When the Firebug was 7 months old, I was struggling to get him to eat the smoothest of purées, whilst everyone around me seemed to be selling the virtues of ditching mashed up fruit and veg in favour of offering up steak and chips!
Baby-led weaning (BLW) means forgetting purées and even spoons. It is about encouraging an independent process of eating, rather than passive feeding. It's about letting your baby feed himself and it seems just about everyone is talking about it.
I totally buy into the idea of not having to make special meals for babies. I started out with the best of intentions and even bought a dedicated device for puréeing baby meals. A lot of time, and effort was going into making food the Firebug would frankly refuse on first sight. So the idea of giving him exactly what I was eating, was incredibly appealing.
However, since I was struggling to get the Firebug to eat even the most basic of pummelled fruit concoctions without him gagging, I wasn't convinced this method of weaning would work for us at all.
Those that support baby-led weaning, back it almost religiously. Among other things, it's praised for encouraging development of fine motor skills, dexterity, and better hand to mouth technique. So, I decided to give it a go - after all, the worst that could happen is that there would be even more food the Firebug would refuse to eat.
BLW traditionalists may argue that I didn't BLW "properly" as I did continue with including some purées with his meals. I did however, make sure to include as much finger food as possible, so he could feed himself; and I included a pint-sized version of whatever we were eating whenever possible.
At first, not a lot changed, and the Firebug continued to gag on most of the things he chose to put in his mouth, but he did seem to be doing this less with the foods he was feeding himself.
Each meal seemed more like a session at messy play, than an attempt at actual eating. Something he enjoyed immensely!
Eventually it was clear he was learning what he could chew, and suck on; and when he was ready, he would decide to swallow.
Although originally concerned I would be sent into a wild panic as soon as he starting choking on a lump of carrot, I actually found the BLW process to be a lot less stressful than watching him gagging on mashed up purées.
This method of eating gave him some of the control back, meaning he could decide what food he was ready for.
The Firebug certainly seems to love exploring all the shapes, textures and colours he can pick and choose from, and another plus, is that this does keep him quiet for at least a few minutes!
BLW has pretty much revolutionised our mealtimes. Although messy, lunch time is (somewhat paradoxically) a lot calmer. The Firebug has his own little plate, fork and spoon, perfectly sized for his little hands; and he is getting a good mix of different foods groups, presented in balanced portions on his divided plate. Keeping different foods separated has also helped to minimise some of the unavoidable mess!
Some tips for BLW:
- Have a good read - I was panicked when the Firebug "choked". He was doing this on purée food anyway, but the danger seemed all the more real with actual "proper" solid food. When I read that the gag reflex was often mistaken for choking and that this was a natural process, it mellowed me a bit. Read about the benefits of baby-led weaning and hopefully it should put your mind at ease, and make the process easier for you both.
- Mealtimes in the kitchen - or somewhere with an easy to wipe floor! Our dining room has a pale coloured carpet and it did not stay that colour for long! Let him feed himself in a room with a floor that is easy to wipe clean and keep the mop within easy reach.
- Choose a good high chair - Make sure the high chair is easy to clean. In fact, make sure everything near by is easy to clean!
- Ditch the baby food - Food is food and as long as it's balanced and doesn't contain loads of salts and sugars, most babies should be fine with it. Part of the benefits of this method of feeding is that they can eat whatever you're having, and there's no need to cook 'special' baby meals. Little ones also love to know they are eating the same thing as you, so this in itself should make them keen on giving it a go. So far I've not been brave enough to try it, but others do swear they've given their 10 month old steak, I was not joking!
- Make sure they are not tired - We have a "witching hour" between 3-5... OK, a "witching afternoon" where all hell breaks loose and the Firebug seems to scream on and off uncontrollably for pretty much no reason at all! This means I need to make sure he's not sleepy when we do BLW. I probably give him more finger foods around lunch time as he's more awake and happy to participate. If I leave dinner until too late in the day, we just end up with tears, and a baby who gradually collects up everything on his high chair and pushes it off onto the floor.
- Mix it up - if you want to mix in some purée feeding with your BLW that's fine. If you want to switch between methods for different meals, or on different days, that's perfectly fine too. Do whatever makes you and your baby happy. Ignore the purists!
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