Last week, we began “Baby-Led Weaning” (in the British sense of “weaning”, which apparently just means introducing solid foods, rather than tapering off nursing.) I had introduced Dominic to the traditional baby foods starting at the beginning of his 7th month, with the normal amount of success, I think: some days, he loved it, other days, he wouldn’t touch the stuff. But I’d been reading various things on ways to help your child enjoy a wide range of foods and avoid those seemingly endless dinner-time battles with a stubborn, picky eater. Margaret reminded me of a post our friend Ann Waterman had written about using this technique (“BLW”, for short), and I was intrigued. After reading through the book and Ann’s experience of using it with her second son, I thought it seemed worth a shot.
You can read Ann’s description of BLW in her blog post, but the basic concept is that babies at 6 months old are ready to start learning how to eat truly solid foods, rather than just purees, which gained popularity when people were feeding solid foods to babies as young as 3 and 4 months old. (Too young, btw.) While a 6-month-old’s gag reflex is still positioned fairly far forward in their mouths as a safety mechanism against choking, and with their fascination with exploring everything around them (and their ability to sit upright), it’s a natural time for them to learn how to handle foods of different textures and sizes. Not much will get into the stomach for the first couple of months, since they still lack the necessary muscle development and coordination in their mouths, but breast milk is still ample nutrition for them at this point. As they get more and more practice, they begin to safely ingest more and more food, just as the digestive system is becoming fully ready to handle it. By 9 or 10 months old, babies can be successfully eating just about everything adults are, and enjoying a wide array of foods. Plus, they get the fun of exploring different textures, smells, and tastes during the phase when they’re most open and curious about such things (and well before the dreaded toddler phobia of the New and Unfamiliar kicks in.)
We weren’t sure how Dominic would take to it, so we thought we’d start small. We gave him a large chunk of ripe banana; (he’d already had banana puree and liked it pretty well.) He didn’t seem that enthused. After chasing the slippery thing around his tray for a bit, he managed to get it up to his mouth, and then made a “…what the heck?!” face as he tasted it. After that, we tried an apple slice. This he seemed to like much more, though he only managed to scrape off teeny bits of the flesh — in two long, tooth-shaped grooves.
Then, we upped the ante. We gave him a slice of ripe avocado. This was the fall-out:
He was hooked. Since then, he has gleefully eaten, among other things, Mujadrah (an Israeli rice, lentil, and onion dish), marinated flank steak, chicken strips, and — his favorite — pita bread with hummus, garlic paste, and tabouleh at a local Mediterranean restaurant. (I brought his booster seat, bib, and a wet washcloth in a bag; set him up, and turned him loose. Surprisingly little made it to the floor, and he had about three servings.) He LOVES to eat with us. …of course, this is its own drawback, in a way, since he now considers all of our food as rightly his.
Calling it “Baby-Led Weaning” and writing a book about it is probably making more of a fuss about it than it likely deserves. Watching Dominic dig into food with such obvious enjoyment — and increasing skill — is tons of fun, but it also seems like a pretty normal thing to do now. There are a few things we do disagree with the book’s author on, though:
First, she makes a very large to-do about serving your baby “just whatever you’re eating!” ….well, not quite. As she does mention at one point in the book, but I think doesn’t make quite emphatic enough, little babies’ kidneys are physically unable to process more than 500mg of sodium per day. That’s really very little, when you start noticing how much sodium is in everything. And I do mean *everything*, except for fresh, raw ingredients. So we’re very careful there, and have been cooking a lot more from scratch.
Second, she is a bit breezy in her attitude towards choking, which is basically, “they won’t really choke because of their protective gag reflex. And if they do, hey! As long as they’re coughing, things are working just fine. It’s how they learn. Leave them alone.” Yyyyyyyyyyeah, forgive us for being a bit unconvinced. We have had one scare, when Dominic shoved too much in his mouth and started coughing on something that he had gnawed down to juuuuust the right size to be a problem. I shed several years of my life in those 10 seconds. So we’re very careful there, too. We give him things with a low chance of causing choking, and we watch him like a hawk at all times.
All in all, though, this is one of the most fun things we’ve done with Baby. Enjoying dinner with him, and seeing him enjoy it so much, is just a treat. Plus, we get a front-row seat to this:
In other news, I *seriously* need to cut that boy’s forelock…