It’s about that time: Charlotte is nearly six months old, and she is chomping at the bit to get her hands on some solid food (pun intended). We are trying something new and slightly adventurous with Baby ‘Bee called baby-led weaning. In essence, it’s a no mush/no puree approach to eating by babies (as opposed to the traditional feeding by parents). No spoons, no tiny bowls, no unrecognizable jars of combined foods. Just finger-sized tidbits and mushy handfuls of whatever ‘Bee can put into her own mouth.
Baby-led weaning was first recommended to us by our pediatrician at our four month appointment. Fred and I looked at each other and thought she’d lost her mind. Chunks of fish? Handfuls of shredded cheese? No way. For a baby?!
Since then I’ve been trolling pinterest and blogs for info on this idea of baby self-feeding, and I’ve quickly realized that it just makes sense. Why go through the effort of steaming, pureeing, and mixing things down to an unrecognizable state that Bee may or may not like? We don’t eat our food like that, and it seems like a silly stepping stone to learning how to eat. Why not let her explore the textures and shapes and flavors of actual food? She will join us at the table, eat what we’re eating (in a modified, softer, and more grip-able state) and learn by doing.
The keys to self-feeding are these:
1) Babies under a year do not need anything nutritionally besides breast milk. Breastfeeding is going well, Bee still loves it, and she’s growing healthily. All systems go.
2) Always let baby feed themselves. We will not use spoons, nor will we encourage her to ‘finish the meal’ or have
one more five more bites. She will eat when she’s hungry, and stop when she’s full. Milk will be on tap around the clock, and oatmeal will make it’s morning appearance.
3) My job is to provide as much variety and nutrition that I can, and modify the foods in way that she can manage with her own two hands… and then trust that the learning and exploration is worth the mess.
Mind you, we are only three days in. And I’m pretty sure she hasn’t actually ingested any food yet. She’s done lots of sucking, pinching, gumming, squeezing, and dropping. But she’s exploring and learning about how hard to hold a banana so that it doesn’t mush; how to grab the ‘handle’ on the broccoli so she can get the good part in her mouth; and why it’s easier to hold the skin side of the cucumber than the slippery insides. It’s a mess. It appears, at a quick glance, to be a waste of food and time. But we’re sticking with it for at least 2-3 weeks and examining her diapers every day for signs of digestion.
Here are some of Charlotte’s first foods…
carrots at the beach
broccoli has lots of interesting textures
the mush stops here! (but the mess doesn’t…)
concentrating hard on some slippery watermelon
fistful of turkey
getting her started early on!
Giving Charlotte some food in public, I’ve already heard the questions I had been asking myself before I did all my research…
Won’t she choke?
No. Babies of six months old have a very sensitive gag reflex, which is different than choking. It’s actually a safety mechanism. And if she gags, she learns not to put things so deep into her mouth.
Doesn’t she need to eat more?
No. Breast milk can make up 100% of her nutrition until she is 9-12 months old. Our goal is to continue breastfeeding until Christmas, when Charlotte is 11 months.
“Food is fun til age one.” Self-feeding is about the experience of food rather than the nutrition.
What about allergies?
The new research about allergies shows that holding off too long on certain foods may actually be causing all these peanut allergies/gluten sensitivities etc. Earlier introduction to a wide variety of food can help your child to be a more well-rounded eater, and like more foods.
She doesn’t have any teeth. How can she eat?
Apparently she doesn’t need them! The massaging/sucking motion of breastfeeding is more like chewing than you’d think, and breastfed babies take to real food quite naturally. To begin, we will steam or roast foods to make them soft enough to gum. Think things with “handles” or skin still attached for traction.
She’s really going to eat that piece of watermelon? Or that handful of fish?
Yes! It may take awhile. It will be a mess. She might not swallow all that much of it. But she’s learning how to eat, and it will go down the right pipe when she’s ready for it.
[I’m still building my patience on this one, and have to sit on my own hands when she eats!]
This sounds a little tree-hugging and hippy-ish…and also kinda lazy…
I already know Uncle Teddy Bear and Uncle Tommy Gun might be thinking this 🙂 I’m a new mom. I don’t know
everything anything about raising a baby! I can’t say that self-feeding is THE way to go, or that all babies should do it. If we try it and it doesn’t work for us, I’ll be the first one to say so right here on this blog. Which reminds me, I need to write about our failures in sleep training…
But I’m all about trying things, and if it works…great! If it doesn’t, there is always the opportunity to change it up! It’s important to us to raise an independent, curious, and adventurous child, and this seems like a great way to get her started very young. And while the prep may be pretty easy, the cleanup afterward is not!