A Curious Mom’s Experience With Baby Led Weaning
While pregnant with my first child, I stumbled upon some information about “baby led weaning” through a friend of mine whose daughter was just about to enter the exciting world of solid foods. I hadn’t really thought about this topic yet, given that I was still pregnant (and more preoccupied with what the inside of my belly button looked like), but the idea of creating a positive relationship with food by exposing little ones to flavor and texture, while increasing their independence and fine motor skills, all while allowing hungry parents to enjoy their meal simultaneously seemed too good an idea not to consider. Which is why I’m so glad we decided to give it a try.
Of course I was met with skepticism and concern by close family members and some friends when I introduced the idea of this feeding free-for-all: “What if the baby chokes”? “How will you rule out allergies?” “Do you really want to deep clean a three meter radius around the baby’s chair after every meal?” And then, the classic “Why not just start with the basics, like rice cereal”? Here’s what I have to say about all that:
Of all the concerns above, choking was my biggest one too, which is why I educated myself about how a baby’s gag reflex works. Compared to an adult gag reflex, an infant’s gag reflex is located further forward on the tongue, thereby making its action more easily triggered. I prepared myself for the idea that gagging might be an issue initially while baby is getting used to textures and flavor, and would become less of an issue once they understand how to move food around in their mouth.
I was much less concerned about the issue of food allergies. The baby would already be getting exposed to my diet via my breastmilk, so it’s likely that if there were a severe food intolerance, there would be signs of it before she ever even started eating solids. We were confident that if she was introduced to a few things at each meal and somehow had a negative reaction, we’d simply work to narrow it down by eliminating those few foods for a while. I decided it was more worthwhile to take the approach of feeding her the same foods we were eating than to expose to her to the same puree every day for x number of days only to switch over to a new flavor the following week. Think about it: if you were forced to eat the exact same puree every day for a week only to switch to a new puree the next week in the exact same texture with a marginal difference in flavor, wouldn’t your palate prefer blander, simple flavors with little variation in texture? Wouldn’t it all just start to taste the same after a while? It’s not surprising that children who are introduced to food in this way become picky eaters.
The issue about, “your kitchen table/dining area will be a disaster” was almost a laughable concern. All I can say about that is: buy a tarp and stop taking yourself so seriously.
And last but not least, the rice cereal. Mothers of the 80’s are all about the rice cereal, and they want you to know it. While I can appreciate that their advice about rice cereal is well-meaning and “if you just topped baby up with rice cereal, you’d get a longer stretch of sleep”, it’s misguided information. First of all, a baby gets all the nourishment he or she needs from your milk for the first six months of life. Full stop. You don’t need to supplement with a filler. Second, adding in a starch that is rapidly metabolized in the body as sugar (which is what rice cereal is) will make a baby hungrier, not fuller. If you’re going to be introducing your baby to food, why not start with something that has nutritional value and actually tastes like something, too?
So, these were my thoughts about baby led weaning prior to introducing it, but what was it actually like when the time came to implement this approach to meal time? Confession time: even though I knew that gagging would be an obstacle in the beginning (as mentioned above), watching my sweet daughter gag on a tiny piece of sweet potato for the first time was enough to scare the absolute wits out of me. After all, understanding something and being able to fully embrace it are two different things. So here’s where we took our own spin on baby led weaning – enter the “food wand”.
The food wand, as it is lovingly called in our home, is a small, plastic, handheld device with a food grade silicone top that is pierced with tiny holes (and yes, it is dishwasher safe; you’re welcome). You simply fill the silicone topper with any food you like, hand it off to baby, and then watch them gum and gnaw in happiness as they draw easily chewable/swallowable pieces of food into their mouth. The food wand was a game changer because we could still feed her the same food we were eating, we could still let her do it herself, but ultimately it gave me some peace of mind while she was gaining confidence in the chewing department, which required a lot of practice because she didn’t get a single tooth until she was ten months old.
We kept multiple food wands in rotation and soon discovered that they could serve as a teething toy, too. You can fill it with any frozen berry, or mango, or banana, and then baby gets a treat and some relief at the same time.
After a few months of our daughter gaining confidence with chewing and swallowing food, we started weaning her off the wand by offering both the wand and also loose food on her placement at meal times, until we eventually just gave her her own little plate. She was happy, we were happy, and we’ve been enjoying a great relationship with food ever since. Our 2.5 year old is now a great eater and will, at the very least, take a sample of anything we give her. It’s a joy to have the same meals together as a family, and something we’ll look forward to for years to come.
Written by your doula,