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Baby Led Weaning - some great tips!

Friday, 27 February 2015  | 

It’s been a little while since I talked about weaning so I thought I’d update on how things are going with it. Millar is nearly 10 months now so has been eating solid food for about 3 and a half months. I wrote before about my decision not to wean him until he was at least six months old – there were many reasons for this, but mainly I just didn’t think he was ready before. In the end, he was about 6 and a half months when he had his first meal.

I’ll be honest. It’s been quite a slow process. I had an idea that Millar would be stuffing his face in no time, eating what we ate and generally finding it all very easy. We did baby led weaning, so he never had puree and this meant that it took a while before he swallowed any food at all. I had to stick to my guns; all our friends who were using purees were feeding three meals a day and the babies were eating whole pots of pureed vegetables and fruit before Millar had even had a taste of anything.

But he was fine. He was still drinking plenty of milk – as much as he wanted – and I was determined to keep food fun. The book that I read said the old adage that ‘food before one is fun’ is actually not correct, but definitely food before nine months should be fun. I kept solid food to just lunchtime for about two weeks, while he played with various pieces of steamed vegetables, strips of roast chicken and bits of fruit. ‘Played with’ is probably the most accurate description. Most of it went into his mouth, but he didn’t swallow a significant amount for what felt like ages.

A friend of mine is a breastfeeding support worker and a baby led weaning advocate, and I remember going to ask her after about three weeks whether I should just persevere with it and she said absolutely definitely yes. She reckoned that it takes a baby somewhere between four and six weeks to really get the hang of eating but then he’ll be away. So we persevered and he definitely did start to eat a little bit more.

I added breakfast to the equation after a couple of weeks and this was more popular than lunch – he is a total toast addict and loves marmite and peanut butter (not together!) and devours fruit like apples and pears.

In the last three months things have definitely gone up and down. When he’s ill, or when he’s cutting a tooth, he isn’t interested in eating anything at all and I find that really frustrating. We will have a really good spell and I think we’ve cracked it, and then suddenly he’s back to throwing everything on the floor again (it’s particularly entertaining when the dog eats it – hilarious apparently). But there are definitely fewer of these episodes now and I can’t remember the last time we had a bad patch.

I’ve learnt a lot in the last few months, and when I look back at photos or think about the meals he ate early on, I am amazed at my ignorance. Here are a few thoughts:
- Food early on needs to be about the size and shape of a carrot stick that you dip in hummus. I made the mistake of giving him huge chunks of food that he couldn’t manage to begin with. At first, they have no idea how to bite chunks off – they just kind of suck it into a soggy mess for a while.
- Raw vegetables are a no go for a while as they are too hard. I found cooking vegetables a bit longer than I would like them cooked worked well. This way they mush up in their mouths more easily.
- I found that raw apple and pear was too hard – he would break chunks off and then not know what to do with it – then it becomes a choking hazard. I slice half an apple up into wedges, then put the pieces in a bowl with about a tablespoon full of water, put it in the microwave for about a minute and then it’s soft enough for him to eat, but firm enough to hold.
- A genius thing I discovered was cutting little chunks out of the side of slippery food like melon and avocado. I cut a normal slice, then cut little chinks out of each side so that he can grip onto it easily. (A crinkle cutter might work too!)
- I found some people on Instagram who have whole accounts dedicated to baby led weaning, posting photos and recipes. These are useful for ideas, but can also make you feel a little inadequate. Particularly when my failsafe meal is pre-cooked roast chicken and steamed vegetables!
- Mealtimes take FOREVER. For a while, particularly when you start feeding three meals a day, in addition to milk feeds, it feels like you are spending all day feeding your baby. And you pretty much are. It does get quicker, but I have found knowing a few meal options that are definite favourites and will be gobbled quickly is a good idea for when you’re in a rush.

I know some people are really suspicious of baby led weaning due to safety, but I can honestly say, in my opinion, I think it is perfectly safe if you commit to it. The reason I didn’t give any puree first is because if you are going to do baby led weaning, it is considered safest to do this from the start. It is more dangerous to feed puree for a little while then go on to baby led weaning (although I am sure most of the time people have no problem doing this) as babies get used to food just slipping down their throat so they don’t know what to do with a big piece of food. When a baby has never had puree, they keep food near the front of their mouth and experiment with chewing it. As happened with Millar, they often don’t even work out that they can swallow it for quite a few weeks.

The other thing many people worry about is gagging. What I learned quickly is that gagging is not choking and is actually a really important part of a baby learning how to eat. Millar will sometimes gag and pull a face like he’s choking, but he’s just moving a piece of food from the back to the front of his mouth, as he has realised it isn’t ready to be swallowed yet. It’s pretty clever!

Now that Millar’s eating is established, I do spoon feed him a little bit more. I found Weetabix just simply too messy to deal with if he fed himself, so I have started spoon feeding this. And soup – he loves soup! I’ve only started doing this in the last month though – until then, he purely fed himself.

Baby led weaning has been really fun and has definitely given Millar some useful skills. He is so good at picking up small things as he practises three times a day – his ability to pick up peas amazes me. He eats such a wide variety of food – he loves raw tomatoes, which really surprises me and absolutely devours meat of any variety. You do have to be careful with salt, as when we go out to restaurants or cafes, I don’t have control of how much salt they put in their food. There was also an awkward incident with a bowl of carrot and coriander soup that I ordered for him in a café but I didn’t try it first. He pulled a few faces, although he did eat quite a bit. When I then went to finish it off, I realised it was really spicy! Oops!

I don’t know if I’ve done it the ‘right’ way – but I’ve done it the way that suits us, and it’s been fun! We are still learning and experimenting and it’s definitely been challenging at times. Today, Millar had chocolate cake at a birthday party for the first time (it was sugar free, gluten free – although I’m not really too worried about that kind of thing, as long as his diet is varied and healthy) and we both got absolutely covered in chocolate. Which brings me to my last piece of advice – you can never have too many bibs. Preferably, the cover-all type, with a catcher bib on top. Millar has recently started fishing around in the catcher bib at the end of a meal to find a few chewed bits and pieces to eat. Yum.

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