you research how to feed babies, you can get quickly overwhelmed. First, there are a million "rules" to follow:

- Don't introduce this or your baby will be allergic
- Introduce this immediately or your baby will be allergic
- Never feed the baby this
- Always feed the baby this
- Purée the food
- Offer cereal

Next, there are also a million things you can buy for feeding your baby:

- Spoons that look like dump trucks and airplanes
- Special blenders just for baby food
- Little ice cube trays for home made baby food

It can be so complicated, so involved, and so much work.  But it can also be so, so simple, as you will see below.

Everyone I talked to who claimed to have a child that wasn't picky at all claimed to have ascribed 100% to the concept of Baby-Led Weaning, so I bought a copy of Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods-and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater, and read it cover to cover when Azi was about 3 months old.  We had explored this concept a bit with Aias, but never got into it in depth.

This time, I did not skip a single page.  I was determined to have a child who was willing to eat more than beige things and breast milk.  My one hesitation was nerves about the gagging and choking thing, but I repeatedly told myself:

- Gagging and choking are different
- Gagging is a sign that his body is working
- Gagging is designed to protect babies from choking

(You can read more about that here)

And made sure to renew my infant CPR and First Aid Certificate, which is always a great idea anyway.

When the time came to share solids with Azi, I was mentally prepared.  We did not need to buy a thing, we did not need to prepare a thing, we just needed to cook as we always did, and share with our baby.

As you can see, Azi was prepared as well:

Able to sit up nice and tall, all by himself. 
Babies are totally capable of putting things in their own mouths at this age, all by themselves, as you will know if you have ever had a baby crawl around on the floor around you:

See, babies can totally lift things to their own mouths for the purposes of chewing and eating...
... whether you want them to eat it or not ;)
This has been an amazing experience, and he is only 6.5 months.  In the last several weeks, we have followed these very basic rules:

1.  Offer everything we eat to the baby.  If we eat it, the baby is offered some too.
2.  Let the baby feed himself.
3.  Food is a time for happiness and sharing, and being together.

WE choose the foods. THE BABY chooses how much to eat. There is no pureeing, there is no separate meal.  There are no rule lists, and there are no special things we had to buy. The baby eats OUR food and he feeds himself. There is no pressure on us, no pressure on him.  It's really as simple as that.

This has been great because it has kept us in check.  I don't want the baby eating cake, so I don't eat cake.  We don't want the baby eating choke-y things like popcorn, marshmallows, un-cut grapes, or hot dogs, so we don't eat those things either.

The playing field is level.

So far, it has been an absolutely joyful experience. I want to share some pictures with you not only because they are cute, but because they will show you what babies are really capable of if you allow them to learn.

Teething on celery.  He's "gumming" it, has he has not cut any teeth yet. 
Freshly picked field strawberries, whole and straight from the field.
Cut strawberries on his little tray, watching me make cobbler. 
A whole banana
Chomping on a piece of very tough steak
Considering sharing with our living vacuum cleaner.  The dog  knows that the spot below the high chair is a good spot to be during meals.
Sometimes it can get quite messy.  Ok, a lot of the time it can get quite messy.  But that's ok.  I do NOT like messy, but I have had to grin and bear it.  Offering the baby foods in bowls and cups is a good thing to do, because they have to learn somewhere. There is a plastic sheet underneath the high chair, and we own lots of bibs. 

This applesauce left the cup fairly quickly!
Sharing foods with the baby will make you healthier.  You will find yourself eating more nutritously because you want your baby to be eating healthy foods.  Of course, sometimes a treat is ok.

Baby's First Bacon
Sometimes they just like to suck the juices out of the foods, or gum them to relieve teething pain.  You can help them out by taking a bite first like in the case of an apple.

Some of the foods they will eat will really surprise you.

Curried vegan chicken, tomato, swiss chard, etc .
Another kind of curry
Even things like yogurt can be given to a baby, although they will possibly make an epic mess of it. Take a deep breathe, and just ENJOY it.  Before you know it, they will be eating with a spoon.

I started him off with some yoghurt in a small pile...
... and he showed that pile who was boss!
 You will find yourself giving plenty of baths!

He didn't like his first bath, but he has grown to love them since he now has 1 or 2 a day!
As long as you are careful of buying and serving fresh food, you don't really have to worry about "rules."  The only rule we follow is not giving him unpasteurized honey until he is a year old.  Other than that, anything is fair game! Azi is eating cold cooked shrimp below.  

Shrimp, Avocado, Lentils.
Eating out can still happen too, believe it or not.
Sharing a Pirate Pack with big brother on the ferry.  Although we didn't want him to eat the deep fried part of the chicken, we broke it into little tiny pieces for him this time. 
He even loves sushi!  He eats tamago (egg), Ikura (raw fish eggs with rice and seaweed), and wakame (seaweed salad). 

He even likes the carrot ginger salad dressing and greens
Salmon and Avocado Roll, and a huge piece of Tamago. 
I was really excited to give him spaghetti and meatballs, because it seemed like a baby feeding rite of passage to me:

And this afternoon he had his first perogies.  He ate almost 3 entire perogies!

A big part of this for us, is watching him truly enjoy and learn to love foods. Right from this super young age, he is associating mealtime with family time.  There is no differentiation between foods. There is no OUR FOOD Vs. BABY FOOD.  We won't ever have to transition him from unrecognisable purées to whole foods.  Right from the get go he sees that food is yummy and it is for everyone in our family.
Edamame, Swiss Chard, and Pineapple Glazed Tofu
What if your baby DOES gag? What if they don't seem to be getting enough in their mouths?  Both those things are normal, and ok, and you can read more about them in the book.

One thing is for sure... Azi is special to us because he's our kid, but there's nothing magical or advanced about him in terms of eating.  He's not extra skilled or talented in eating, he's just doing what ALL babies are capable of doing.  This means your baby, too!

It has been bittersweet watching one child loving food so much while the other struggles with it, and we wish it had been this easy with Aias, but even through watching Azi enjoy these foods, Aias is finally showing a curiosity.

If you want to learn more about Baby-Led Weaning, I strongly recommend the book. If you are looking for a more personal touch, Crystal Di Domizio RHN, HCHI teaches an online course on Baby-Led Weaning that can get you started.

Good luck and happy eating!

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