As many of you will know, we have been using baby-led weaning with Eleanor, and we used it with Rosemary, too, a few years ago. Back then, it was really quite a new idea (though, in actuality, quite an old one, of course) and many, many people thought we were mad, strange, or endangering our child. Some people still think this, but it has certainly become more widespread and understood and lots more parents are using this method.
If you don’t know what baby-led weaning is, very basically, it’s starting with finger food rather than purees, it’s letting the baby decide (to an extent, obviously) what they want to eat, it’s taking a step back and chilling out about the whole eating process, and it’s about eating together, rather than spoon-feeding your baby, then eating later. Oh yes, and it’s about mess. Lots of it.
That photo doesn’t really show the mess to its full extent. Hmm. Here’s a top after a dinner of pasta and tomato sauce:
I’d take a photo of the floor after a meal, but fortunately we have a very useful cleaning machine:
I would advise anyone embarking on baby-led weaning to get one. (And you might also want to check out this morning’s post about a new laundry product – unless you’ve got some secret stain-removal formula up your sleeve.)
There are supposed to be a bunch of benefits to baby-led weaning, from reducing the likelihood of allergies, producing children who are more adventurous with food and providing excellent practice in fine-motor skills (picking up peas is quite a challenge, you know). I can’t really answer to all these in any scientific way, but I can say that Rosemary doesn’t have any allergies (so far, of course), we think she’s incredibly fussy with food, but when we compare her with many of her peers it turns out she has a very wide-ranging palate, and Eleanor certainly developed the pincer grip very early. The biggest benefits to us, though, have been the ability to eat as a family, not having to spend huge amounts of time pureeing, making going out very easy (the baby just eats what you’re eating – pretty much) and saving a bit on dog food – oh, and the pure joy of watching our two girls discover and explore food, enjoying (almost) every single moment of it as they do so.
If you’re thinking about going down the baby-led weaning route, we would highly recommend it (and will tell anyone who asks this – and many people who don’t ask, too). There are a few websites (http://babyledweaning.com/, http://baby-led.com/) out there you can read and a search will bring up a bunch of people blogging about their adventures in baby-led weaning. There’s also a book, Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. I haven’t read it, but it’s written by the woman (an ex-health visitor and Deputy Programme Director of Unicef Baby Friendly Initiative) who came up with the idea, and I know lots of people who have read it and highly recommend it.
A few tips for starting off and moving on
We started with fruit (e.g. mango and pear), steamed vegetables (e.g. carrot, brocolli and potato), roasted vegetables (e.g. courgette, pepper, carrot, roasted for about 15 minutes in extra virgin olive oil) – all of them cut into roughly adult-finger-sized pieces. For most things, keep the skin on, as they can get a grip on the skin, and they suck the flesh of the non-skin sides. For bananas, use the splitting into three trick (push your finger into the top centre of a banana and it will split into three lengthwise), because cutting them up makes them too slippery. Most of these were things that we were eating anyway, or we adjusted the menu to include them – we almost never cook something just for the baby.
Toast is great at this age. Get some unsalted butter in (we use Lurpak Spreadable Unsalted, but there are plenty of others) and provide soldiers of toast with butter, cream cheese, goats cheese, hummus, guacamole, pear and apple spread (we get this from the healthfood shop, and it’s just concentrated pear and apple, with nothing added, though Eleanor has now had ordinary jam), etc. Crumpets are very good, too – cut into three lengthwise for ease of gripping.
You can gradually add more things in, such as pasta (fusilli works well, and spaghetti is brilliant, though one of the messiest meals) with a sauce (cheese sauce went down well with both of ours, as did a tomato-based sauce), meat (Eleanor is very fond of steak, sausages are easy for them to hold, though avoid the highly-processed stuff that will be full of salt), chunks of cheese.
As they get older, as well, you can give them food on a spoon, such as yoghurt and porridge (though both of these they can feed themselves using their hands) – they’ll usually want to take control of the spoon themselves, which does lead to lots of mess. You’ll want to gradually offer a spoon now and again, to introduce them to cutlery, anyway, though I must admit Rosemary does still enjoy using her fingers. We’ve recently started putting Eleanor’s food on a plate or bowl, as well. She’ll usually take the food off it for a bit, but after a while she’ll turn it upside down or try to throw it on the floor (melamine or wood is definitely advised, rather than bone china) – before that the food just got plonked on the tray of her high chair (which luckily is removable).
As they get older, they’ll be able to pick up small bits of food, such as peas, beans, diced vegetables, rice, and so on. Eleanor now eats what we’re having and we tailor the meals much less often to her. Examples of meals/foods she’s had recently include risotto, minestrone soup (just the bits, not the liquid), creamy leeky tagliatelle, tortilla (both the Spanish omelette kind and the Mexican kind, in the form of a quesedilla), eggs chips and beans, chocolate cake, Cheerios, noodles, porridge, yoghurt, sushi, lamb, steak, cauliflower cheese with mashed potato, and so on and so on.
If you’re thinking about baby-led weaning, but aren’t sure, feel free to ask questions in the comments. If you’re on Twitter, there’s a #blw hashtag, where people will answer your questions.
Did you use or are you using baby-led weaning? Was it successful? Do you like the puree route? Have you done it both ways?